Steel industry titan celebrates 99 years

OKLAHOMA CITY - The workload on this Friday was pretty light.

International Pipe and Supply CEO Al Karchmer only had a couple of sales calls to make and a little mail to open before lunch.

"It's mostly junk," he frowns.

Priorities in the steel pipe distribution business have long since been set even if the top ones are interchangeable.

"You gotta have the product, you gotta have the service and you gotta have the price. Don't ask me which one is the most important," Karchmer insists.

The biggest task today, other than tolerating a reporter in his office, is sorting all the birthday wishes coming in.

Al will turn 99 over the weekend, insuring one more hallmark in a long career that places him as the dean of steel company executives in the U.S. by a long shot.

"I'm sure a lot of people know you," prompts the visiting reporter.

"Unfortunately, yeah," he chuckles.

His father started out in the scrap metal business in Oklahoma City.

Al seemed a little more interested in strings than steel.

He attended the Julliard School of Music to study violin.

But he got drafted and earned a Bronze Star for helping liberate and rebuild the Phillipines with the Army.

"That gave me a pretty good background," he says.

Karchmer found a new appreciation for logistics when he returned, but it wasn't until the late '70s that he came home to Oklahoma and started a little one-man pipe shop at 50th and Santa Fe.

Al holds up a finger to show how many people worked in the office at the beginning.

"One person."

International Pipe and Steel has several big yards like this all over the country now.

Al sold his son Don on coming aboard after he finished school.

Estimating the volume of their current business, Don says, "We're stocking close to 40,000 tons of steel pipe only all across the United States."

After more than 40 years in buying and selling pipe there's no telling how many miles of it have moved through.

Even the years are hard to measure.

"I'm glad that I'm still around," Karchmer states.

But friends and family measured them anyway when the lunch whistle finally blew.

Karchmer can count more good years than bad.

Everyone here is happy their founder is able to put another birthday on his own account.

His life has made everyone else's richer too.

Al's official 99th birthday is September 21st.

His family says he still comes to work every weekday from 9 to 5.

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