A New Era at SDI – Ken Charles Takes the Helm

A New Era Begins with SDI’s Managing Director

After 10 years as Steel Deck Institute (SDI) Managing Director and 50 years in the steel deck industry, Bob Paul is retiring and handing the reins to J. Kenneth Charles, III.

Ken Charles brings a wealth of experience in the steel industry with an eye toward growth.

“I really appreciate the opportunity to lead the Steel Deck Institute,” said Charles. “It’s a great organization with wonderful people. So many of the people involved were already friends of mine, so it’s a great opportunity to connect a little deeper with them to take the industry and the organization to new heights and hopefully improve things for everybody.”

46 years in the steel industry

Charles earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Finance from Clemson University and worked in commercial banking before joining the steel industry in 1977 at Socar in South Carolina. He started working in sales, moving up the ranks to VP for Sales and Administration and then to President of the company. He also worked for New Millenium and CMC Joist & Deck.

He’s served as the Managing Director of the Steel Joist Institute (SJI) since 2011, a nonprofit made up of joist manufacturers and engineers from throughout the industry, focusing on maintaining the standards for steel joist construction. SJI also provides educational opportunities and guidance for construction professionals, including publications, design tools, webinars, technical papers and articles related to the design, manufacture and behavior of steel joists and joist girders.

Charles will continue to serve as Managing Director at SJI in addition to taking on his new role at SDI. 

“A large number of the Steel Deck Institute members are also Steel Joist Institute members,” he said. The two organizations are complementary in many ways. “Sort of like peanut butter and jelly. You rarely see a joist application that does not have a steel deck on top of it. And you rarely see steel deck on top of something other than a joist.”

The Future of SDI 

Looking ahead at SDI, Charles sees an opportunity to grow new markets, educate engineers and advance SDI’s mission. 

Finding new markets

Top initiatives include finding new markets for products, such as replacing wood roof systems in the West. “For whatever reason, the West Coast — particularly Washington, Oregon and California — any large-scale roof system is built with steel joists that have wood nailers attached to the top of them,” Charles explained. “And then a wood roofing system is on top of that, and there’s no steel deck on it. That’s a huge market, and I’d love to see us attempt to tackle that.”

Charles also sees an opportunity for substituting steel panel wall systems including steel decks to replace walls constructed of other materials, such as concrete block or tilt-wall concrete.

Highlighting sustainability

A big part of SDI’s mission is to educate engineers. Charles sees spreading the word about sustainability as a priority. 

“We think that steel deck is well positioned as far as sustainability is concerned. A high percentage of the material that goes into the manufacture of steel deck is from recycled materials, and so it has a good story to tell,” Charles said. “Some of the competing materials, we’re going to have to use a little bit of truth-telling to make sure the public understands what they’re looking at. For example, wood is not as environmentally friendly as the wood industry would have you believe.”

In the construction industry, most building projects now have an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) that tells the construction community about the environmental impact of particular products. In the wood industry, there’s an EPD requirement that where trees are grown is important.

“From what I understand, less than 20% of the wood harvested in the United States is grown in a sustainable forest. So, they’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “But not too many people know that part of the story. We’re going to do a little truth-telling.”

Rebranding SDI

SDI is also in the final stages of rebranding to give the Institute a more current look and feel. A new website has been recently launched, continuing to offer all of the resources from SDI but with a fresh format. SDI plans on the new website being a greater resource for engineerings and architects when specifying steel deck. Additionally, the organization plans on staying in front of the steel deck audience more through LinkedIn, Newsletters and blog posts. 

Getting to know Ken Charles

“I tend to work a lot, but I do have a lifelong obsession with boating,” he said. “My father purchased our first family boat when I was five years old, and it’s one of the earliest memories I have as a kid, and I’ve been skiing, fishing or just cruising ever since.”

Charles is also active with an organization called House of Hope which helps homeless families in Florence, SC. “I was fortunate enough to be a part of the recent construction (Hope Village),” Charles said. “We finished it about a year ago. It’s a 24-unit tiny house community here in Florence to help women and women with children in their steps toward independence. That’s been a great part of my last 15 years and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed that.”

Building on the legacy of the Steel Deck Institute

“We’ll continue to build on the long history of the Steel Deck Institute,” Charles pledged. “We have great people in place on our committees, with some younger engineers stepping up and pitching in. That is the future of this organization and these young men and women are doing an outstanding job. And that’s definitely the future of SDI.”

Follow Ken Charles, Managing Director at the Steel Deck Institute, on LinkedIn.

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