How Ruffled Feathers Keep Markall, R.A. Industries On Move
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
When Santa Ana-based engineering firms Markall Inc. and R.A. Industries LLC received the Business Journal’s Longevity Award for Family-Owned Businesses, three generations of family members got the rare opportunity to partake in a group accomplishment.
“We never get to celebrate as companies,” said Robin Follman-Otta, chief executive of Markall and the chief operating officer of R.A. Industries, after a luncheon honoring five companies on June 21 (see related profiles, photos; pages 1, 4, 6, 8 and 9).
“We’re a humble family,” said Follman-Otta, who had a globe-trotting career as an opera singer before she joined the family business. “We don’t like to toot our own horn.”
Markall is the marketing and management arm of the full-service engineering, international repair and fabrication company. R.A. Industries is its manufacturing arm. Both companies operate in a 70,000-square-foot site to serve the aerospace, defense, energy, fitness and commercial sectors.
The companies employ about 120 and have total annual revenue of about $32 million.
Follman-Otta was an honoree at the Business Journal’s Women in Business Awards in May. The Family-Owned Business Awards spread the recognition over three generations of the family, highlighting the collective effort to launch an enterprise, transition it through changes in the California economy, and keep it running from the 1960s to today.
She and her father oversee the companies’ daily operations. Her younger brother Jack Follman, who Follman-Otta said is considered the future of the company, is a compliance specialist and the executive vice president of manufacturing and engineering for Markall.
Follman-Otta said that the foundation for the current companies began when her grandfather founded a company to provide parts and materials to the oil and gas industry in Southern California in the 1960s.
It shifted to making parts for the aerospace industry as it boomed throughout Southern California during the 1970s.
Aerospace parts are manufactured to withstand higher heat and pressures than parts for the oil and gas industry, Follman-Otta said.
Her father, Robert Follman, started working for his father’s company at 17, and developed an interest in making the more “exotic” parts for the aerospace industry, while his father wanted to serve the oil industry.
Robert bought the family business, pursued his father’s path, and eventually sold the company to an oil drilling firm in the 1980s.
“He essentially worked himself out of a job,” Follman-Otta said.
Robert Follman then started working for Richard Auger—the “R.A.” of R.A. Industries.
ey became partners, and Follman eventually bought out Auger and became chief executive of R.A. Industries.
The Follmans got a significant boost when oil producer Baker Hughes in Houston, Texas, asked R.A. Industries to manufacture parts for oil rigs, she said.
Robert Follman continued to pursue his interest in “exotic” parts and began working on projects for the NASA Space Shuttle and the Defense Department’s sidewinder missile.
There are a lot of other government contracts, Follman-Otta said, “but we can’t talk about those projects.”
The company added production to serve clients in the oil industry during the oil and natural gas boom before the recent glut and plummet in prices for the commodities, Follman-Otta said.
The Follmans then broadened their client base after the oil boom to produce parts for the entertainment and film industries, medical device makers, and athletic equipment makers.
Follman-Otta said the companies’ strength is that “each generation sees technology differently.”
Her father, Robert, learned about technology on the production floor with her grandfather, jury-rigging needed machines and testing various products.
Her brother learned about engineering at Santa Ana College and the Training Centers of Southern California.
Each one of them has a different opinion on the family businesses, Follman-Otta said.
“We each will fight for everything that we believe” when it comes to the business, she said.
“Feathers are ruffled after the arguments, but we’re a family—want to have a clear conscience at the end of the day,” she said. “We have to create safe and reliable products—lives rely on them.”
About 390 people attended the Business Journal’s 17th Family Owned Business Awards luncheon at Hotel Irvine on Tuesday.
The annual event was highlighted by a keynote address by Steve and Alexis Schulze, co-founders of Nekter Juice Bar.
The couple, who said the Santa Ana-based company just opened its 60th location, debated in a lighthearted exchange the merits of taking action and pursuing passion when establishing and expanding a company. In the end, they agreed that balance between the two is the key to Nekter’s success.
This year’s awards went to:
· R.A. Industries LLC/Markall Inc., based in Santa Ana, for longevity
· San Clemente-based Slyde Handboards, in the up and coming business category
· Urban Produce, based in Irvine, as a small business
· Costa Mesa-based Portola Coffee Lab as a medium business
· Professional Plastics Inc., based in Fullerton, as a large business
The honorees will be profiled in the Business Journal’s July 4 print edition.