Like the products it manufactures and sells, Acme Brick has been a company with plenty of stability in the management ranks over its 132 years.
So when a new leader takes over as president and CEO, it’s more than just another brick in the wall.
On April 1, Ed Watson became Acme Brick Company’s 12th president. Watson himself soon will be celebrating his 40th year with the company, having previously served in a variety of roles from general manager of Texas quarries to vice president of production.
“Ed is a personable and engaging leader who has proven to be an outstanding manager,” said former CEO and president Dennis Knautz. Knautz should know. The two both joined the company in the early 1980s.
Two years ago when Knautz began discussions about his succession, Watson took on more tasks.
“It was a good plan because I got to spend a lot of time learning more about the business,” he said. “From my perspective, it’s been a pretty smooth transition.”
Watson said he’s optimistic with a strategy as solid as a brick and talented leaders in place, regardless of a housing slump .
Acme Brick is one of several Fort Worth-based companies owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Acme Brick was part of Justin Industries then along with Justin Boots. Both were acquired by Buffett in 2000.
For Knautz, it has been a great run, he said. After completing his undergraduate and MBA studies at Fort Worth’s Texas Christian University, where the buildings use Acme Bricks, he joined Acme as controller. In 2005, he was named the company’s 11th president and CEO.
When Knautz joined Acme Brick in 1982 sales were $77 million. In 2022, his final full year as president and CEO, they were $612 million.
Not that there weren’t a few bumps in the brick road along the way. That bumpy road included what is now known as the Great Recession, from late 2007 to 2009. The ensuing housing collapse saw the company reduce production, lay off workers and lose money for the first time in its history.
“Those were tough years,” Knautz said.
Acme produces brick for both residential and commercial construction, with residential use being the larger part of their business. In addition to the brick manufacturing facilities, Acme owns concrete block manufacturing plants, natural stone operations, a tile division, and a division that specializes in glass block and glass flooring systems.
Brick remains the core business, but Acme also sells iron doors, outdoor kitchens, ceramic floor and wall tile. Most recently, ‘thin’ brick brings Acme’s core product into home interiors, and it is easily installed without the need for a structural foundation.
“We’ve really expanded to provide a lot of products for the modern builder,” said Watson.
It wouldn’t be much of a scavenger hunt to find Acme brick in Fort Worth. Among the many structures featuring their bricks are dozens of public schools, Sundance Square, Tarrant County’s Justice Center and Family Law buildings, Bass Hall and Amon Carter Museum of American Art (both from Acme’s Texas Quarries Limestone division), and the historic Thistle Hill and Eddleman-McFarland homes. Then there is TCU, where most of the buildings use a “buff” color brick from Acme. Most TCU buildings require 200,000 bricks and that Acme has between 30 to 50 years of raw material available, Knautz said.
Acme officials don’t have to go very far to see their products being used in a construction project. A new building in Clearfork, where Acme is headquartered, is being built right next to the headquarters. The Tradition, as the building is called, is utilizing Acme bricks.
“It’s a great way to show our customers our products at work,” said Watson.
Acme’s core market is Texas and the nearby states of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee and portions of Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Colorado and Mississippi.
Many of those areas are some of the fastest growing in the country.
“We’re in a good spot,” said Watson.
Why does Wile E Coyote order products from Acme?
With about 40 years of experience at Acme Brick, former CEO Dennis Knautz has gotten the question plenty of times: Why does Wile E. Coyote order products from Acme?
While Mr. Coyote may have ordered a brick or two (that likely landed on his head), he is not ordering from Acme Brick. Knautz explains: “Acme means the high point, like the word apex, or it used to. Nobody uses it for that anymore. But we did when we took the name and the people making the Warner Bros. cartoons sort of did the same thing.”
Knautz also notes that because the word “acme” starts with an “a’ and a “c” it was used as a name for companies wanting to be early in the alphabet to be easily found in lists of companies, such as in the Yellow Pages. “There used to be a lot of companies with that name, but not many any more,” he said.
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.