A Family Dedicated to Protecting Yours
“Purpose” is defined as the reason something exists or is done, made or used.
And sometimes, you don’t find purpose; purpose finds you—just like how purpose found Lester Fike Sr. more than 70 years ago.
His purpose, it turned out, was to develop an industrial safety device that would save countless lives across the world.
Laying the Foundation
Like so many other successful companies, Fike Corporation also grew from humble roots.
In October 1945 Lester Fike Sr. founded L.L. Fike Metal Products Company in the basement of his home. The workforce consisted of just Les Sr., his wife Rose and a close high school friend named Earl Rathburn.
For five years Les Sr. accepted various contracts, performing job shop work in tooling and metal fabrication and serving all roles in manufacturing, product development, sales and marketing.
“He was working quite extensively, not leaving much time for sleep,” reflected his son, Lester Fike Jr. “He worked that way for five years, finding products that other people wanted made. He was the hardest working man I’ve ever known.”
But through all the demanding one-off jobs, Les Sr. was committed to finding that one product he could build an entire company around.
His first noteworthy product? The Triple Topper—a revolutionary jar and bottle opener that fastened to a kitchen cabinet or wall. While enjoying moderate success, and helping keep his business afloat, it was not the revolutionary product he sought.
No, he was seeking to develop a product that had true meaning. A product that could even be trusted to save someone’s life.
When Opportunity Knocks
Job shop work continued through the late 1940s and early 1950s. Then, an opportunity presented itself. One that would ultimately change not only Les Sr.’s life but also the lives of his two children, Les Jr. and Sally, and thousands of future employees around the globe.
Les Sr.’s brother worked for a company who sold chemicals to an agriculture product manufacturer based out of St. Louis. He told Les that he had heard this company was frustrated that their rupture disc provider (Les Sr.’s previous employer) could only produce discs made from stainless steel, which corrode. And even more interesting—their patents had expired.
Les Sr. hadn’t been directly involved in the manufacturing of rupture discs, but he knew about them and how they worked. Being a talented machinist and an even harder worker, he was confident that he could fulfill the request.
Perhaps application-specific rupture discs were a product the world truly needed; one in which he could build an entire company around.
In 1955 L.L. Fike Metal Products Company said goodbye to the Triple Topper and primarily became a rupture disc manufacturing company.
Les Sr. hired the best engineers, manufacturers and salespeople he could find. And his vision began taking shape, as rupture discs would fuel Fike Corporation’s growth for the next several decades and help the company expand into new industries, and soon, into other countries.
Reaching New Heights
“We were born on invention, engineering and manufacturing,” said Brad Batz, current President and CEO of Fike Corporation and nephew of Les Fike Jr. “Often times, we’d run across something and question, ‘Can we make that?’”
The answer was often, “Yes.”
This mentality led Fike directly into other industries, including fire suppression. Fike was working on an application that required a deluge system, a pressurized container that would flood a small compartment space in a marine engine room application. To complete the suppression system, Fike engineers added a rupture disc for the perfect leak-tight seal that would burst at a given pressure.
Business was good. So good that it was time to expand internationally and into new markets.
Les Sr. retired and handed over the company to his son, Les Jr., to write the next chapter of the Fike story.
Germany, Canada, India and Singapore were just a few of Fike’s new territories during this era of growth in the 1980s. But perhaps no other partnership was more telling of the Fike family’s character than their international partnership with Takashi Shimura in Japan.
Les Fike Jr. received a letter from Shimura specifically wanting to represent Fike in his home country. After several meetings and conversations, both parties agreed: they didn’t want Shimura to just represent Fike; they wanted Shimura to open Fike’s first international location.
Les Jr. and Shimura agreed to a deal validated by nothing more than a handshake. The terms were when he retired, Fike would buy him out.
After decades of partnership, Shimura successfully retired in 2015—all of it riding on nothing more than a handshake deal made more than 30 years prior.
The Story Continues
Les Fike Jr. lived out his childhood dreams of sailing around the world (three times in fact), as his brother-in-law, Gary Batz, continued the Fike tradition as president and CEO in the late 1980s and 1990s. Years later, Sally (Les Jr.’s sister) and Gary’s son Brad would be voted in as Fike’s new president and CEO in 2015.
Brad’s primary objective is to continue his grandfather’s legacy, just as Brad’s uncle, mother and father, and countless other employees, did before him. The legacy always has and always will begin with keeping people safe.
“It all starts with the Fike Story,” Brad said. “We are proud of our history and want to embrace it. We have the awesome opportunity and capability to develop and deliver a valuable product. When our products are needed, they work, and allow people to return home to their families.
“We want to continue to build on our story that we believe is special in this world, because as a company we care about more than just profit; it’s also about the employees and the effect we have on their lives, the communities in which we live, and the people whom we help protect.”