Friday, July 16, 2021
“Others have as much to teach as I have to learn.”
As Steven Sarson reflects on his more than 20 years serving with the Bekaert team, that phrase is written down on his notepad as he prepares for retirement.
After more than 45 years in the steel and fencing industries, Sarson will lay down his fencing tools and turn over the keys to his company truck in late July. His career is marked with wonderful memories of his time spent with colleagues and friends.
“I’ve been working with some of our customers for more than thirty years,” Sarson said with the sound of a lump in his throat. “I’ve been able to help them grow their business and watch their children grow to the point where they now manage the business.”
Some of his fondest memories are when he and his customers created traditions such as getting together to watch the Kentucky Derby after an annual fence clinic or celebrating his birthday with Amish donuts at a contractor event.
“Sharing meals together with my customers has always been something I enjoy when I’m out on the road,” said Sarson who rarely chose national chains for his meal
stops as he crisscrossed the eastern half of the U.S. meeting with clients. Instead, he preferred to dine with customers at their local establishments and learn about the community.
While Sarson’s recent role as a Bekaert Fence Pro has been to demonstrate fence installation techniques, he’s steadfast in his resolve that he’s as much a student as an educator.
“In today’s climate it is so easy to hold your ground and say ‘there’s only one way to do that,’” said Sarson. “But I’ve never started a demonstration or presentation for a client or customer where I didn’t admit there’s probably more than one way to do what I’m about to show.”
That willingness to learn and have a conversation about new ideas is just part of what’s made Sarson such a trusted colleague and friend.
“There is no other community like the agricultural community,” notes Sarson. “They’re always there to help each other out. Today, I know I could be anywhere in the United States with a problem, and there isn’t anyone I’ve worked with that I couldn’t call and ask for help that wouldn’t be there to help me as soon as they could.”
“The ag community is tight-knit. We have had each other’s backs from the sales reps, manufacturing and admin teams, customers and distributors. Maybe you changed roles in the last five or 10 years, but at the end of the day we respect each other and appreciate what we’ve learned from each other,” said Sarson.
You know you have a strong community behind you when something goes awry. Sarson recalls a fence installation demonstration where he and some participants pushed a 660-foot roll of woven wire fence up a steep hill with more than 75 spectators watching how to connect the fence to its first brace.
“All of a sudden, we lose our grip on the roll and it starts winding itself back up, barrelling down the hill behind us and scattering people everywhere as they try to get out of its way,” he recalls with a chuckle.
“At the bottom of the hill, that roll of wire had rolled itself into the shape of an ice cream cone by the time it stopped,” said Sarson. “People came running over to help us get it back up the hill without tangling it worse and it was amazing to see everyone working together. I never could have gotten that roll unwound and up the hill on my own.”
When Sarson shared his retirement plan with his manager a few years back, he said his retirement date would be much like his history with company trucks; three years or 100,000 miles. With COVID, Sarson didn’t get to put his usual 30,000+ miles on his truck in the last year.
“There are so many stops and visits I didn’t really get to make because of social distancing,” admitted Sarson with regret. “There are so many great people I didn’t get to say goodbye to in person.”
With retirement looming, Sarson’s time giving fence demonstrations and answering customer questions about installations is short-lived, his post-Bekaert plans are more than robust enough to fill his days to come.
While his wife of 43 years, Rita, a daycare center director, plans to work a bit longer, Sarson plans to spend a lot of time riding his bicycle and fixing up a garage shop that, he says, has been on the to-do list for more than a decade.
“I have more bicycles in that shop than I should really admit,” he says.
In addition to his personal collection of bicycles, he plans to spend time fixing up bikes for a Goodwill program called “Last Mile to Work” which pairs bicycles with those who need transportation to their jobs. Sarson has been involved since its inception.
You will also find him spending more time with that program as he trains for a cross-country group bike ride from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, that’s been on his bucket list.
When he’s not riding or working on bicycles you’re
likely to find him enjoying a pleasant day with a good bourbon in his hand or playing Grandpa to his ten grandchildren who all live within 45 minutes and range in age from 14 years old to one year old.
“The thing I cherish most about my grandchildren is that they’re each a bit different, just like my daughters, Jessica, Danielle and Michelle,” said Sarson.
Sarson’s plans for his grandchildren mirror his career in the industry.
“I want to spend time with them learning about what they love to do and then enjoying those things with each of them,” he said. “Others have as much to teach as I have to learn.”