There is no such thing as a bloodline trust at Myers Container. Since the steel drum manufacturing company was founded in 1917, each generation has had to buy in. And that’s what’s kept the company going strong for a century.
Company president Kyle Stavig’s great-grandfather started Myers Container. It was sold by his grandfather to Kaiser Steel in 1968, then reacquired by his father and other partners in 1984. Kyle went to work for the company after graduating from Oregon State in 1986.
By 2007, Kyle had worked his way up to president and was implementing lean manufacturing when he and the owners had a disagreement. They told him it was too much change.
“We want you to stop,” they said.
Kyle believed he had turned the company around, and he was ready to walk away. But before he could leave, his father, who was still a partner at Myers, suggested he and his brothers buy it instead.
“Why don’t you guys find a way to scrape together and buy the company?” he asked.
At the time, brothers Christian Stavig and Cody Stavig and brother-in-law Dan Roth all had stable and successful positions at Intel. Kyle, the oldest, proposed the idea, and the brothers agreed they would go in together. An offer was made and accepted, and a highly effective and focused fourth-generation reacquired the family business.
“We had to raise capital. Nothing was handed to us,” Kyle said. “It’s probably why our company has been successful.”
The first test of the new partnership came quickly, and the efficiency practices that Kyle had insisted on were soon tested when the recession hit. By 2009, things were dismal.
“We went a year and a half without an income as all the money was going to the bank ,” Kyle recalled. “I thought we lost everything.”
Kyle felt bad because he had encouraged his brothers to join him. At one point, Kyle confided in his brother, Christian.
“I’m really concerned,” Kyle said. “I’m sorry about this.”
Christian replied paraphrasing Winston Churchill: “When the going gets tough, you keep on going.”
The family was united by distinct competency-based roles, articulated expectations and resilience. They fed off each other’s optimism.
“It brought us together,” Kyle said. “Nobody was walking out.”
Everyone made sacrifices. Kyle’s wife, Kerrie, worked in human resources without pay.
“I need you,” he told his wife. “It’s an emergency.”
Though each brother had come from a higher position, no one was above the work. Youngest brother, Cody Stavig, took over financial services, and ended up doing the work of an accounting clerk.
By 2010, Myers began to rebound. The company took advantage of lending offers to grow. It acquired General Steel Drum in North Carolina, doubling the size the company. Other acquisitions followed.
In the 10 years they’ve been together, an ill word has never been spoken between the brothers.
“We respect each other’s capabilities,” he said. “We come together for decisions … Harmony is our secret sauce.”
The brothers agreed that at some point, they will have a liquidity event and sell. The next generation will have to earn its way into the business.
“My father, when he had to buy the company, he taught that value to us,” Kyle said. “It made all the difference for me.”