When Phillip Ramos left a company that made rubber liners for the mining industry to launch his own business in 1983, he had a two-prong plan: Stick with what he knew but add plastic products; then build up sales so he would have something to pass on to his children.
Ramos, the 66-year-old founder of Field Lining Systems Inc., in Avondale, Ariz., succeeded at both goals and then some.
High density polyethylene liners are the big sellers and 14 relatives, including his daughter, Kristy K. Lagunas, who is president, and his grandson, Joshua Ramos, who is superintendent, work for the company.
“I think the dedication of a family member far exceeds what a conventional employee would give to a company,” Ramos said in a telephone interview. “At the end of the day, they know they are working for a cause, which is for the family and the good of everyone. It's not just a paycheck. It's the long term.”
And therein lies one of the big challenges of owning a business where you work with the same people with whom you share holiday meals.
“You worry about keeping enough work ongoing to support all of the staff,” Ramos, the son of migrant workers, said.
He has managed that for 33 years, starting out with five employees after taking out a $25,000 loan with his house as collateral. Lagunas joined the team at age 14. She answered phones, put together brochures and got to know the staff. Now she is a co-owner with Joshua Ramos. Field Lining Systems is a certified woman minority-owned business with Lagunas serving as president about 7 years.
“We had a trust in place prior to her taking over,” Ramos said. “The goal was to transfer the company over to my kids. They were to be the recipients of what I had grown.”
However, Ramos lost his other child, a son, in 1996 at age 27. But his late son's boy, Joshua Ramos, has stepped into a leadership role and at age 22 is 49 percent owner of the company.
That doesn't mean the third generation of family owners were born into their positions, Phillip Ramos added.
“They must perform. There's no nepotism,” he said. “I'm not going to give them a break. If anything, I expect more. I want 110 percent.”
Ramos pointed to another grandson, Andrew Ramos, who patented a process to put solar panels on geomembranes. The innovation has opened the door to business talks with a manufacturer of solar panels made of thin film.
With ideas like that being pursued, Phillip Ramos said he has high hopes Field Lining Systems makes it to the fourth generation. The company employs 35 to 70 people depending on the cyclical nature of the mining industry and the kind of projects they are hired to oversee.
“When copper pricing drops, the companies we work for cut projects but luckily we've diversified ourselves,” Ramos said. “The job dictates the number of people we have.”