Piling Canada

JD Fields & Company

A steep growth trajectory and a diverse strategy
Written by Lisa Kopochinski
February 2023

For nearly four decades, JD Fields & Company, Inc. (JDF) has supplied millions of tons of high-quality steel products to customers worldwide. With its head office in Houston, Texas, the company provides steel pipe, H-piles, sheet piles and geostructural systems to the driven pile industry and has been experiencing rapid growth.

JDF has grown its sales and engineering team by an impressive 150 per cent over the past three years, and added more than 60 employees on the administration, accounting and operations side.

Formed in 1985 by Jerry Fields and two other partners, the company’s unique business model is comprised of two divisions serving the steel material needs for the heavy civil deep foundation and oil/gas energy markets. After years of working in the business, son, president and CEO Jay Fields purchased the company in 2008, keeping it a privately owned family company.

Many construction companies have a lot of people wearing a lot of different hats, and to roll out a project management information system is not as though you’re just turning on the light switch.

Brandon Lee, Procore Technologies Inc.

“Throughout the 30-plus years, the diverse distributor model has proven successful as both sectors tend to be independent during downturns in their respective markets,” said JDF director of engineering Dean Abbondanza. “Jay has elevated this model with vertical integration into manufacturing and fabrication through acquisitions like the number three distributor [L.B. Foster] and yard assets with domestic mill steel sheet piling source and the joint venture spiralweld pipe mill.”

Corporate structure

A flat organization by design with little middle management, this formula has proven to be very successful for JDF as it empowers its employees to be agile and get things done quicker.

“It comes with a lot of trust from the executive team,” said Abbondanza. “The construction products group of JDF is the piling division and is set up to serve the NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] markets. We have over 25 sales offices and stocking locations strategically located throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. And we own and operate yards and fabrication facilities with our new flagship spiralweld pipe pile mill in Houston.”

With more than 275 years of combined piling and deep foundation industry experience, the construction products division of the company is a steel foundation systems and solutions company built with experienced sales and engineering professionals.

“Our marketing sales and technical people are backed by the best domestic and foreign steel piling mills to offer hot rolled sheet pile, H-piles, pipe piles, micropiles and anchorage products to general, foundation and marine contractors,” said Abbondanza. “These geostructural products are used in heavy highway, civil, port, marine and environmental applications.”

Growth trajectory and ArcelorMittal

The company’s growth trajectory over the last four years has been incredibly steep and can be largely attributed to a diverse strategy combining smart acquisitions, vertical integration into manufacturing and fabrication, and hiring experienced piling sales personnel.

The purchases of a West Coast fabrication facility and the L.B. Foster piling division were significant steps towards this growth. The vertical integration into domestic spiralweld pipe production and the exclusive piling agreement with ArcelorMittal for NAFTA markets solidified its position as a leading source in the deep foundation industry.

This growth includes opening new locations and signing a long-term exclusive marketing agreement with global steel titan ArcelorMittal for the sole distribution rights to its steel sheet piling and high modulus combined wall products in North America.

“We had been making strides in the market as a strong competitor through key acquisitions, vertical integration and winning large projects. In addition to those operational moves, JDF’s playbook was founded on strong exclusive mill relationships and acquiring experienced sales and technical talent to market quality piling systems. Everyone in the industry knows that ArcelorMittal is the gold standard for the AZ sheet pile series, the HZ-M high modulus combined wall system and piling in general. When the opportunity was presented to us to add this established product line to our portfolio, it felt like another key piece of the puzzle fell into place.”

With the largest group of engineering and technical professionals with a century of global market experience, ArcelorMittal’s research and development department is constantly innovating pile solutions.

“We are committed to implementing these great resources into our engineering and marketing strategy, making them available once again to engineering and contracting professionals,” said Abbondanza.

As for which ArcelorMittal products are the most popular, the AZ sheet pile series has one of the broadest ranges of hot rolled Z-pile on the market. In addition to the standard 700-millimetre-wide sheets, the company continues to innovate and released wider 750 millimetre and 800 millimetre sections.

These products are pushing the envelope with strength to weight efficiency and driving productivity. The HZ-M combined wall system is a premier high modulus king pile beam solution. ArcelorMittal offers 15 rolled beam sizes and weights, combined with the range of AZ sheets. This system offers thousands of combination solutions to meet the growing demand for port deepening and support of excavation geostructures.

“All of this is great, but what is more exciting is the ‘green’ lead that ArcelorMittal is taking when it comes to producing steel,” said Abbondanza. “Their eco sheet pile initiative is going beyond the traditional mill purchase of carbon credits to offset CO2 emissions. They are certifying their piling products from renewable energy sources. We are proud to be partnered with the global environmental stewards of the steel industry and will be offering these green steel products.”

Other notable projects

JDF has provided steel for a number of notable driven pile projects. In 2021, the company value engineered and supplied more than 12,000 NT of its patented HMZZ high modulus beam combined wall system to Orion Marine Group for the Port of Seattle T-5 project. In 2022, it supplied more than 26,000 NT of sheet and pipe piles to the Plaquemines Parrish LNG Terminal project in Louisiana.

“Currently, the first pipe piles are rolling off our new pipe mill in Houston for an Arkansas DOT [Department of Transportation] project,” said Abbondanza. “What makes them noteworthy is that these projects are just a snapshot of our bookings, but they demonstrate how our piling solutions are built to compete across multiple sectors like municipal Buy American, public port commerce and industrial marine applications.”

JDF’s $24 million acquisition of the L.B. Foster piling division was also a very big deal in the industry – largely because L.B. Foster was the original piling distributor model.

This agreement to purchase one of the oldest steel piling distributors in the U.S. significantly increases the capacity and production of JDF as a domestic steel piling manufacturer, fabricator and distributor for deep foundation and geostructural products.

“This is a major step towards achieving our goal of becoming the top-rated domestic steel piling distributor and manufacturer in North America,” Jay said in a statement.

“It is safe to say that half the people in the piling distributor market worked for Foster. This gave JDF a domestic sheet pile source in Gerdau, allowing us to participate on DOT Buy America/Buy American projects. Acquiring one of the big names was impactful. But, for as big a deal this was in the U.S. market, the ArcelorMittal agreement was groundbreaking because of the extensive product line and NAFTA-friendly country trade status,” Abbondanza said.

The future

JDF has been voted one of the top 20 places to work in Houston for many years. Active in local Houston charity causes and others throughout the U.S., JDF CFO Joel Showalter was awarded a spot in the Top 10 influential CFOs of 2021 in Industry Era magazine. The company was also awarded a U.S./multinational patent in 2021 for the development of a high modulus combined wall system.

A Relaxed Corporate Culture

While JD Fields & Company, Inc. (JDF) is a big company with more that 25 sales offices and stocking locations across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, it doesn’t have the same corporate feel as many large companies.

“Owner and CEO Jay Fields and all the management team have open door policies,” said Dean Abbondanza, director of engineering at JDF. “They’re a phone call away and have no issues rolling up their sleaves to help. This is a result of everyone – including the executive team – wearing multiple hats with a ‘get it done’ attitude. That is why we are flat when it comes to the organizational chart. This lean model is a culture built on passion.”

While it has been a challenge to manage this steep trajectory, Abbondanza says the team is vigilant in finding the balance between growth and protecting cultural integrity.

“For many of us in the company who have been through corporate buyouts and takeoers, we know first-hand how susceptible company culture is to growth and change.” he said. “The key is to now let that strip the passion from your culture like so many other companies.”

As for his own management philosophy, Abbondanza prefers more of a coaching style.

“I believe it is a manager’s job to support your team and give them the tools and resources to do their jobs effectively. it’s also important to create a positive environment they enjoy and can thrive in professionally. We like to empower JDF members and do not micromanage. We’re all professionals and know what is required to get it done.”

As for what’s next for the company, Abbondanza smiled and said, “Can we take a minute to catch our breath? It’s a very exciting time to be at JDF. We have a lot of moving parts and even more to do, but I see us continuing the same path and expanding further into manufacturing and fabrication. If a smart acquisition opportunity arises, we will take a hard look at it. I’m always looking for ways to organically grow our market and products through new and existing applications.” 

This article originally appeared in PileDriver magazine and is reprinted here with permission.

Photos courtesy of JD Fields & Company, Inc.

Category: Profile

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.

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