Love, hard work, integrity
Barclays look back over 40 years with business and family
By Suzanne Dean
MANTI—In the 1980s, when Mike Barclay’s mechanical contracting company was starting to take off, a manager at a food processing plant where the company had a large project, asked him to go to lunch.
At lunch, the manager asked him to spy on a competitor and bring back information. “If you don’t do it, you’ll never get any work from us,” the manager warned.
Later at home, his wife, Susan, could tell something was bothering him. He told her about the request and the threat.
“We’ve done more than $1 million worth of work for these people, and they’re going to cut it off unless I’m dishonest,” he said. “I’m just not sure what I’m going to do.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know what to do?” Susan said. “You’re going to tell him ‘no.’ ”
Mike immediately felt a sense of relief. The next day, he gave the manager his answer.
The manager smiled and said, “I told my boss you were a ‘good’ Mormon.”
The food processing company cut off dealing with Barclay for three years. But a few years later, when it was planning a prototype plant to begin making a new product, the same manager called Mike back and asked if he would build the plant.
“I was mad at him still, so I gave him a pretty high price. And he said OK,” Barclay says. “We made really, really good money on that.”
In fact, over Barclay Mechanical’s 40 years in business, it has done about $15 million worth of work for the food processing company.
Integrity, Mike says, has been the key to his success. “Why do people ask us (to do work for them)? I know I have a lot of faults. I can swear, and I can laugh at bad jokes. But being dishonest has always felt so foreign to me. I pride myself on being truthful.”
Mike grew up in Pocatello, where his father had developed a highly regarded welding program at Idaho State University. During summers, his dad did contracting work around southern Idaho.
“I started being a welder’s apprentice when I was 12 years old,” he says. His dad used some swear words sometimes, but he “had a way of building you up and making you feel you could really do what he asked. He gave me great confidence.”
In the 1970s, Mike served a mission in Germany and then went to BYU for a year. By then, his father had left the university, and his parents were living in Paul, Idaho, about 75 miles west of Pocatello near Burley and Twin Falls. His father was working as a welding inspector for what is now Rocky Mountain Power.
After school was out at BYU, Mike went to Paul for the summer, where he went to a Young Adult dance, sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He noticed a young woman who had come to the dance with one of his friends.
He told the friend how beautiful he thought she was. “I can take her or leave her,” the friend said. “Would you mind if I asked her out?” Mike asked. The friend told him to go ahead.
Mike and Susan went on a date. Eight days later they were engaged. They got married that summer and now have been married for 45 years.
The Barclays stayed in the Paul area. Mike went to College of Southern Idaho, a two-year school in Twin Falls, where he got his associate’s degree.
The next year, they headed back to BYU. But after a semester, with their second baby on the way, they were running out of money. So Mike signed on with the Plumber’s and Pipefitter’s Union and got a job working on a power plant in Castle Dale, Emery County.
That’s how the Barclays became acquainted with Manti. Emery County was in the Manti Temple district, so they came across the mountain to go to the temple. “It just felt good over here,” Mike says.
After a couple of years in Castle Dale, Mike was offered a job at Pipe Fab and Supply in Woods Cross, Davis County. The Barclays bought a house in Layton.
But they had bigger dreams. They started saving money. After about two years, they had $4,000, which seemed like quite a bit in the late 1970s.
“We sold our house, moved to Paul, rented a building, and on Jan. 1, 1980, put up our shingle as ‘Barclay Welding,’” Mike says. “Susan did the books, handled three kids and never complained.”
By the end of the first summer, he had four men working for him. Within a year, the Barclays decided to build their own building. They bought land across the street from the place they were renting and took out a loan from a bank.
The payments were $1,200 per month. Interest rates were sky high at the time. Their rate was 12-1/4 percent. It was, as Susan puts it, “a big gamble.”
The business brought in about $120,000 the first year and double that the second year. But in 1983, their third year, the economy sank. “We’d have just enough come in to cover our bills and pay the employees,” Susan says, “and often there wasn’t enough for us to take home.”
Mike says their children looked like they’d come out of the “Sound of Music” because Susan bought a bolt of fabric and sewed wardrobes for all of them.
“We were very poor back then, but we worked hard, and we loved each other,” Mike says. “We worked together. It wasn’t something I did, and she stayed home. I married one of the hardest workers you’ve ever met.”
At the end of that year, on the strength of Mike’s ingenuity, their luck turned. Mike noticed that local farmers bought pallets of 50 or 60 bags of seed from the local seed company. They had to tear open each bag and pour it in to a grain drill, a long pipe pulled by a tractor that drove the seed into the ground.
He learned that it cost the seed company money to put the seed into bags. And it obviously cost the farmer money to get it out of the bags. It’s windy in Idaho, he says. “The paper sacks would end up a mile away, stuck in the fence.”
That predicament motivated him to build the “Barclay seed-grain cart,” the apparatus that helped make his company make its first million dollars. He mounted a spout on a two-axle trailer and installed a 5-horsepower motor that ran a hydraulic pump.
With the seed grain cart, the seed company could drop the seed, in bulk, into the trailer. The farmer could borrow the trailer, take it to his farm and drop the seed directly into the grain drill. The bags were eliminated.
Just before Christmas, 2003, Barclay got a call from the owner of Union Seed Company in Burley. “Barclay,” the seed company man said, “I heard you invented a seed grain cart. You got one I can look at?”
Barclay took one to the seed plant. “How much?” the owner asked. With hesitation, and hoping with all his heart the man would say “yes,” Barclay quoted him $3,150. “Make me 10,” the owner said.
Before his shop finished the first two carts, a competing seed company called. They were interested in the carts, but wanted some additional features, including fenders on the wheels and an adjustable hitch. Barclay quoted a price of $3,950. “OK, build us 20,” the company representative said.
By the end of 1985, Barclay Welding had sold 150 carts in California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Wyoming and Montana, as well as Idaho. While his main base is now Utah, he is still affiliated with his original company in Paul, Idado, and the company there is still selling seed carts today.
Positioning for growth
After 1985, Mike started positioning his company for growth. He changed the company name from Barclay Welding to Barclay Mechanical. He got contractor licenses or permits in surrounding states. He got the company certified by the American Welding Society.
Most important, he got the company qualified as a “coded welding shop,” which means the shop followed code books published by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. That included having an independent party test and inspect welds whenever the company built a “pressure vessel,” defined as any pipe or chamber holding steam or fluids at a defined level of pressure. Today, Barclay Mechanical in Manti is one of just 10 or 15 fully coded shops in Utah.
The licenses and certifications opened work in food processing, work on heating boilers in schools and hospitals, and a variety of other types of projects.
“There was just no end of the work,” Mike says. Before long, he found himself supervising more than 100 employees on projects in three states.
“We’d go to church on Sunday, come home, have Sunday dinner, have a meeting with the family, have family prayer, I’d kiss my wife, and then I would jump in my truck and drive 7-1/2 hours to Boardman, Oregon,” where his company was working on a potato processing plant.
On Tuesday, he would check on employees working at another potato plant in Hermiston, Oregon. The next day he was in the tri-cities area of Washington at another potato plant. On Thursday, he would head toward home, stopping at projects his company was working on at J.R. Simplot plants in Caldwell or Nampa, Idaho.
“We didn’t always have work in all those cities, but there was a time when we did,” Mike says.
“And he was in the bishopric!” Susan says. “He’d come back so he could go to bishopric’s meeting. And we had five or six kids.”
Working too hard
One time, in the early 1990s, a job at the Boardman, Oregon plant got behind schedule. Mike went to Boardman. He got his employees working in two 10-hour shifts, one from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., and one from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m.
“Rather than being a boss, I had my helmet down” welding, he says. “I was working both of those shifts.”
He cut his knee on some metal. Then he knelt in a puddle of water containing chemicals that had been used to clean the plant.
His knee swelled and turned red. Then the red traveled down his leg to his ankle. He got a fever. He called Susan to tell her he didn’t feel good and was coming home. When he got home, he didn’t have the strength to open the door.
“He leaned against the doorbell,” Susan says. A few hours later he was admitted to a hospital in Burley with a diagnosis of staph infection.
“I was working too hard,” he says.
“We needed to regroup, to refocus as a family,” Susan says.
So in 1992, Mike leased his company to two of his longest-term employees, while retaining majority ownership, and the family moved to the town Mike and Susan had always been drawn to—Manti. “We got down here and we loved it,” Susan says.
Plan to become a farmer
The original plan was for Mike to become a farmer. The Barclays bought several plots of land. But it turned out farming wasn’t a fit for him.
“I got sick and tired of bailing hay,” he says, smiling. “We lost so much money. I just told Susan, ‘I’ve got to go back to making money.’”
Mike rented a vacant plant at 100 North and 600 West in Manti that formerly made wood stoves. He bought 5 acres to the west and another acre to the east. Today, the company’s main shop is 23,000 square feet.
One of the first major jobs for Barclay Mechanical of Utah was having men work underground in a coal mine welding “crossover chutes,” devices that channel coal onto conveyor belts. He came up with a way to make the devices that saved the mine $40,000 per chute.
In the same general time-frame, the company did work for the Norbest turkey plant; for U.S. Gypsum in Sigurd, Sevier County; and for the big Circle Four hog farm in Milford, Beaver County.
In 2007, an engineering firm asked Mike to design some pipelines for the Holly-Phillips oil refinery in Wood Cross, Davis County. Soon afterward, the refinery asked Barclay Mechanical to bid on some projects to refurbish the whole refinery. The company bid on three projects and got them all.
The work turned into another case where integrity paid off. Mike bid one of the jobs at $2.7 million, but it only cost him $2 million to do the job.
The refinery was “fully ready to pay it,” Mike says. But Mike pointed out that some pipelines the company originally asked him to build had been deleted from the project. He gave $300,000 back.
“For the next three or four years, they were giving us projects right and left. We didn’t even have to bid them,” he says.
Mission to Bulgaria
In 2012, a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contacted the Barclays and told them to get their finances in order because they would be getting a church calling that would take two to three years.
It actually took more than two years for Mike to be called as mission president and Susan as mission office manager in Sofia, Bulgaria.
The assignment was a challenge. In the former Communist country, there are a few fabulously wealthy people. Everyone else, including most members of the church are poor, living on an average of $300 per month. The unemployment rate is 30 percent.
They set up a self-reliance program for members, including instruction from Susan on hygiene and grooming.
“We were dealing with people who were pioneers” in the church in Bulgaria, Mike said. “There weren’t any people who had parents who had been members.”
“We worked a lot with the members to train them and teach them so they could run their own programs, so the missionaries didn’t have to,” Susan says.
Sons take over
When they first got wind of the possible mission call, Mike sold Barclay Mechanical to his sons, Ken, John and Scott.
The younger Barclays were well qualified to run the company. Ken had a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, while Scott had a degree in business management and finance. John was a journeyman welder who today is called on to help on highly specialized welding jobs throughout the United States.
“They’ve doubled, almost tripled the work,” Mike says. “They’ve brought in new, high-tech equipment. They’ve upgraded the business in every way.”
A few weeks ago, Mike’s family and employees threw a celebration marking Barclay Mechanical’s 40 years in business and honoring Mike and Susan. About 150 family members, friends, former employees and people from the community attended, including quite a few who traveled from out of state.
A business owner needs to keep up with trends in his industry, reward employees financially, avoid excessive criticism of employees and stay out of debt as much as possible, Mike says, adding “I honestly feel that one of the biggest things a person can offer is integrity.”
And, reflecting on the past 40 years, he says, “I owe it all to Heavenly Father. He’s the giver.”