ATAS International Celebrates 50 Years: Product Diversity And Teamwork Ethic Drive Company Forward
By Marge O’Connor, DesignandBuildwithMetal.com
The road to success is not easily traveled. No matter its size or scope, a company will experience some bumps along the way that become challenges or opportunities depending on how they are managed.
For ATAS International, Allentown, PA, its 50-year path has been driven by a consistent, positive attitude. Although ATAS is family-owned, its philosophy of hiring and training the best people regardless of family ties has developed a strong team ethic.
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According to ATAS President Dick Bus, staying on course takes more than one type of discipline. “The business decisions are only part of growing a company and keeping it successful. The roles and contributions of all team members are vital to the success of the business. It’s definitely a large team effort to keep things functioning, and everyone is important – from sales to customer service, production, support staff, truck drivers – you name it. As my brother and I grew the company we brought that teamwork philosophy into play by consistently making sure each person’s talents are recognized and used in the best possible ways.”
Their father established the company 50 years ago. By 1985 it had 17 employees and 11 of those had the last name of Bus. Not all of the siblings stayed in the business, however. Today ATAS currently has 135 employees and only eight are family members.
Dick and his brother, Jim Bus, continue to lead the company with Dick as President and Jim as Executive Vice President. Jim handles primarily the operations side and is involved in local volunteer work. Dick focuses on administrative activities and national organizations. Jim Bush is Vice President of Sales and Marketing and has been with the company since 1984.
Dick’s wife Peg has managed the company’s human resources needs since 1979, balancing her work for ATAS with being a mother, which Dick describes as a “very fortunate situation for both our family and our business.”
The Bus family is setting the stage for transition to the next generation of managers as team members are promoted and other family members join the company. Dick and Peg’s sons are in the business; Eric runs the plant in Mesa, AZ and Mark is the Eastern Regional Sales Manager. Jim’s kids are also involved. Tiffany works in customer service at Brightsmith and Tony currently works part-time while studying engineering at Penn State. Jim’s two other daughters are not in the business. The founding generation is also still active in ATAS. Dick and Jim’s mom, Nel, is 82 years young and going strong. She comes in the office regularly to contribute her marketing talent to the mix.
In 1963, Aluminum Trims and Shapes, today known as ATAS International, started operations in the basement of the Bus home (above). Less than 10 years later, the company had moved into a 12,000 sq. ft. facility (below). Click images to view enlarged photos as part of a timeline of highlights from the 50-year history of ATAS.
The momentum for ATAS began in the early 1960s when Jacobus P. and Nel Bus were immigrants with eight children to support. Jacob started his company in 1962 as a siding and trim installer. In 1963 he heard that his trim supplier was closing so he bought the man’s equipment and set it up in the basement of his family’s home. He called the company Aluminum Trim and Shapes, which later became ATAS. By 1972 he had completely stopped installation and was concentrating on manufacturing.
By 1985 the company had grown enough to need more space so it moved from Rochester, NY to Allentown, PA, which also put it in a more central location for shipping and customer access.
Initially ATAS focused on producing residential siding products but in 1978 it began making products for commercial projects and shopping centers. By the late 1980s and into the mid-1990s the company expanded its commercial roofing work to include siding based on what was happening in the market.
“We listened to customers and took the step into architectural part of the industry. When we moved into commercial we also changed the name to ATAS Aluminum. In the mid-1990s we changed it to ATAS International since we were shipping to customers outside the United States and had expanded into steel roofing and siding,” notes Dick.
In 1999 ATAS went back into the residential market with modular roofing and formed a division called ACCEL Roofing Products that focused on that market. Now it also owns Brightsmith, a coil coating company that had been an ATAS supplier.
Nel and Jacobus "Jack" Bus are shown here during the groundbreaking for the ATAS facility in Allentown, PA, in 1983. Click image to view the enlarged photo as part of a timeline of highlights from the 50-year history of ATAS.
Through the easy and the difficult times, Dick and his brother Jim have made it work.
“I’ve always worked alongside Dick. We have a lot of cross interaction - we tell each other when we’re wrong and bounce ideas off each other. With staff, we have a regular but informal process for getting feedback on new ways to improve our processes and products. It’s kind of free flowing. I’m actively walking around the shop and talking with staff about how things are going. I like to think I know everything, but also know there are a lot of good people who are capable of telling me otherwise. I keep learning every day. I feel fortunate that my dad had a business I liked so I never had an interest in going elsewhere. It feels like I’ve been doing this forever but I’m always excited about coming to work everyday,” Jim Bus says.
In addition to these voluntary changes that helped strengthen the business, ATAS responded to external forces with other transformations.
ATAS is well-known for a wide range of high-quality metal roofing, wall and ceiling products like ScanRoof (above) that was introduced in 1987 and the Versa-Lok and Versa-Seam wall panel profiles (below) that were unveiled in 2009. Click images to view enlarged photos as part of a timeline of highlights from the 50-year history of ATAS. To view the full line of ATAS products, visit www.atas.com.
“We prevailed through a half dozen economic downturns. Personally I think some of these were good for our company. In fact they’re good for any company because they make you step back to analyze what’s working and to make changes. Yes, we’ve made a few mistakes along the way, but nothing that would have put the company in jeopardy. Our decisions have always been based on how we can make things better for employees, or to help customers and suppliers make more money,” notes Dick.
His brother Jim concurs and explains how they’ve done it. “In an economic downturn we tend to react faster to customer service needs. We get product to market quicker, increase inventory to do that, and keep people trained. We haven’t gone through a layoff process because we know people rely on us for income. We created that sense of loyalty by trying to keep ahead of the competition to keep business flowing.”
Going forward the family knows there will be other challenges and opportunities. Those include maintaining awareness with customers and building owners and even among competitors. The brothers agree that staying on top of technology is a key part of the future.
“In today’s fast-paced digital world information such as quotes is shared a lot quicker. That’s a benefit but also a challenge in that competitors will know what each other has bid. Products have to get there a lot quicker and information is almost instant. The benefit is that we can share info and confirm bids, orders, and shipping a lot faster via the Internet. It also avoids confusion. I remember taking an order over the phone and writing down 23-foot panels but the customer meant 20 three-foot panels. Today that misinterpretation would be caught instantly,” Jim Bus says.
Preparing for the future includes developing team members for leadership transition, which is an ongoing process at ATAS.
“We’re not big on titles here but focus on responsibility whether it’s making the panels or getting sales. We’ve elevated people from within who understood that growth in responsibility is a key. Since we now have five manufacturing plants there are many places for people to grow,” Jim Bus says.
As the company has grown ATAS has kept employees satisfied and feeling they are important by practicing good communication, notes Peg Bus. “Communication has always been important, especially with transitions and mergers. So each June and December we hold meetings to give staff the outlook as to what’s going on. Plus we give them constant reassurance so they know they’re doing the right things and they won’t worry.”
ATAS also holds semi-annual communication meetings and has an “ATA Boy Program”. When a team member does something above and beyond they get rewards such as gift cards. Reward programs such as this, plus the daily confirmation offer the necessary reassurance. “Managers who oversee staff are very good at training and reassuring them that they are doing a good job. Also being ISO certified makes our staff become an integral part of the team because they see we’re trying to improve our standards and products. Having this policy in place makes them accountable and ensures their job security,” adds Peg.
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One person who is not a family member but is often considered one is Jim Bush. And it’s not just the similarity in names. “Jim Bush was actually working in Allentown before I was. He has the same mindset as we do – that no job is too small for us to do. When we get crossed phone calls we may take care of it unless it’s really obvious the person needs to talk with the other Jim,” says Jim Bus.
Jim Bush also takes a positive approach to any confusion. “To this day I may be deep into a conversation with someone when I realize the person is following up on something they talked about with Jim Bus. I think that’s the openness of our company where everyone has the “can-do” philosophy rather than an "it's not my job" approach. Actually, I take pride in the fact that people think I’m acting on behalf of the owner although I'm not an owner.”
In his role as vice president of sales and marketing Jim Bush has also helped keep ATAS on a steady track with a forward-looking attitude. “Customer service has always been important and we are always trying to keep ahead of trends in the industry and product development. We also tend to be proactive in our market approach and our sales approach to the design community so that we reach them in the design stage. Education remains important. We educate our employees about the industry and offer continuing education programs to serve customers, contractors, and the architectural community. It’s even more important today with code compliance and energy efficiency trends and the integration with photovoltaic and solar.”
When Jim Bush started in sales for ATAS the focus was on selling the concept of metal. “Our target customers weren’t well versed about metal and contractors had no clue about working with metal, so we were training from ground zero with them. Now that metal has gained more market share installation techniques are more widely understood, but training is still important to ensure performance. The entire approach is more detailed and scientific with contractors and the industry as a whole,” he notes.
Throughout his long-term tenure Jim Bush has enjoyed watching both the company and the industry grow. “Being with ATAS has given me a lot of flexibility. My position has gotten me involved in many facets of the business from the building side as well as sales. I attend a lot of industry events and enjoy bringing information from them to staff. We have regular information sharing meetings for items like this.”
ATAS team members celebrate the headquarters' certification to ISO 9001:2000 in 2006. Click image to view the enlarged photo as part of a timeline of highlights from the 50-year history of ATAS.
The importance of industry involvement remains a company-wide activity both locally and nationally. It began with Dick’s volunteering for the Metal Construction Association.
“I got involved in MCA in 1985-86 when Srini Srinivasan from Howmet Aluminum in Texas (now part of Fabral) invited me to an MCA meeting. Peg and I went and it was fantastic. For the next five years we went just to socialize. When METALCON began, I started getting more involved with MCA first with development of the Minimal Guide Specs for Residential Roofing as part of the roofing committee. I became chair of that committee and eventually served four years as MCA President. Our sales support manager is involved in some local industry groups and is now president elect of the local CSI chapter. Our daughter Tina is current president of the CSI Allentown chapter. Most of our product reps are involved in local chapters of organizations and some are also heavily involved in the USGBC. I strongly encourage anyone to get involved in these kinds of organizations because it gives you credibility, plus you meet great people and learn about companies and the industry in the process,” Dick says.
During his tenure with MCA Dick was an advocate for certification programs such as those for the metal roofing product and contractors as well as the MCA Fabricators Council’s certification program. But he feels the biggest milestones for MCA have been creating METALCON and establishing the Metal Roofing Alliance. “These are significant because METALCON provides a major income stream for MCA to expand other programs and MRA has raised the awareness and market share of metal roofing.”
Going forward, the path for ATAS is clear – to continue doing what’s worked well but always look for ways to improve. Jim Bus sums it up: “We’re happy where we’re at but not satisfied. We want to continue to grow and we pay attention to what’s going on by listening to the market and acting accordingly.”
To view the images that accompany this article, along with many more, click here to open a PDF timeline of ATAS' history.
About ATAS International Inc.
Founded in 1963, ATAS International Inc. is a leading manufacturer of metal roofing, wall cladding, ceilings, perimeter edge metal, and accessories. The ATAS portfolio features an expansive selection of products available in aluminum, steel, zinc, stainless steel, and copper. Standard profiles include narrow and wide ribbed wall panels, corrugated styles, standing seam and batten seam roof systems, metal shingles, shakes, tiles, and more. Additional options include curved, tapered, and perforated panels; concealed or exposed fasteners; smooth or embossed textures; horizontal and vertical applications; and a choice of over 40 stock colors with 70% PVDF finish.
With sustainability at the forefront of modern building design, ATAS proudly supports green building objectives with high performance solutions, such as solar-ready roof panels, insulated metal panels, cool roofing products, and solar air heating wall panels. The ATAS team consists of product and market specialists that provide a high level of support for your project, from initial discovery and design to installation. ATAS has two ISO 9001:2015 certified manufacturing locations in the United States: the headquarters in Allentown, PA, and their facility in Mesa, AZ. ATAS also has a second location in Allentown, PA, and recently added a new manufacturing location in University Park, IL. For more information about ATAS International, visit www.atas.com or call 610.395.8445.