Technology cements Monarch’s future

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June 28, 2017 - 12:00 AM

In 1931, H.F.G Wulf returned from a trip to Germany with a large grandfather clock of elegant, Modernist design: the blonde-tinted wood; the matte luster of its heavy, fluctuating chimes; the stenciled brass face around which a family of hands advanced with ruthless monotony.
Wulf installed the piece in the small ivy-covered building at the edge of a quarry on grounds that comprised the recently incorporated Monarch Cement Company. Wulf had taken over the Humboldt plant in 1913, just five short years after Monarch took its first bite out of the limestone shelf along Coal Creek.
In the fall of 1934, Wulf, who in the course of his 62 years managed to transform himself from a poor Teutonic farm boy into a square-jawed captain of American industry, was found dead of a heart attack at his desk in the company office.
A decade later, his son, Walter Wulf Sr., was named president of the company and assumed his father’s habit of showing up to work until the day he died. In 1997, his son, Walter Wulf Jr., became Monarch’s current president, and his son, Walter H. Wulf III, “Trey,” is currently on the board of directors.
Still, through whatever flux the company has endured over the decades, the metronomic presence of Wulf’s European clock has remained a constant. It sits in the lobby at Monarch to this day, ticking away, chiming on the hour.
According to one of the receptionists, whose desk rests about five feet from the antique clock, which has now marked time at Monarch for nearly a century: “I’m scared to death to touch it.”

MONARCH CEMENT is marking its 109th year with a 20,000-square-foot expansion, which, in its intentions to house the bulk of the company’s information technology resources, signals the company’s embrace of a new future.
“We’re big on history here,” observed office manager Karen Emerson, a Monarch employee for nearly two decades. “We respect it and remember it — but we’re modern, too, and know that we have to move forward.”
Earlier this month, Emerson, along with executive vice president Kent Webber, provided a tour of the new administrative wing, which comprises a richly outfitted basement level, ground floor addition and reconstructed sunroom.
“The purpose for this expansion was technology driven,” said Webber. “Computers and technology and digital communication, that’s where it is and that’s where we’re going to go. When I came to work here, there were two IT people. In five years, there are now seven. And we’re creating a space for 10. That’s our growth area.”

WEBBER is a large, gregarious man in a Hawaiian shirt and transition lenses, who, as the former manager of a construction company himself, must be the only vice president in his industry capable of speaking to the technical details of a building-trades project with the degree of fluency that he musters. 
For example: On a recent Friday, Webber mounted the stairs from the new basement level to the currently roofless, sun-baked ground floor addition. “Hola!” he called out to one of the workers from Wichita-based Dondlinger & Sons Construction. “Hola!” the man shouted back.
“Now, do you see this?” said Webber, returning his attention to the building and pointing to a half-completed structural wall. “These are called insulating concrete forms. What this is, realistically, is two pieces of Styrofoam with a six and a quarter core that has rebar tied into it. You pour it full of concrete and the Styrofoam stays on. Do you know anything about R-value? I mean, you’ve at least heard of it?”
“Oh sure, I’ve heard of it,” I lied.
“Well, a 2×4 wall is an R-13 wall. That there is a 200-miles-per-hour wind-load wall that produces R-48. So, it’s sound-proof, it’s extremely strong and it’s highly insulated. … This is our exterior envelope. This area here will be our sales wing. And that whole side over there? That’s all IT.”
Webber and Emerson drew attention to the large multipurpose room, which will contain a full multimedia center and the latest in video-conferencing technology. They pointed out the room — “a solid concrete envelope with a solid concrete lid,” as Webber described it — that will protect the company’s server. And they highlighted the enormous training room given over entirely to IT.
“You’re serious about IT, then?” I asked.
“We’re dead serious,” said Webber. “Let me give you the scope here.” The three of us stood in our hardhats in a large puddle of water in the half-done basement. “What you see when you’re standing here is the Monarch Cement Company. You see a plant that produces powdered cement. What’s behind that, in terms of vertical integration, are 30 ready-mix plants strewn over three states, three block plants, and a huge customer base. Now, all of those plants communicate with servers that are here. They’re managing inventory, they’re managing customer information, billing. So, all of the intercommunication has to be run and stored.
“This [expansion] is an indication of change. There’s a technological revolution that’s going on and there are companies that are currently ahead of us technologically. But when we’re done here, the vast majority will be behind us.”

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