Iron Man: Patrick Schueck Continues Father’s Legacy Leading Lexicon

Lexicon President and CEO Patrick Schueck visits the shop floor. Photos by Stephen Lewis

To borrow a line from “The Godfather,” Patrick Schueck believes in America.

It’s an ethos both born-in and hard-earned, handed down to him by a father audacious enough to launch the family steel business on $800, and tanned into the hide of his character by decades working elbow-to-elbow with the company’s employees.

Every day he reports to work at Lexicon, the behemoth steel fabrication and construction firm headquartered in the Port of Little Rock, he feels the momentum of the past carrying the company into new markets, challenging projects and boundless opportunities. The kinetic energy is palpable, even in conversation.

“People are once again realizing how much better things are when they’re built in the U.S.,” Schueck said. “People understand how much better things are when you buy an American-made object.”

Nearby on the shop floor, Lexicon sports a dazzling array of manufacturing technology, seamlessly melding the mechanical and digital. Unlike many steel company presidents and CEOs, Schueck fits in on the production floor, arguably moreso than the boardroom. Here, he’s among the people he admires most in the environment that’s shaped him personally and professionally. In a word, he’s home.

“I’ve had to work for everything I have. That was ingrained in me and my sister by my parents,” he said. “My mom and dad were never ever scared to work. Dad worked a lot. Mom worked the whole time I was growing up. It’s very ingrained in who we are that you’ve got to do the work.”

In some ways, company founder Tom Schueck still looms large over this place, more than two decades after his death. His influence emotes from the black-and-white then-and-now company pictures on wall and website, and the color photo peering through a frame near Patrick’s desk. Current renovation efforts to the headquarters will even include an exact replica of the founder’s office.

Of all the echoes from Tom’s era, his pro-growth mentality reverberates loudest. In just over 24 months, the firm has completed two major acquisitions, buying Steel Fabricators of Monroe, Louisiana, in 2020, and last year, Universal Ltd., an Alabama company specializing in industrial sheeting, insulation, coating and scaffolding.

But a closer look reveals the most substantial growth the firm has enjoyed of late is the cultural and organizational kind, something even more impactful than acquired assets and increased headcount. And this is entirely of the younger Schueck’s doing.

“My dad was a very hard charger. He was amazing,” Schueck said. “We were very dictatorial back then, and when I say that, I mean we were fantastic at doing what we were told. We would execute. We were phenomenal at execution, and we would do it with a high level of integrity, a high level of passion. But we weren’t really good about thinking for ourselves.

“When Dad passed in March of 2020, we got everybody together and discovered we were really walking on top of each other. Two guys would be doing the same thing. One guy wouldn’t be doing what he should be doing because that wasn’t what he wanted to do.”

Consultants were hired to help suggest improvements, and the entire company worked to mesh the many gears driving the company forward. It was meticulous work, stripping away layers and breaking down walls to let a new operational philosophy breathe.

“We were in our silos, we had individual companies but there was no overlay because we were just so damn good at doing what we were told to do,” Schueck said. “When we started operating outside of silos, we started communicating better with ourselves.”

When the acquisitions followed, Lexicon’s new strategy was proven, maximizing integration of the new properties in record time without the lag in productivity that sometimes comes with such transactions.

“What we did was, we gained alignment and we gained traction,” Schueck said. “We always knew how to act, we just never knew how to think independently to realize and meet the ultimate peak of what we can actually do.

“Bringing in Steel Fabricators and Universal LTD. allowed us to open up more lines of business on the fabrication side, and that has paid huge dividends. We’re pushing out more product, we’re buying more tons, we’re fabricating more tons. It’s helping our customers. It’s helped the bottom line.”

Today, Lexicon’s steel fabrication division is made up of Custom Metals, Prospect Steel and the new Monroe outfit. The other line of business, construction, includes Lexicon Energy Services, Industrial Contractors, Industrial Maintenance, Universal and Heritage Links, one of the premiere golf course design-build companies in the country. The firm’s projects, generally mammoth in size and scope, include sprawling sports stadiums, burly manufacturing facilities, rolling fairways, soaring bridges and oil/gas operations measured in acres.

The ambitions here, couched though they are in an easygoing, dressed-down vibe, are big as well. The office hums the we-can-do-it mantra right down to the studs: no beam too big, no project too ambitious, literally no bridge too far.

Schueck’s at the helm of all this, but don’t let the current resume fool you. Like his father before him, his first steps into the family firm were light years from the construction empire he now oversees.

“Our best customer, Nucor, called me one day and asked me if I wanted a job,” he said of the beginning. “I said, ‘That would be great.’ So, I went home to tell Tom, and he said, ‘No, you’re not. What did he offer you?’ I told him, and he said, ‘That’s not enough. I’ll offer you more. Be to work next week.’”

His father may have topped the asking price to bring him aboard, but Patrick knew no free ride awaited him. If today it seems his emotions toward his employees are right under the skin – which they are – it’s because he’s seen them close-up at every level during his career, working with them, learning from them.

“I started in Berkeley County, South Carolina, on a steel mill in 1999,” he said. “My first job was to take a crew out and pick up trash for two weeks. My second job was bushing columns with a big hammer drill. Got out there and did that in 120-degree temperatures.

“I went from Berkeley to another plant in Petersburg, Virginia. I did shutdown work at different steel mills throughout the South. Spent a lot of time at Nucor-Yamato in grease up to my underarms, changing out grease fittings.”

Schueck shares these tales with a palpable note of pride in his voice. The memory of the grime and heat and strain is its own badge of honor, welding together as it did the planks of his leadership philosophy. An engineer by schooling, he regards these early days as nothing less than the most formative and impactful of his professional life.

“I grew up knowing how to work, but back when I was on the road, I learned what it took to do that work seven days a week,” he said. “I learned what it took to work nights for an extended period. I also learned how hard it was on somebody who works for us, not only for the employee physically, but for their girlfriend, for their wife, for them to be away from their kids on Thanksgiving Day. I learned all of that because I was with them for so long. I wouldn’t change those years for anything.”

It doesn’t take much to see these lessons are still very much in play at Lexicon. Ask Schueck why the company has remained in Arkansas all these years, or why it continues to acquire instead of being acquired, or what will keep Lexicon moving confidently forward into the future, and he serves up the same answer.

“The people,” he said. “The skills that we look at today versus 20 years ago are completely different, but it still comes back to people who want to be creative, who take pride in their work, and who don’t want to do the same thing every day. They want to use their skills to go build something for the greater good. That’s the person who we can turn into anything.

“On the recruitment front, we’re all in a war for talent. We’re going to pay a great wage, but that alone is not good enough anymore. It’s the little things. People have to know you care about them, and you prove to people you care about them by making them part of a growing, thriving community, someplace that’s getting bigger but still feels like a family.”

Time and again, Lexicon has demonstrated its commitment to the worker from creating career pathways to investing in cutting-edge technology and progressive safety programs. The most recent and conspicuous gesture came last year with the christening of an on-site medical clinic, opened in partnership with Everside Health.

“Until you’ve lived on the road and you’ve worked seven days a week and you get strep throat, you don’t know how hard it is, number one, to find a doctor; number two, to find a place that’ll take your insurance card; and number three, to find someplace that’ll sell you medication,” Schueck said.

“We saw the opportunity to bring that in-house by bringing a medical clinic here. If you get sick on the road, all you’ve got to do is call in here, and we’ll figure out where you’re going to pick up your medications. We’ll make sure they take your medical cards. We’ll handle all that for you. That’s a game-changer.”

As he talks, Schueck gets more and more animated over the new clinic, as potent a draw for the employees of tomorrow as for the veteran worker today. It’s the latest manifestation of what he, like his father before him, understands about the value of investing in people to build and grow a company.

“Most of the people I worked with had to send their checks back to their wives, who had kids going to school and had to buy groceries, make mortgage payments,” he said. “For them, getting sick is just not in the cards. And when it does happen, it’s really not good; guys ignore it, they don’t take care of themselves, a lot of them suffer from high blood pressure.

“What [the clinic] does is it makes everybody understand that we’re going to put people first. We’re going to start signing people up for wellness tests, whether they want it or not, so they start taking better care of themselves. That’s what my dad stood for, and that’s what was instilled in me when I was on the road starting out.”

Today, Lexicon finds itself in an enviable position among construction giants. The company debuted at No. 26 on ENR’s 2021 Top 600 Specialty Contractors and No. 13 on its list of Top 20 Steel Erection Firms. Through supply chain, pandemic health and labor shortage issues, the 1,000-employee firm has continued to solidify its place among the most successful companies in Arkansas in general — and as a cornerstone of the state’s booming steel industry, which it literally helped build.

“There’s a lot to be excited about,” Schueck said. “The rebranding of American labor is a huge thing; I think it’s going to continue to get bigger. I’m excited about the future because I strongly believe that the ability of the world to figure out complex equations is just getting more and more refined.”

Lexicon’s present-day reality exists on a scale even a big-thinking wildcatter like Tom Schueck possibly never imagined. This fact, combined with the boundless potential of the company’s employees, inspires Patrick Schueck to dream even bigger for the company’s future.

“When you walk away from a steel mill that you’re building, you know the plate from that steel mill could go into building a warship,” he said. “You wake up every day knowing you built part of Tesla in Austin or you’re building semiconductor plants to help the United States move forward. It blows your mind to understand you built one of the most iconic bridges in the country in Louisville, Kentucky. I drove over it the other day, and the sense of pride I had, I was in tears.

At that, he scans the expanse of his desk laden with reams of contracts and blueprints, beneath a choir of family photographs on the wall of shelves behind him. The company and his family, by blood and by business, are the alpha and omega of his being. They are, at last, why Patrick Schueck believes in America.

“I am incredibly fortunate to be able to sit here today and represent a group of people who mean so much to me,” he said. “I look at people I work with today, these incredible craftsmen working out in the shop, and the things we do every day, and it strengthens my core. It strengthens my resolve to make us better. I use the line all the time, but I mean it: We are so lucky to be able to wake up every day and build America.”   


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