February 5, 2020
“I’m such a believer that my kids need to do something different, at least for a period of their life. Go apply for your own job. Negotiate your own salary. Negotiate your own working conditions and work hard and impress your own boss. Find out if that’s right for you or if that’s maybe not as easy as it appeared to be.” ~Bryan Keen
A century is a long time to be in business. While Bryan Keen, president of Keen Compressed Gas Co., takes those hundred years in stride, he doesn’t take anything for granted.
He’s capitalizing on new markets and broadening the company’s reach with 15 locations throughout the Mid-Atlantic. I got to chat with Bryan about family history, creating a knowledgeable workforce, and planning for Keen’s future.
“Managing through the changes every year is fun,” says Bryan. “You look back on what you accomplished and where you were two years ago or three years ago, or even last year and you just ...you know, you’ve got to be proud of what you accomplished.”
Keen has succeeded where other companies have failed. A family-run operation whose first location opened in 1919 doesn’t flourish into the 21st century without managing through challenges and proactively seeking areas in which to expand.
Distribution Talk is produced by The Distribution Team, a consulting services firm dedicated to helping wholesale distribution clients remove barriers to profitability, generate wealth and achieve personal goals.
This episode was edited & mixed by The Creative Impostor Studios.
And they don’t grow without a commitment to their people. Keen has a long history of supporting its employees for success through training and premiums. “You can’t just be happy with what you sold yesterday. You’ve got to keep them fresh...you’ve got to get them excited about [new products], and you’ve got to compensate them for selling it.”
If you’ve listened to Distribution Talk in the past, or you’re part of a legacy business yourself, you already know how Bryan’s story goes. An adolescence spent watching his grandfather, his father, and extended family grow the business. Summer vacations in the warehouse while high school buddies were at the pool. And then a break from the familiar company confines he’d grown up in.
“I went to work for the company that bought [the propane] segment of our business and I was challenged with the conversion, basically transitioning that business and those employees ...and I had to get them on board with the new corporate structure.”
Bryan says he learned a lot of incredible lessons from his three years away: negotiation strategies, leadership styles, purchasing plans--so much so that should his own children want to follow him into the business, he’ll urge them to try something different before opting back into Keen.
Bryan went “all in” on the family business early on. “I realized the opportunity that was in front of me,” he says. He has a knack for sussing out market options and choosing the ones that will work the best for Keen.
So, while the auto plants and steel mills slowly left the industrial Northeast, the company got busy aligning with new tech: pharmaceutical businesses, university research and development departments, convenience food packaging operations. Keen also just completed a major plant investment which has the company poised to reach new heights.
After 20 years at the helm, does Bryan see an endpoint for himself yet? “You got to keep it fresh and keep having fun running the business and the day that you don’t have fun running the business today, you really need to start looking at your options,” he adds, “but I’m nowhere near that.”