NEWTOWN, Pa.—When E. William Ross Sr. bought Pelmor Laboratories Inc. in 1989, he didn't know much about the rubber industry, nor plan to pass the company down to his children.
He did learn about the business, and Pelmor has succeeded under his management. Now, another generation is taking active control—his son James Ross has become Pelmor president and CEO, with his father assuming the position of chairman after 23 years of being president and CEO.
“I have been basically running the company since then (1989),” Ross Sr. said. “I have had a lot of help in learning about the rubber industry.”
When he purchased Pelmor he had no prior experience in the rubber industry. Working in the metal finishing sector, he often dealt with chemicals during a time when the chemical industry was going through changes.
“The government was interacting and becoming a stronger advocate for clean air pollution controls,” he said. “It just seemed to me that it was time to exit that industry and look for something else.”
So he began looking around to see what he would like to do and found a company he believed was a good choice. “We have excellent long-term employees, some with 40 or 50 years of employment with us,” he said.
When he began running the business, he said he had not planned on passing the company down to one of his sons, who were still in school.
“It was my goal to take the company to a higher level of sales and profits and then see what happens,” he said. “I wasn't interested in selling it because it is somewhat of a unique company.”
Newtown-based Pelmor makes rubber and rubber-to-metal bonded products and does custom mixing.
Change in leadership
“I'm over 70 by a few years and I love to work and enjoy it,” William Ross Sr. said. “But I also like to travel and not be tied to the business.”
It took eight years of watching James Ross progress at the company before he felt he could step into a less demanding role. “It seems appropriate to have Jamie (as he calls him) move up and run it,” Ross Sr. said. “He has basically been doing that for the past several years in an unofficial capacity.”
By changing titles, Ross Sr. also takes on a more relaxed position in the company. “If I choose to take a long weekend or take a trip somewhere, I can do so without feeling guilty,” he said.
James has spent his time with Pelmor working in various departments. “When I first started here I didn't really have much of a managerial role,” the new president and CEO said. “It was more sales, and assisting in the sales department.”
He then took on more responsibility as his experience in the rubber industry and within Pelmor grew.
A Lehigh University graduate, James Ross began his career in the financial services field working in Manhattan, he said. “I got to a point in my career up in New York where I felt like there was more opportunity here for a more rewarding career,” he said. “Financial services couldn't be any different from what I'm doing now.”
Despite the complete contrast to his life on Wall Street, he said he thoroughly enjoys his work at Pelmor.
“There is a tangibility to the products that we make, the people that we service, and the people that I work with are really what bring the joy to me,” he said. “In Wall Street, your customers aren't always people you can reach out and talk to.”
Being able to see a product go from an idea on a piece of paper to something that can be held in your hands is one of the perks he said he enjoys about his job. “In the world I came from you were really moving decimal places back and forth,” he said. “I like the more hands-on aspect.”
As his dad pointed out, he must like his job an awful lot because of time he daily spends traveling.
“It's a two hour commute each way, door-to-door,” James Ross said with a laugh. “I think that speaks to the fact that I really like it here.”
James said he still is at a point where if the job wasn't fulfilling enough for him he could look to change careers, but that is not what he intends to do.
“I'm very fortunate that my dad built the business from where he bought it to today,” he said. “It is a long commute, a long day, but at the same time when you're working with people who really enjoy what they do and when I enjoy what I do, it makes it all worth it.”
He didn't wake up one day and decide he was going to go work for Pelmor and his dad. His interest in going into the business gestated over time.
“I have always been interested in it,” Ross said. “I have always been knowledgeable about it because of my dad.”
Pelmor has a bright future ahead, and is coming off a stellar sales year, the executives said.
Many of the company's customers are doing fairly well this year, and Pelmor is benefiting from their success. “Our sales are the highest they have been since I have been here,” James Ross said.
One reason the younger Ross said the firm is doing well was its decision to specialize in a somewhat uncommon elastomer.
“We're known for our expertise in the fluoroelastomers,” he said. “If we had gone into something a bit more routine, you become a bit more routine.”
Pelmor still is looking to broaden its reach. Hoping to move into the bio-tech and medical device fields, the Newtown-based firm is not yet fully aware of all the markets it wants to be involved in.
“We're just taking it day by day,” James Ross said when referring to predictions for the business in 2013.
As both a custom mixer and small parts manufacturer, Ross said the company offers customers the ability to have things mixed and molded all within the same building.
By focusing on smaller batches, the company is able to conduct a lot more research and development work with its clients. “We don't service the auto industry,” he said. Instead, Pelmor looks to the customer that needs to use 50 pounds of rubber, instead of 50,000 pounds of rubber.
That doesn't mean it can't service someone who needs more parts and is running on a fairly tight budget.
In 2008 the manufacturer created a joint venture with a company in Thailand to help acquire new business when costs were too high. The Pelmor executives said they use the unnamed partner—which they describe as very similar to their firm—to help fulfill global needs of its customers.
Pelmor has made sure it is able to service customers seeking a “Made in America” product as well. With offices, mixing and manufacturing located in Newtown, the company is able to offer everything from raw materials to a finished part, according to the younger Ross.
“We're a molding company that acts like a service company,” he said.
Regardless of how far the company and rubber industry have come, Ross Sr. still remembers where Pelmor came from.
“At the end of the day it has been interesting to see how companies have decided to consolidate a lot of their purchases and go with a broad-based, full- source supplier whenever they can to eliminate a lot of purchasing from a number of companies,” he said.
His son said he looks at the technological advances Pelmor has made since he was younger and enjoys being able to create certain things and tailor almost anything to individual customer needs.
Both father and son are not only pleased about how Pelmor's business is functioning today, but confident about its prospects in the years to come.
“It's been a pretty good year for us,” Ross Sr. said. “We do have a bright future.”