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Regional Newsmaker

Madison’s Russell proves
that hard work does pay dividends

Russell’s company was a finalist for
2008 Indiana Chamber Small Business Award

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(February 2008) – In 1993, Madison businessman Rick Russell took a huge chance and started a small business with just four employees. Through strategic planning and aggressive thinking, that business has now expanded to dozens of employees, a sister company and more acquisitions in progress.

Rick Russell

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Rick Russell, head of Midwest Tube
Mills Inc., and sister company R&T Steel
& Wire, is always looking for the
next business opportunity.

On Jan. 22, Russell’s Midwest Tube Mills Inc., 2971, Michigan Rd., was one of the finalists in the prestigious Indi-ana Chamber of Commerce’s 2008 Small Business of the Year. More than 50 companies throughout the state were selected to be nominees for the award, and only six reached the finalist stage.
The award is just one of many Russell, 44, has won since starting his steel tubing company. Russell’s innovative approach to business and his forward thinking are two reasons he has become so successful in such a short time. “I try to think outside the box,” he said. “I simply understand how business works and how to capitalize on opportunity.”
Russell is a self-made businessman. He began his career in tool and die, a trade he learned from his father. He worked in the trade for years before deciding to branch out and start his own company, Midwest Tube Mills Inc., which was originally located in Edinburgh, Ind.
After six years, he moved the company to Madison. Currently, he has more than 80 employees at the company. In 2006, Russell formed a sister company R&T Steel and Wire, which employees about 70. R&T is a kennel fabricating business.
Russell explained how the two companies are inter-related. Midwest Tube Mills makes steel tubing, while R&T uses the steel tubing to create cutting edge dog kennels, he said.
“The pet products industry is the fastest growing industry in the world because all the baby boomers have pets,” he said.
Recently, Russell bought the former Reliance Electric and US Filter/Envirex factories that had closed in Madison and left nearly 300 people jobless. He plans to create or acquire other businesses that will work in sync with his existing companies. Many of the parts that are needed to produce his products are made in China or Indonesia.
“What I would like to do is create businesses that produce those parts here in Madison,” he said. “Production and shipping costs would be lower, assembly time faster, and more people in Madison would have jobs.”
Jefferson County Commissioner Julie Berry took a vacation day to go to the Indiana Chamber dinner to support Russell. “Rick is moving and shaking our economy by creating jobs,” she said. “We really need to show support for our community members that are working hard for all of us.”
Russell acquired another industry-related company in Franklin, Ind., in mid-January and is looking to relocate it to either one of the existing factories he owns or to build a new facility on his 100-acre industrial park.
He is also looking to expand his business into the automotive industry, possibly through their powder coating or e-coat line of products. “The new Honda plant in Greensburg will afford Madison businesses the opportunity to be suppliers or even suppliers to the suppliers,” he said. “We plan to be involved in bringing those types of businesses to our community.”
Russell has a five-year plan that includes acquiring or starting two businesses a year in some industry-related field. “I am always looking for inter-related business opportunities that will help the entire industry achieve a better margin.”
Mary Beth Boone, marketing director at Midwest Tube, said Russell doesn’t limit his marketing to his own property. “We let people know about Madison’s “Shovel-Ready” Industrial Park because any new business that comes here helps all of us.”
Russell said business has changed in recent years, so communities have to be more aggressive in attracting industry to their area. “You can’t sit by the phone and wait for it to ring. You have to be on it.” That idea is what propels his work forward.
He also believes that “hard work gets you everywhere.” He said he loves to work and spends most of his time working because “It’s what I am good at.”
But working isn’t all that Russell does. He is also involved in a variety of community interests as well. His company has been involved in philanthropic work since it began. “I believe in corporate responsibility and giving back.”
Mike Armstrong, human resource and information services director at Midwest Tube Mills, is also in charge of the charitable arm of the company. He left the King’s Daughters’ Hospital and Health Services after 22 years to work for Russell. “If you can’t get excited about coming to work here, you have a problem,” he said. “There are new challenges and opportunities every day.”
Armstrong said the company’s charitable part has filed the necessary paperwork with the IRS to be a charitable organization. It will be called the Russell Family Foundation. In the meantime, the company is already participating in community giving. The Lide White Boys and Girls Club, youth basketball leagues, the athletic programs at the three area high schools and the Warren R. Rucker Sports Complex are some of the beneficiaries of the Midwest Tube Mill-Russell Family Foundation.
Berry said Russell stepped in and essentially saved the animal shelter when management issues threatened to shut it down. “He not only gave us money, but he also donated his time to help,” she said. “I don’t know what we would have done without him.”
Boone said the Russell family actually bought an RV and drove local youth basketball players to games around the region.
Armstrong said the company also sponsors the music at the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art each year, and last year was a sponsor at the Madison Regatta.
This year, the company plans to donate the security fencing needed to upgrade the sports complex. It will also continue to support the other programs it always has and look for more opportunities for community involvement, he said.

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