By James Dowd, The Commercial Appeal, February 22, 2012
Robert McEniry Jr.’s leadership has given nexAir a national presence. He is one of the Society of Entrepreneurs’ new inductees for 2012.
Back in 1942, a year after Robert McEniry Jr. was born in Knoxville, his father moved the family to Memphis, and he has called the Bluff City home ever since.
Following in his father’s footsteps, the younger McEniry entered the family business — what would eventually become nexAir — loading trucks and overseeing inventory control during his summer breaks from classes at Vanderbilt University.
After graduation, McEniry went to work at the company full time, rising through the ranks to become CEO. Along the way, he developed a love for this city and has spent the majority of his life contributing to its economic development and supporting numerous civic and community organizations.
“Bob has served in this community for a long time as a business professional and as a mentor, and he’s been particularly effective in his work with minority and women business owners,” said Luke Yancy III, president and CEO of the Mid-South Minority Business Council Continuum. “He’s been tireless in his efforts to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses.”
For his myriad professional and civic contributions, McEniry will be honored this spring at the 20th annual Society of Entrepreneurs celebration held at the Holiday Inn at the University of Memphis, 3700 Central.
“When I started at our business, most companies in our industry had similar backgrounds,” said McEniry, whose father bought Standard Welders Supply/Standard Oxygen Service in 1950. “They went through generational changes and benefited from consolidation that allowed companies to grow larger in size. We went from being a local and regional operation to being national in scope today.”
Within eight years of coming on board at his family-owned company, McEniry was named president in 1971. His vision of expanding the operation led him to increase his sales team and embark on a series of acquisitions that contributed to the company’s growth, including its 1996 merger with Mid-South Oxygen Company to create nexAir.
From nearly $1 million in annual revenues in 1963 when he joined the company, the business has enjoyed remarkable productivity and last year posted revenues that topped $101 million.
Today, nexAir is the nation’s second-largest privately owned distributor of gases and welding supplies, with more than 260 employees at 23 locations in six states.
Throughout his tenure as the company’s leader, McEniry’s commitment to a generational-style of management remained intact. His son, Kevin, is now company CEO and new employees are brought in at early stages in their careers and groomed for top spots in the organization.
“We believe in giving employees the right training and making sure they know every aspect of the company and then plugging them into the best job for them in our organization,” McEniry said. “Our philosophy is that to build a great company, you have to build a great culture first and that’s why we get people early in their careers and put them into areas where they can excel.”
Richard Gadomski, a former business associate and fellow board member with McEniry at Christian Brothers University, praised his corporate ingenuity.
“He’s built a dynamic organization by taking young people and supplying them with extensive training and education that they’ll need to be successful and then offering them opportunities for advancement at his company,” said Gadomski, who was inducted into the Society in 2009. “Beyond the success of his company, he’s helped create a more educated and vibrant workforce here and at his company’s locations throughout the country.”
For more information on the upcoming SOE gala, visit societyofentrepreneurs.com.
– James Dowd: (901) 529-2737
Learn more about small businesses and entrepreneurship in Memphis at The CA’s startupmemphis.com.
Robert McEniry Jr.
Occupation: Former chief executive officer of nexAir
Company address: Headquarters at 1385 Corporate Ave.; nearly two dozen additional locations in six states
Phone: (901) 396-5050
Economic impact: More than 260 employees, with revenues exceeding $101 million in 2011