Pipe Dreams

Jim Jaime’s water-and-sewer supply company is not just staying afloat in this economy—business is thriving

Truly a family-run operation, three of Jaime’s five kids as well as a daughter-in-law work in the company. (Standing left to right) His son, Justin, is the vice president; daughter, Maria, is the assistant to the office manager; daughter-in-law, Theresa, is the office manager; and son, Jonathan, is the yard manager.

Family-owned and operated Saginaw, Michigan-company Michigan Pipe & Valve was formed when a close family friend of Jim Jaime coaxed him into joining his water-and-sewer distribution company. “Art Valls approached me at a time when I was working for a newspaper in advertising,” Jaime recalls. “He had an opening in sales, and he believed that I could sell anything.”

A year later, Jaime joined his golf and bowling buddy in his business venture. That was 24 years ago. What started out as a fulfilling and lucrative career change turned into Jaime convincing his friend to start a new business together: Michigan Pipe & Valve-Saginaw, a water-and-sewer supply company.

Founded in 1998, Jaime and Valls put in place a business philosophy rooted in building relationships with customers, and treating them like family. “We believe in building those relationships with dignity and honesty,” Jaime says. “It has always paid off. When we left our other company, we took 80 percent of that business because of our relationships.” Those humble beginnings segued through the decade, and he hopes will continue with his children. When Art Valls retired in 2007, Jaime bought out his shares.

He and his wife Patricia have five adult children, three of whom work alongside their proud father. His son, Justin, is the vice president; daughter-in-law, Theresa, is the office manager; son, Jonathan, is the yard manager; and daughter, Maria, is the assistant to the office manager. So, from vice president to an office manager, his children are taking a leading role as Jaime prepares to retire this year.

Already one the largest distributors of water, storm, and sewer materials in Michigan and the only Hispanic-owned distribution company, Jaime has positioned his children to take the business into the next echelon. “It impacts the business as I get ready to retire,” he says, who also stays hands-on in the networking, operations, and sales department. “We want to be able to grow the business and give other opportunities to other family members as we expand. I know they can maintain the philosophy and success—the foundation of this company.”

Even in tumultuous economic times, the underground distribution company has been profitable and successful. “It all goes back to our service and philosophy,” Jaime says. “We’ve been in the top 500 largest Hispanic-owned companies in the country the past three years. That reflects our ability to build relationships and maintain a good margin.”

For Jaime, he wants to give young Hispanics a footprint in this industry. The company’s ambition is evident as it supports minorities not only at Michigan Pipe & Valve, but in the community. “We’re involved with the local Hispanic Business Association, helping train young professional Hispanics to be leaders in the community.” In addition, Jaime redefines diversity, and encourages other corporations about the importance of inclusion. “It’s our voice and example that demonstrates how we promote diversity in our company and others,” he says.

Another part of the company’s longevity and growth is happy employees. Even though it’s a family company, the nonfamily employees are treated as such. “We include them in family weddings, graduations and birthdays,” gushes Jaime, who is a grandfather of five, soon to be seven. “During summer we go on golf trips; Christmas, we have bowling outings; and during the fall season, we go on pheasant hunts.”

Combining all of those elements, Michigan Pipe & Valve-Saginaw will move forward with those same business philosophies. “My hope is that it will continue to be successful and that my children will come up with new ways to do business,” Jaime says. “When you look at the industry we are in, the future looks very bright.”