Never mind the traffic signal hardware that defines his successful manufacturing career. When Phil Parduhn, president of Edmond-based Pelco Products Inc., recently sat down with The Oklahoman to talk about his life's work, it wasn't long before the conversation turned to the “Bacon Barn.”
A BLT lover who grows his own tomatoes, Parduhn designed the two-piece product years ago, after brainstorming a better way to cook bacon in the microwave.
Bacon is cooked on an arched plastic tray so the strips don't curl up and grease rolls into troughs on either side, he demonstrated. Meanwhile, its clear plastic lid prevents splatters in the microwave, he said.
After the Home Shopping Network debuted the product at 9 a.m. one Tuesday in 1995, the retailer sold 700 of the barns in just three minutes, said Parduhn, who believes that, given the attention, the Bacon Barn could sell like hotcakes.
An industrial engineer, Parduhn has brought the same kind of ingenuity to the 27-year-old Pelco, now North America's largest traffic signal hardware manufacturer, and Pelco Structural, a sister pole company he opened in Claremore in 2005. Between them, the companies have about $60 million in annual revenues and employ 312, including Parduhn's three adult children and Jim Stravlo, a childhood friend who's worked with him his entire career.
From his 100,000-square-foot headquarters at 320 W 18 in Edmond, Parduhn, 80, shared more about his professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Tell us about your childhood.
A: I was born at St. Anthony Hospital, and grew up in Oklahoma City at 3216 NW 15. My father was an auto parts salesman and my mother, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, raised me and my older sister from a wheelchair. Helping my mother is how I learned to do for myself, from gardening to jelly making.
At age 15, I bought my own horse — a Kentucky Prairie Mare. The only way I could afford her was to work where she was stabled at 36th and May. May was a two-lane road with a dirt shoulder then and 36th, a gravel road.
I went to school at Linwood Elementary, Taft Junior High and one semester at Classen High School, before transferring to Central, my parents' alma mater.
Q: And college?
A: At Central, I ran track — the 440 and mile relay — and went on a full-ride track scholarship to Midland College, a small school in Freemont, Neb., where I studied pre-engineering. After two years, I transferred to OSU, then Oklahoma A&M, where Lois, my wife (then girlfriend), went. Lois and I grew up together in the First Lutheran Church in downtown Oklahoma City and started dating when we were in the church youth group, which my mom and dad sponsored. At OSU, we spent many a night at the Student Union, drinking Coca-Cola and dancing the jitterbug. I majored in automotive technology and service management. Having worked since I was 10 alongside my dad, I knew some subjects better than my instructors.
Q: And after graduation?