The Washington Post

Sonco Worldwide gets new chief executive and controlling shareholder

Fence manufacturer Son­co Worldwide said Wednesday that Stephen H. Greer had purchased a controlling stake in the company and had been named its chairman and chief executive.

The deal puts the reins of what had been a family business for 38 years in the hands of an entrepreneur who is new to the Washington region.

Bobby Long, president of Sonco and son of company founder Sonny Long, said the Bladensburg-based company accepted Greer’s undisclosed offer because it stood out from hundreds of similar ones it had received in the past.

Greer “thought he could grow the business through acquisition and long-term growth, and that’s exactly what we’ve always wanted,” Long said.

Some ties will remain; Sonco is a supplier for Long Fence, a retail fence company that was also founded by the Long family. But no ownership relationship exists between the companies.

Under Greer’s leadership, Sonco hopes to expand across many of its business lines. In addition to manufacturing fencing, the company sells mechanical tubing and maintains a rental fence-and-barricade business. Through that division, the firm has supplied barricades for the past three presidential inaugurations. Company officials said Sonco earned about $60 million in revenue in 2013.

Neither party would disclose how much Greer paid for his stake.

Greer said he has no specific plan of action for Sonco.

“I think the biggest thing for me coming as an industry outsider is to be a sponge, to fully understand the business,” Greer said.

Greer, 45, arrives in the Washington area after spending nearly 20 years working in Hong Kong. He founded his first company there, a scrap-metal-trading firm called Hartwell Pacific, when he was 23. Within 12 years, the firm was pulling in about $250 million in sales. It was later bought by an Australian mining and steelmaking­ firm. Greer has also worked at private-equity firm Oaktree Capital Management, serving as a senior adviser based in Hong Kong.

Members of the Long family remain major shareholders at Sonco and will continue to be involved with the business. Sonny Long, who had been the firm’s chairman, will stay on as a board member and chairman emeritus. His son Bobby Long will continue as president, and a second son, Tim Long, will continue to serve in a senior role.

Greer said he first met the Long family at a Redskins-Steelers game last year. He had been actively looking for a company to buy, considering firms in Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston. But he soon decided Sonco was the best fit.

When he met the Longs, “there was sort of almost an immediate feeling of trust,” Greer said.

Bobby Long said that despite a fast and strong personal connection, he was not instantly sold on Greer’s pitch.

“Actually, I sort of blew him away the first time and told him he sounded just like one of those venture capital companies,” Bobby Long said.

After more meetings, Greer was able to convince the Longs that he would be more than just an investor.

“When he said he was going to work every day, it changed my mind completely,” Bobby Long said.

Within about four months, the parties had reached a deal.

Capital Business is The Post’s weekly publication focusing on the region’s business community.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.



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