Mining sand really is a very simple business. But I’ve spent my life making it complicated.
I come from a pretty large family. There were 13 of us, and I was in the middle. During World War II, my oldest brother was killed in a training accident — he was a pilot. The four other boys went off to the service, and I ended up being the oldest at home.
My dad was working very, very hard at that time. He had taken over as president of Fisher Foods. My mother had children to take care of and a lot of worries. So she relied on me to be her backup.
I had both the experience of being in the middle but also having to take responsibility. That was instrumental in my development.
My dad, who did not go beyond the eighth grade, still had a great commitment to education. We actually moved from the West Side to Shaker Heights to be near University School. My education was my inheritance.
I was an industrial engineering major at Yale. I intended to be a chemical engineer, but laboratory conflicted with football. Football won out.
Cleveland has been, over the years, a strong Yale town.
Moving up to the mine in northern Minnesota and taking my bride up there a year later to be on our own, to establish a relationship between ourselves and to establish relationships in the organization was a challenge and an opportunity. We thrived on it — it was an adventure.
Learning to work with the Serbian immigrants who worked in the mines —who sent home a bottle of wine to my wife when she became pregnant —shows the warmth of human beings, whatever their status in life.
When we moved to Sydney, people assumed that because we were American and would be there for four years, well, we’d move to where the other Americans were. We said, “No. We’re not going to do that.” We bought a house. We wanted to be a part of the Australian community.
The Australians are fabulous people — they’re very welcoming.
In my experience, corporate development is a short-term job. You’re either unsuccessful, or you’re successful and there’s no further need for you.
Big corporate structures can be kind of stifling.
Have you dealt much with Texans? I’ve got a lot of good friends in Texas. But my experience with Texans at Diamond Shamrock was, “I’m the boss. I’ll tell you what I want you to do” — I’d say probably more of a rigid approach. Not what I prefer, which is more of a give-and-take.
I have a very messy desk.
Chuck Emrick at Calfee Halter & Griswold was my mentor, counselor, whatever. He was a real rainmaker at that firm for many, many years.
We started seriously looking in 1977 at a number of companies for me to buy.
Some were funny, and some were tragic. One company we looked at used a pneumatic conveying system — you know, like the tube in your bank. Only this one they used to throw dead chickens from one end of the factory to the other. We didn’t look too hard at that.
In dealing with a strong-willed entrepreneur, one of the most difficult things is to get them to the point where they really will say, “OK, I’ll sell.” It’s much more difficult than putting a son or daughter up for adoption. I mean, it’s their life.
I can’t claim to have established a life plan of any kind.
I don’t know what retirement means. It hasn’t made any difference in my life — well, I don’t show up until about 10 o’clock in the morning.
I started out with a philosophy that I got from my father: Be a giver, not a taker.
The biggest mistake I’ve ever made is staying too long with people who, for one reason or another, needed to move on — management, people who really didn’t fit the organization.
We are an extractive industry. That’s a dirty word in a lot of places. That’s why we’re so committed to sustainable development as a way of life. We have to leave what we’ve done better than how we found it.
The land is to be respected. You’ve got a responsibility to it and all the resources that you deal with — human as well as physical and financial.
I love walking through the gardens at the Cleveland Botanical Garden — I think they’re absolutely beautiful. But I’m not a horticulturalist. Nor do I have a green thumb.
Bill Conway graduates from Yale University and trades in Ivy League life for that of a trainee/engineer’s helper at a Hibbing, Minn., iron-ore mine operated by Pickands Mather & Co.
Conway returns to Cleveland as a sales manager and works his way up to vice president of sales.
Conway is appointed president of Pickands Mather International, a subsidiary of Pickands Mather & Co.
He moves to Sydney, Australia, to manage development of a Tasmanian iron-ore mine, a joint venture of Pickands Mather, the Japanese steel industry and outside investors.
Conway returns to Cleveland as executive vice president of Pickands Mather & Co.
He is named executive vice president of administration for Diamond Shamrock Corp., which had acquired Pickands Mather & Co.
Conway is hired as group vice president of capital goods by Midland Ross Corp.
He leaves Midland Ross Corp. to search for a company of his own to acquire.
With a group of local investors, Conway buys Chardon’s Best Sand.
He digs in deeper and joins forces with Chuck Fowler, president of sand operations at Martin Marietta Corp., and his management team to purchase Wedron Silica in Wedron, Ill.
Best Sand and Wedron Silica merge to form Fairmount Minerals.
Fairmount acquires Technisand and Santrol, along with their sand-coating technologies, from British Industrial Sand.
He sells 50 percent of Fairmount Minerals to Kirtland Capital Partners.
Conway buys back Kirtland Capital Partners’ stake in Fairmount Minerals.
Fairmount expands with three new mining operations and three new coating operations, primarily to serve the oil-and-gas market.