Getting out from behind the desk enabled Knautz to shape the company that helped build Fort Worth.
by Mark Wright '07 (MS) '11 (MLA) Photo by Glen E. Ellman
Knautz' Acme Brick company is the nation's largest brick producer.
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Topics: What I Learned Since Graduation
by Mark Wright '07 (MS) '11 (MLA)
Photo by Glen E. Ellman
Windows in the third-floor office of Dennis Knautz ’75 (MBA ’76) at the Acme Brick Co. overlook the Clear Fork of the Trinity River. The view allows Knautz to see TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium in the distance.
The 125-year-old company’s plant in Perla, Ark., produced just about every brick used for the stadium and other buildings around campus. The iron-rich clay in the state’s southwest region gives “TCU brick” its distinctive golden buff blend.
“What I saw quickly is it’s one thing just to add up a column of numbers to put together an appropriate set of financial statements. It’s something else entirely to learn what those financial statements mean.”Dennis Knautz
Knautz, who became Acme’s CEO in 2005, values how the company, the city and his alma mater have grown together over the years. Acme Brick was founded 40 miles to the west of Fort Worth but has called Cowtown home since 1911. That’s the same year TCU relocated from its temporary downtown lodgings to the current campus location.
“It almost gets to an expectation that we need to help build Fort Worth. There’s a tradition and a style,” said Knautz. He has worked for the Berkshire Hathaway-owned Acme Brick for 33 years.
From the brick-paved portion of Camp Bowie and Sundance Square to Will Rogers Coliseum, Fort Worth is, in large part, a city made of brick, and Acme was happy to supply the building blocks.
“It’s nice to have a look around and see that,” Knautz said. “There’s a sense of ownership and pride. … Downtown is a brick town. For someone who always has brick glasses on, I see that.”
“It almost gets to an expectation that we need to help build Fort Worth. There’s a tradition and a style.”Dennis Knautz
Acme is the nation’s largest brick producer. The company has 26 brick plants in nine states and sales offices stretching from Denver and El Paso to the west and Savannah, Ga., to the east.
Acme stamps about one out of every eight bricks made in the country with its logo. It is probably the only company name most people have ever seen on a brick. “Predecessors to me took a look at the brick industry and realized nobody really branded their brick,” Knautz said. “If you’re going to come out with a new soda, you’re going to be competing against Pepsi and Coke.”
Company pitchman and ex-Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman carries Acme’s branding message on radio and television, saying: “If you don’t see the Acme name, you’re not getting Acme quality.” In signing Aikman in the early 1990s, Acme reinforced its status as the brick brand homeowners wanted builders to use for their homes.
From branding to balancing the bottom line, Knautz, who is on the External Advisory Board for TCU’s College of Science & Engineering, learned many lessons in business since graduation. His math degree taught him how to balance a budget, but his job as an accounting supervisor taught him to apply those skills in the real world.
“What I saw quickly is it’s one thing just to add up a column of numbers to put together an appropriate set of financial statements. It’s something else entirely to learn what those financial statements mean,” Knautz said. “What drives the numbers behind those financial statements?”
When he came to Acme as controller, Knautz knew he could not help the company operate efficiently from behind a desk. “I got involved. I went out to plants. I visited sales offices. I talked with sales guys, sales managers and production managers. I walked through plants and learned how the business ran.”
There’s always plenty more to learn. Acme is navigating an increasingly competitive construction environment. Granite, steel, glass and other building materials give builders a multitude of options. “We’re competing with more materials today than they did a generation ago,” Knautz said.
Acme, which owns American Tile & Stone, is keeping up with industry changes and expanding its offerings of masonry and other materials. But the company is still best-known for its bricks. Besides TCU, Acme bricks are at several college campuses in Texas and Oklahoma.
The red brick façade of the Texas Rangers’ Globe Life Park also is built with Acme bricks. Knautz remembers how exacting the architect was in his search for the right blend of red to give the ballpark its old-time look and feel. “We tried 50 different blends before he finally acquiesced and said, ‘This is the one.’ And he put Ranger Red 1 next to Ranger Red 50. You could hardly tell the difference. He was happy and that was fine, and I think that’s worked out very well.”
In 2008, Acme left its longtime, and rather spartan, home on 7th Street for plush offices in the Clearfork development in southwest Fort Worth. Today, the company has signed Aikman for a new series of television advertising spots, and Knautz continues to look for ways to keep his company growing and thriving.
“The brick industry has been around forever and is really a mature industry, so to generate above-normal sales growth is a challenge,” Knautz said. “To help lead the industry as the number one brick producer keeps me fired up every day.”
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