MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala.—When it comes to polyurethane tires, Jack Straub has pretty much seen it all.
That´s to be expected when a person spends almost 40 years in the industry. Unless, of course, he simply treated his work as a grind-it-out job and did just what was necessary to get by.
Straub doesn´t fall into that category. He took the other road and has been a highly successful production man throughout his career.
The 61-year-old Straub—who takes a calm, low-key approach to his job—has been the manager of SolidThane Tire´s forklift tire and load wheel plant in Muscle Shoals since 2000, when parent Solideal Tire Co. began manufacturing the urethane products at the site.
Actually, creation of the Alabama factory was partially the New Jersey native´s doing. He and Robert Moore, at the time a salesman for Trintex Inc., were approached by Solideal´s U.S. management with the idea of creating a manufacturing base in the U.S.
Following a plan put together by Straub and Moore, Solideal set up the SolidThane polyurethane tire division, purchased a 5,000-sq.-ft. building in Muscle Shoals and turned the facility into a manufacturing site. Solideal, a subsidiary of Belgium-based Solideal International S.A., expanded the factory to 10,000 square feet and added a second shift in 2001.
The plan saves the company money, primarily high shipping costs from its production sites in Sri Lanka, and greatly improves the firm´s service in North America.
Now the company is giving consideration to expanding again, although if that comes about it´s likely the firm will have to find a larger factory in the area. "Nothing has been decided yet," Straub said. "At this point, it´s just an idea."
Taking the high road
Straub has weathered numerous storms during the last 40 years in the polyurethane products business and likely will see more before he decides to call it quits.
Ironically, it was a fluke that brought him to the industry in 1965 after a four-year stint in the Navy. He had joined the Navy as a teenager in the early 1960s to become an electrician but was shuffled off to the boiler room on a ship, which pretty much ended any desire to make the Navy his career.
After his discharge, he returned to New Jersey and went looking for work at a plastics factory. Nothing was available at the time. But after emerging from the plant, he spotted a tire manufacturing company, Super Tire Inc., down the street and decided to give it a shot. He was hired, initially to recap truck tires, which he did for two weeks. He didn´t care much for the job.
Then his career with polyurethane products began. "I was walking toward the plant manager one day who stopped me, and for a moment I thought I was going to get fired," Straub said. "Instead he took me to a small department that made urethane tires and said they needed a hand with load wheels."
He remained there, steadily advancing to shift leader, for seven years.
But not much has come easy for Jack Straub. When Super Tire began looking for another supervisor, he applied, figuring he had the experience needed in the department and had demonstrated leadership capabilities as he rose through the ranks.
Straub also was serving as a rescue captain with a volunteer fire department and he was a third-class petty officer in the Navy reserve at the time. Despite that, he said, "they told me they didn´t think I was qualified to work with people." He didn´t get the supervisor job.
He was approached by a salesman at the company who told him he planned to launch a urethane business with other investors and wanted Straub to join him as production manager. Straub jumped at the chance and together they helped set up Polythane Moulded Products Inc. in Pennsylvania in 1971.
From the frying pan...
Polythane produced molded forklift tires and did well until 1974, when it started to struggle and the salesman and other owners parted ways over several issues. The salesman left the firm but the struggles remained and the business folded in 1975.
But Straub landed on his feet. His friend the salesman had hooked up with Sterling Tire Inc. in Alabama, which was looking to start up a urethane tire operation. Sterling purchased Polythane´s equipment and brought Straub in to set up the operation in October 1975.
He remained with Sterling until January 1994. However, he had not received pay raises for a seven-year stretch and, Straub said, it was obvious the company wasn´t doing well and he figured it was time to move on.
He left Sterling for a job with Rolls Inc., which re-covered rubber-printing rolls and outsourced polyurethane rolls. Rolls was looking to set up a polyurethane department and Straub was told he was a perfect fit to run the operation.
Meanwhile, Sterling filed for bankruptcy and eventually sold its equipment to Georgia-based Trintex, a maker of lawn mower tires. "I got out just in time," Straub said.
Rolls was moving slowly on the polyurethane end of its business and Trintex contacted Straub to find out what it would take to put a polyurethane department together. He told them and they struck a deal. He joined Trintex in September 1995.
"I stayed there for five years and Solideal came to Trintex to get some pricing on tires for dealers and it was a high price," Straub said.
That´s when Solideal discussed the possibility for its first urethane tire production site in the U.S. with Straub and Moore. The company asked them to put together a plant set-up plan.
They did. Solideal liked their proposal and in 2000 launched the Muscle Shoals tire manufacturing plant with Straub serving as production manager and Moore becoming the general store manager.
Married with four children and 11 grandchildren, he doesn´t plan to retire any time soon because "I love what I do." And he has few regrets. "I´d do it all over again," he said.
Except maybe working in the boiler room on a Navy ship.