Pickell’s vision extends
far beyond his own company

OFFERING GUIDANCE: Craig Pickell, CEO of Bullard Abrasives Inc., left, works with press operator Ceaser Gomez on a machine at the Lincoln-based manufacturer. 
OFFERING GUIDANCE: Craig Pickell, CEO of Bullard Abrasives Inc., left, works with press operator Ceaser Gomez on a machine at the Lincoln-based manufacturer. 

PBN 2023 Manufacturing Awards
STRATEGIC LEADERSHIP: Craig Pickell, CEO, Bullard Abrasives Inc.

Craig Pickell displays his leadership abilities in more ways than one.

First and foremost, Pickell is the longtime CEO of Lincoln-based Bullard Abrasives Inc., which manufactures grinding, cutting and finishing abrasives products for portable power tools in the metalworking and construction industries.

Guiding the company to success – particularly during and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic – has been challenging enough, but Pickell has also been busy working for the greater good of the Rhode Island manufacturing sector.

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He is chairman of the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association board of directors and serves on several working groups of the association, including leading a working group representing the interests of local manufacturers as the formation of the state’s nascent offshore wind sector takes shape.

Indeed, Mark Freel, a RIMA board member, says Pickell helped the association support the growth of offshore wind and related manufacturing organizations based at Quonset Point in North Kingstown and elsewhere in Rhode Island.

“That has manifested itself in legislative and regulatory advocacy, facilitating business connections and public support [for the blue economy],” Freel said.

The blue economy, Pickell says, captures numerous economic sectors, such as fisheries, aquaculture, atmosphere and waterways, and often bundles offshore wind under that same banner.

Pickell says that during a recent working group session with R.I. Commerce Corp., the group urged R.I. Commerce to treat offshore wind as a “standalone business segment” because the economic scale of wind power development and how the state’s economy can be supported by it “was far too great a prize not to receive special attention,” especially with other states seeing those economic benefits.

One thriving industry in Rhode Island that supports the blue economy is shipbuilding. Pickell says vessel fleets that can bring crews and equipment, as well as have lifting capabilities, are in major demand for offshore wind projects. Local shipbuilding resources, he says, already have “numerous commitments” to build ships for those projects.

“Another segment contributing to our economy is the construction and retrofitting of our port infrastructure to assist with storage and assembly of components, plus the eventual movement of these components from the dock to the transport vessel,” Pickell said.

The leadership roles at Bullard and RIMA weren’t part of his original career plan. He says he always thought his path would be in larger businesses.

But after graduating from Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., Pickell joined a small sandpaper manufacturer in Petersburg, Va. From there, he took on a series of projects turning around small privately held abrasives companies that were struggling.

“Over the last 40 years, completing five successful revivals of mid-market businesses across the abrasives industry, following my ‘eventual path’ wasn’t such a bad idea,” Pickell said. “The life of an entrepreneur is a rewarding and satisfying experience that I would not trade for anything.”

This understanding of the abrasives industry and his willingness to collaborate within and beyond it makes Pickell stand out amongst his peers.

Pickell says his management approach is heavily biased toward a collaborative style, much of which stems from the good fortune in his early years of working alongside people whom he considers truly great leaders. He says he uses a tip he learned from a conversation with the late prominent national businessman Herman Cain that leaders “have the responsibility of inspiring others, and inspiration leads to the motivation to succeed.”

Pickell also spearheads Rhode Island’s first-of-its-kind manufacturing innovation hub, ensuring that Rhode Island remains a leader of the blue economy. The hub, he says, provides numerous important benefits such as assistance for emerging technologies companies and specialized training for a large number of occupations associated with offshore wind development, building and maintenance.

“One of the greatest rewards leaders enjoy is the satisfaction of developing a winning team and the opportunity of watching its members achieve their own personal best,” Pickell said.

Pickell is optimistic that the state can become a leader in the blue economy, particularly offshore wind, based on the resources Rhode Island has, plus a willing manufacturing sector and state leadership to achieve that prominent economic status.

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