Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Nov. 25 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.
David Mann has come full circle in his career at Lowell-based Central States Manufacturing Inc., a manufacturer and distributor of metal building components.
He joined the company as engineering manager in 2005 after a former Gates Corp. employee recommended him for the job. He went on to oversee the Central States plant in Lowell as managing director and also took on several executive roles at the employee-owned company.
The Hermitage native was the lean manufacturing team leader at the Gates plant in Siloam Springs when the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal named him to the Forty Under 40 class in 2001.
“I never intended to leave,” said Mann, 53. “I thought I would be at Gates forever. I loved the place. Wonderful company.”
But a former Gates supervisor who went to work for Central States recommended Mann when the engineer position became available. Mann initially declined the job, but he changed his mind after learning about the company’s values. The opportunity was one he didn’t pass on and one his wife supported.
“What sold me was the tremendous values of the company,” Mann said. “All companies have values. Everybody points to the stuff on the wall, and they mean a lot. At Central States, it was really different. They live those every day, and you could see it in the people. And it’s a faith-based company, which was very important to us as well. Just combined, very high integrity, very family-oriented, and so we went to work there. And it’s been phenomenal. As good as Gates was, Central States is that much better.”
Mann was plant lean coordinator when he left Gates to join Central States. A highlight of his career at Gates was when he was focus factory engineer and helped implement new software for the automated line producing belts for General Motors. He spent three months learning the software, and after setting up the line on the software and making improvements to it, productivity increased 25%.
At Central States, he had several opportunities for career advancement. He served as interim vice president of operations before stepping into the position full time in 2011. He was promoted to vice president of human resources in 2013 after he suggested the job should be an executive role. The company leadership agreed and asked him to take on the role. He focused on hiring and developing people who would take on leadership positions in the company as it added new plants.
In 2014, he was tapped to lead the Lowell plant as managing director. He became director of operations in 2016 and wrote the job description for his current position as controls engineer. He started in the position in 2017, and he uses software to create dashboards for the executive and sales teams. The dashboards show performance indicators, and visually showing data like this was something that he’d started when he’d worked at Gates.
Another part of his role is helping to build new plants, such as one in St. Louis. The plant is expected to be completed in early 2020, and his work is expected to serve as a model for future plants. The St. Louis plant will be the company’s 10th. The company had three plants when he started there. With 830 employees companywide, Central States was ranked No. 4 on the Business Journal’s 2019 list of largest private companies. In 2018, company revenue rose 11.8% to $436 million.
When asked about the highlight of his career, he cited a 2014 Forbes article that emphasized the benefits of the employee-owned company and how a Central States truck driver had accumulated $1.25 million in a company retirement account. The company in 2011 became 100% employee-owned through an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP.
“Through the work that I’ve been doing in the last 15 years, I have helped to make multiple millionaires out of people who were driving a truck, working on a production line,” Mann said.
Mann and his wife, Karen, reside in Gentry and have two children. He is involved in teaching youth at church and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He does CrossFit in his free time.