Once just an idea bounced around its founder’s kitchen table, Miller Industrial Service Teams (MIST) was established by Jim Miller Sr in 2004. Still family owned and operated after 16 years in business, the firm specializes in the installation, revamp, and routine maintenance of tower internals and has experience working with some of the largest petro-chemical companies in the world.
On top of an exemplary record of safety and quality, over the years MIST has become renowned for its warm and welcoming company culture. Safety Director Rich Hoelke Jr suggests that it all stems from the way the firm treats its people. Though the company’s workforce might be populated by Jim Sr’s sons, grandsons, and in-laws, to MIST, family means more than that. Not simply a word to describe blood relatives, Jim says family is about treating people better.
“When we started this business, we wanted to make sure we always treated our employees better than we had ever been treated when we worked for other companies,” Rich explains. “That approach means a lot to us. When we branched out from the family and hired our first full-time employee, we made sure he was the person we wanted him to be. We wanted him to be a family man. We wanted him to be a part of our family and he still is. Now our safety manager, he attends holidays with us, and his family joins us on Christmas Eve. We like to treat all our people in the same way. We think of ourselves as a big extended family.”
Based in Ohio, MIST began life as an organization focused solely on completing maintenance and modifications for towers in oil refineries, chemical plants, and steel mills. Constantly developing its diverse portfolio of services, MIST has since grown into a turnkey maintenance contractor with the ability to work on reactors, drums, boilers, exchangers, and piping. With a client base that includes large companies like PBF Energy, for whom MIST is currently working in three facilities, multinational energy firm Phillips 66 remains the company’s largest customer.
“We have done a lot of big projects for Phillips,” Rich states, “such as boilermaker work and pipe fitting at the P66 Bayway site in New Jersey. We have also done work for them in Wood River, Illinois, where we have been the general contractor.
“At Wood River, we performed the plant’s first turnaround in the brand new coker unit. comIt was back in 2011 and we had over 800 employees on the job. It remains the biggest job we have ever done in terms of manpower. It was all completed in a very short period of time, despite a host of unknown factors. I would say that it’s one of our most memorable projects.”
Although the quality of MIST’s work attracts interest from a wide array of major corporations, the company is also proud to work with less prominent firms. “We have the big customers like Phillips 66, but we also have smaller ones like Crystal Clean in Indianapolis. We work on heat exchangers for them and we have another little company in Cincinnati that we did a flare tip for. No job is too small for us. We have always said that nothing is ever too small. We are willing to take on projects that some of these bigger companies won’t even look at.”
Never short of work, in Spring 2019 MIST completed a project at Energy Transfer’s Marcus Hook Industrial Complex in Pennsylvania. This was followed by a turnaround for Toledo Refining Company in early 2020. With two turnaround projects already scheduled for 2021, MIST has plenty of new work on the horizon.
“We have a couple of projects coming up at Bayway this summer and fall,” Rich reveals. “We are currently waiting on PBF to confirm some work in California, but the biggest news is that we have just signed another company-wide contract with Phillips 66 to be one of their exclusive maintenance contractors. A multi-year deal, it will, once again, make us one of their preferred contractors.”
One element of MIST’s enduring appeal as a contractor is the company’s impeccable track record for safety. Committed to achieving a level of safety excellence in all projects it undertakes, MIST views every accident as preventable. Since its founding in 2004, the firm has received safety awards from Phillips 66 across multiple locations, as well as Sunoco North East Refining for achieving zero recorded accidents from 2005 to 2010.
“Safety is extremely important to us,” Rich declares. “As a business with a strong family culture, we don’t want to see anybody go home any different from how they came to work that day. After every incident free week, we buy lunch for our employees on Saturday. We put a lot of effort into bringing in good catered food and we also give away hats and shirts and cash prizes. It’s one of those things that everyone really looks forward to. Our people know that if they have a good safe week, we are going to have lunch on Saturday. Since the business started, we’ve been budgeting for this initiative. It’s not something we have built into our price. We happily use our own funds to make this happen because it is important to us and it is important to our guys.”
In many ways, MIST is an industry outlier. The company’s ability to stay so deeply family-orientated while growing its turnover to $50 million a year is a feat rarely accomplished. MIST’s mission to embody the venerated ideals of teamwork, honesty, hard work, determination, and responsibility in its work is well publicized, but what have been the more practical factors in the firm’s unabated success?
“I think one thing companies appreciate about us is the way we plan our jobs,” Rich claims. “We give every job equal care and attention, so we always make sure that somebody from the ownership group is onsite. It means that, if a decision needs to be made, nobody has to make a phone call or double check with management; we have somebody right there to make any decision at any time. Clients respect that. They don’t want to waste time sitting around, waiting for an answer.
“Something else we’ve been very good at over the years is tooling,” he adds. “We are highly focused on making sure that our workforce has everything they need to do a great job. If you have people hanging around, waiting for tools, it is costing you money. A lot of the bigger companies have to go through such a long purchasing process when they want to buy equipment, but we are always right there and we can make the call immediately and get what we need.”
MIST’s streamlined chain of command, and comparatively small size compared to some of its competitors, continue to benefit the firm today. “We are able to make all our decisions without going through a board or somebody in another state. I really think that our management, the way we run our company, and how we plan our work has played a vital role in our trajectory of growth. Most of our competition is a lot bigger than we are and they have huge capabilities, but they still can’t do what we do. That’s what makes us special and, as a result, we will always be an attractive proposition as a provider of industrial services.”
Though it is clear that the company has profited from a variety of best practices, for MIST, everything comes back to people. In order to ensure new employees enjoy a smooth transition into the MIST way of life, the firm uses statistics to formulate an intelligent training program that includes a 30-hour Occupational Safety and Health Administration course, as well as annual refresher sessions and top-ups. Not only is MIST’s workforce first aid and CPR trained, but staff are also taught about job-specific hazards, policies, and procedures. The time and attention the firm devotes to making its workforce some of the industry’s safest, most-knowledgeable, and most highly-skilled workers is yet more evidence that as a MIST employee, you are more than just a name or number.
“When we bring somebody new in, we pair them up with someone experienced to see how they work,” Rich remarks. “From their very first day, we ask questions like: Do they work safely? Do they do quality work? What is their level of knowledge? When we know the answers, comwe look to train them up and groom them for the next step. The aim is for people who walk through our doors to become foreman, general foreman, and superintendents. After finding out what they know, we teach them something new. We mentor our employees because we care. We want them to be the best versions of themselves.”
Services: Turnkey maintenance contractor