HASTINGS, Mich.—With more than 60 years in the high-performance hose products industry, Doug DeCamp, founder of Flexfab L.L.C., has led with a sharp business acumen and an unwavering commitment to his more than 1,000 global employees.
Perhaps most of all, the 2011 Rubber & Plastics News Executive of the Year has remained steadfast in his resolve through difficult times, using economic downturns to define the company's identity or a supply line challenge as a learning opportunity.
Flexfab truly has been forged in fire since DeCamp and his late friend and colleague Bill Pierce founded it in 1961.
"I think since the very early beginning days, we would take on an opportunity or a problem out there and address it immediately," DeCamp said. "As we continued to grow, those problems got exponentially bigger—but we were able to grow because of them.
"Over the years there were many ups and downs, but what is really key is to have a stick-to-it attitude. Don't give up when things aren't going quite the way they ought to, or you hit a snag with a growing company. Just stick to it."
DeCamp's dedication to his roots were on display out of high school, when he worked for a fishing rod and reel company in his hometown.
The company soon went bankrupt, and the two hardworking friends were dead broke. But DeCamp had an eye for business and Pierce knew marketing.
So they looked to an abandoned 7,000-sq.-ft. building in Hastings to start their new company.
"I got out of high school and had no money. Over the years I put forth whatever I needed for education to forward my knowledge of the industry," DeCamp said.
With the fledgling Flexfab, DeCamp and Pierce ultimately began focusing on high-performance silicone rubber hose products. The company soon gained a reputation for quality innovations and integrity, DeCamp said.
True to his magnanimous form, DeCamp recalled a mentor, Kenneth Oestreicher, a development engineer, who helped him early on.
"He grabbed my attention as a youngster out of high school to work on things with him," DeCamp said. "We would work all night long, until 4 or 5 a.m., and he taught me most everything I needed to know about the design and engineering of different products."
In 1963, Flexfab won its first U.S. government contract with heating and air conditioning hose. Three years later, the company received its first order from Boeing for a part it still makes today—and reached its first $1 million in annual sales.
Today, Flexfab offers a spectrum of highly engineered elastomeric products in aerospace, automotive, dairy and food-grade hose, extruded tubing and profiles, heavy-duty truck parts, industrial and specialty products, marine components, military and government and ventilation ducting.
There is a diesel emissions section for original equipment engineers and designers.
The company now calls a 150,000-sq.-ft. plant in Hastings its headquarters, with 450 employees in Michigan and another 550 between plants in England, Brazil and China.
In 2004, son Matthew DeCamp was named president and CEO of Flexfab L.L.C.
Based exclusively on the manufacturing side, Flexfab sells direct to OEMs such as Boeing, Ford and Chrysler, as well as to heavy commercial trucking companies like Peterbilt.
Any business story is as much about the bumpy journey as the successful destination, and that is no less true with Flexfab.
Perhaps no single instance honed—or humbled—DeCamp's business sense more than Sept. 11, 2001.
"I would say the most-noted I can think of was 9/11," he said. "We were hit by the pandemic, but everyone was."
Flexfab went from $89 million to $58 million in sales following the attacks, a loss of 35 percent. By 2008, the company had crested $100 million once again.
"Those kinds of things are what helped us as a company handle the ups and downs. We zoomed through 2009," DeCamp said.
Without a presence in medical, Flexfab was hit hard by the pandemic.
With its capacity for resiliency, the company is expected to hit $140 million at the end of this third quarter.
"We got hit quite hard with this downturn," he said. "We have come back, but our major problem is getting materials from China.
"We were forced by customers to be in China, and we have been there now for many, many years. I think that the last two years have indicated to major customers that we need to be focused on North America, and America, to make sure stuff is built here in the U.S."
DeCamp counts his roots as his legacy, as evidenced by his community outreach through the years.
He is a founder of the Barry Community Foundation, established in July 1995 to support charitable, scientific, literary and educational programs in Hastings and surrounding Barry County.
DeCamp also served on the board of its predecessor, the Thornapple Foundation.