When Tom Hill graduated with a degree in computer engineering from Oklahoma State University, he had an inside track to his dream job, but he didn't know it.
The Oklahoma City native and Marine Corps veteran was the son-in-law of Kimray Inc. co-founder Garman Kimmell, but company rules prevented family members from working together.
Just in time, directors at the Oklahoma City oil field equipment manufacturer changed the rule to allow Hill to work at the company.
“Now we have hundreds of family members working here,” Hill said. “There are cases where we have three generations of one family working here.”
Now the CEO of the company, Hill has spent 42 years at Kimray, which will celebrate its 65th anniversary next week.
Hill recently discussed his life and company with The Oklahoman. This is an edited transcript:
Q: What were your plans when you were in school and you didn't think Kimray was an option?
A: I had interviewed with Texas Instruments and Motorola. I had job offers from both. But when I was a senior, around Christmastime, my father-in-law asked me to consider coming here. My wife did not want me to work here. She didn't want to work in Oklahoma City. She was very unhappy when I took the job.
Q: So why did you accept the offer?
A: I loved Mr. Kimmell. I loved working for him. He was a mentor and a friend. I loved the idea of what they were doing at Kimray. When I had the opportunity to come here, it was a dream fulfilled that I had never entertained. I never allowed myself to dream that dream.
I also enjoyed working for Mr. Kimmell because he was a man of great integrity. When it came to an issue of ethics or integrity, I knew where he stood. It was very helpful later on when I was running the company on a day-to-day basis. I could make decisions that might cost the company money, such as repairing a valve or making a special shipment. Whatever it might be, I could do it and I knew he was supportive because it was an issue of reputation and integrity.
Q: I guess your wife forgave you eventually?
A: It didn't take too long. The advantages of being here and being close to family outweighed the disadvantages of being close to family.
Q: How did you and your wife meet?
A: It was on a blind date. I was in the Marine Corps stationed in Grand Prairie, Texas, and we were set up on a blind date. When I drove up to pick her up, Mr. Kimmell was in the driveway. I had never met him, and I didn't know who he was.
He was unloading boxes from his car. I asked if I could help, and I noticed the boxes said “Kimray” on them. My dad was a machinist at Kimray, so I asked if he had anything to do with the company. He said, “A little. I'm the president.”
I thought, “My dad works at Kimray and I'm dating the president's daughter. I should drive off.”
Six months later, we got married.
Q: I understand Kimray has a full-time chaplain on staff. Tell me about that.
A: We want to have a positive spiritual impact on our employees' lives. That doesn't mean we dictate what they believe. But we want them to have the opportunity to have a spiritual life.
Q: Kimray helped develop the Character First curriculum. But is there a virtue or character quality that is overrated?
A: I don't know if there's a virtue that is overrated, but I think the virtue that is least understood is loyalty. It's especially difficult among teenagers. They may think it's being loyal to a friend to help them hide from their parents the fact that they're on drugs. Loyalty is doing what's best for a person. If people were really loyal to their friends, I don't think anyone would be doing drugs. But too many people have a false sense of loyalty.
I think loyalty is one of the most important character qualities, but I think false loyalty is more dangerous than good. Loyalty is doing what's best for people, not protecting them.
Q: What quality is most underrated?
A: We have 49 character qualities in Character First. There are a lot of them that are important. But I think one of the character qualities we are missing in our society is gratefulness. It's this whole attitude of you owe me, or the government owes me. If you have something and I don't have it, you ought to share it with me rather than us both being grateful for what we have and being willing to work for what we have.
One of the things my wife and I love to do is take our grandchildren with us on mission trips to Africa. It changes their whole outlook on life. People in Africa are grateful because they don't have anything. It changes the mindset of our grandkids when they go over and see people who have almost nothing, but are grateful for everything they have. Whatever you do for them, whatever they get, they're grateful for it. And when we get back, our grandkids have a better mindset about what the world is like.
Q: Why is it important for you to spend your vacations on mission trips?
A: It's important to me that my kids and grandkids have a biblical worldview. Seeing the rest of the world and the needs of the world is all part of understanding what a biblical worldview is. I don't think God ever intended us to sit in our comfortable seats all the time and watch TV. I think he intended us to find people who don't know about him and to tell them and see their lives changed as a result of it.