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Archive for Friday, April 2, 1999

PENNY CONCRETE SEES MANY CHANGES

April 2, 1999

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The Penny ready-mix concrete company continues a family tradition.

Penny Concrete Inc. has been dispatching concrete since 1926, when the company began operations in Lawrence.

Bill Penny, today's CEO, said the family story began with his grandfather, Myrl Penny.

His first operation was along the Kansas River, so the company would be close to the sand needed for the cement and the railhead. Before Myrl Penny became a ready-mixer, he was a contractor. Bill Penny said that after a while, Myrl Penny became a ready-mix guy first and a contractor second.

In fact, Myrl was one of the founders of the Kansas Contractors Assn.

In his day, Myrl Penny's concrete paved part of Massachusetts Street and several other area streets. He died in 1956.

According to a 1992 article by Ronald Baylog in Ready Mix magazine, the early concrete was made in a central mix plant. The mixture was taken to the job in a horse-drawn container or a dump truck. Baylog article said that there were about 25 plants operation in the United States in 1925.

Given that, Bill Penny said his grandfather's company was probably one of the first 100 in the country.

In 1956, Bill Penny's father, Junius, began running the company's plant in Emporia. Bill Penny bought out his uncle, Stanley Penny, in 1976 and took over the operation in Lawrence.

See Pennys, page 11E

A third-generation Kansas University graduate, Bill Penny began in the business by working with his father for three years in Emporia. Though the three years were difficult at times, Bill Penny found his niche in the business.

"It just fits. I had an interest in business, and I needed to make a living. I grew up driving a truck, and I still drive regularly," Bill Penny said.

In 1984, the plant moved into Kansas City. In addition to Lawrence, the company now operates in six cities: Shawnee, Paola, Lewisburg, Lansing, and Martin City and Randolf, Mo.

The ready-mix concrete business has changed drastically during the years. As technology continues to improve, the plants are more equipment-intensive and operate on sophisticated computerized batching systems. The production levels continue to increase. At one time, the company dispatched 15 trucks, but now there are 90 to coordinate, Bill Penny said.

Bill Penny jokes that there are always far too many trucks or not enough.

The one factor that cannot be controlled but can play an enormous impact on Penny's business is the weather. The company's computer systems bring up a radar check every 15 minutes.

Penny continues to be active in addressing the industry's needs. He knows things will not stay the same. For example, he has worked with Overland Park to put into effect an ordinance requiring a certain quality of concrete, which can add years of life to concrete and save cities money.

Penny says his company looks forward to jobs that are more difficult or high-tech in nature.

"It is certain that change will continue. Companies with well-defined goals and vision can expect to reap the benefits of the future," Baylog wrote.

Though Bill Penny enjoys his work as the company's CEO, he says his family has always come first.

He and his wife, Marlene, have five children. Both Pennys have been active in a number of community projects and events, but Bill Penny said his wife does a lot more than he does. The couple's children are Laura Penny Hedges, Nathan Penny, Sarah Penny, Jonathan Penny and Scott Penny.

The oldest son, Nathan, has just begun learning the different phases of the business. Bill Penny has spent a considerable amount of time researching the phenomena of family-owned businesses. He understands that the process of moving from one generation to the next can be tough on the family, and that's the last thing he wants for any of his children.

Penny knows firsthand what kind of work his company requires.

"It's hard, demanding physical work," he said. "I have the greatest respect for our employees."

-- Regina Cassell's phone message number is 832-7189. Her e-mail address is rcassell@ljworld.com.

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