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Polymer Valley founder passes torch to son

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Michael Beck Jr. (right) named his son, Michael Beck III, president of Polymer Valley Chemicals in January.

AKRON—Michael Beck Jr. founded Polymer Valley Chemicals in 1986 and loosened the reigns this year.

His son, Michael R. Beck III, took over as president of the Akron-based mineral filler provider in January, while Michael Beck Jr. remains as CEO.

“Michael's been with me since the day he got out of college,” Beck Jr. said about his son.

“He has a really good grasp of what we do and how we do it. ... He's seen everything evolve ... from just me to where we are today.”

Beck III has been full time with the company for almost 18 years, but he began working part time while he was still attending Miami University of Ohio. Beck III is not the only member of the second generation in the business, as Sean Beck, an account representative, and Kristin (Beck) Clark, the director of purchasing and human resources, also have found their way into the family business.

“It's really nice for me,” said Beck Jr.

It is always a father's hope to be able to pass on the business, he said, and so far things have been going very well.

“In fact, I'm working harder now for Michael than I probably did for myself. He keeps me busy,” said Beck Jr.

Although he has given up the presidency, he has no desire to retire anytime soon.

“I jokingly say they're going to have to wheel me out,” Beck Jr. said.

If he travels to his home in Florida, he is wired into the business and literally can answer the office phone, which he likes.

“We still enjoy having him here, and we still need him,” Beck III said, but now Beck Jr. feels more comfortable knowing he does not have to be there everyday.

Having a younger generation at the helm brings a different way of looking at things, Beck Jr. said. “I'm still a dinosaur when it comes to some of the ways you do business and some of the technology.”

“I don't think you ever feel totally prepared to be named president,” the younger Beck said, but he has grown into the position and said he has a great team.

His father shared a similar sentiment. “I consider everyone working together and with us, not for us. I think that's a key.”

Staying competitive

Sean Beck explained the management team in the company's production and warehousing facility Macon, Ga., has been in place for about 20 years.

Beck Jr. said Harry Hull, Polymer Valley Chemicals' vice president of manufacturing operations, who is based out of the Macon facility, has done a superb job for the company.

“Now I'm 39, and (system facilitator) P.R. (Rainbow-Hull) still calls me Mikey,” Beck III joked.

The company's leaders say one aspect that has worked well for them is that none of them are micromanagers. Beck Jr. said they give everyone the ability to make a decision that needs to be made in the area that they participate in.

“When you work for bigger companies, you get involved with that Monday morning meeting or that Friday afternoon meeting or whenever it happens to be ... there's always a time to talk about stuff,” he said, “(but) we're always talking about it. We don't necessarily have to wait until Thursday to talk about something. It's kind of nice.”

Beck Jr. said the staff tries to assemble for lunch often because it is a good time to speak about business.

“I guess our biggest challenge is, as it always has been, how to remain competitive against some very large companies,” Beck III said.

Polymer Valley Chemicals remains competitive by maintaining the highest quality of products, he said, as well as offering great customer service.

His father added that Polymer Valley Chemicals is a niche player in the market, and people respect the company.

“You actually can talk to a person when you call us. I think that's important,” Beck Jr. said.

“We're not into the push button stuff yet. I don't like that. And you can get a hold of us on the weekend if there is an emergency for delivery.”

Going the extra mile

Beck Jr. said he will get called on the weekends once in awhile.

One time, he was called on the weekend—he transfers the work line to his home line on the weekends—and one of the tire companies had miscalculated its usage and needed a load by the next morning, a Sunday.

He called Hull, and the company was able to get the product into a truck loaded and to the plant by 7 the next morning. He said that is why he thinks the company is successful, as larger companies may not have even gotten the message until Monday morning.

Polymer Valley Chemicals has been working on implementing some innovations as well. Beck Jr. predicts there will be a carbon black shortage in 2015 and 2016.

“We've seized the opportunity to put in what is called "carbon black transloading' by putting an addendum to our facility in Georgia,” he said.

The addendum allows container loads of carbon black coming in bulk sacks to be transloaded from super sacks to bulk trucks in a contaminant-free environment.

“(It's) a service we provide for our customers who bring carbon black in from overseas and need it transferred into bulk hopper trucks,” Beck III said.

“We have a good location for the Southeast part of the country because it's convenient to the large ports of Charleston and Savannah.”

The company has some new products rolling out, including some saline treated products such as saline-treated silicas and a carbon black saline concentrate, Beck III said, which Polymer Valley Chemicals makes a 50/50 blend.

“We're also introducing a carbon black oil concentrate, which is an old product that people used ... and people have been asking us about it, and we can do it,” he said.