It didn't take long for Walt Smith—who sold one urethane business less than a year ago—to find another company in the field he felt was a good investment project.
Smith has purchased an interest in OTB Architectural Elements Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a 9-year-old producer of synthetic polyurethane decorative architectural elements for interior and exterior applications in the residential and commercial construction industry.
Its products include railings and balusters, brackets, columns, bases, panels, emblems, crowns and trim moldings, shutters and numerous other items, according to the former owner of Malcom, Iowa-based ITWC Inc. He sold ITWC to BASF Corp. in July 2012.
"OTB has a good reputation in the Florida housing and construction market," the longtime polyurethane industry executive said. "It has endured and survived the housing slump and construction slump. It has good management, and I wanted to support them as they rebuilt their business."
Smith, who remains the majority owner and chairman of polyurethane forklift tire and wheel maker Thombert Inc. in Newton, Iowa, also has branched out into real estate investments in West Palm Beach, Fla., "because it's an appropriate time to buy."
"I now reside in West Palm Beach," he said at the Polyurethane Manufacturers Association meeting, held May 5-8 in Las Vegas. "Because of that, I travel a lot."
The principal owner of OTB is Cleon Frandsen, who Smith said oversees all projects and the overall operation.
"I'm helping them with advice and investment, but they do the work. I'm hoping I can help Cleon develop an extraordinary growth path," something Smith has had great success doing in the past with Thombert and ITWC.
In terms of Thombert, Smith said, "the company is well run by (President) Dick Davidson, who has worked for me for 35 years. Part of the success I've had is that I surround myself with good people, and I trust the people who run the businesses. I've delegated to very capable, responsible people, and it has paid off."
Thombert was launched by Smith's father, Robert, and uncle, Thomas, in 1946. It continues to hold the largest share of the forklift tires and wheels business for electric trucks in the U.S., Smith said. "We're coming off our best year ever, and I'm almost sure this year will be better."
He began working during summers at Thombert 50 years ago at the age of 14, and has remained at the firm and in the urethane industry since then.
In addition to building and expanding Thombert, he launched three other polyurethane companies over the years. One folded, he sold another in 2004 and ITWC last year.
Win, win for all
ITWC had been a major success story for the entrepreneur.
The producer of a variety of chemicals for the polyurethane industry grew rapidly and expanded several times since its inception, and Smith had planned to hold onto it longer.
However, when BASF came calling in 2012, it made an offer that Smith eventually was unable to refuse. Aside from the undisclosed monetary gains from the sale, he also brokered a deal that guaranteed all 80 ITWC employees kept their jobs and the production facility would continue operating out of Malcom.
Roger Smith (no relation to Walt) and his management team continue to run ITWC, and the work force remains intact.
"It worked out well for everybody," Walt Smith said. "We did some very interesting things in the 24 years I was with the company, and we responded quickly to problems customers had. I didn't do them. I was backed up by some great people over the years—some were with me 20-30 years—and they did all the work."
His role was principally to set the tone and create an environment where everyone on the staff could be successful. He does the same with Thombert.
"I'm still looking at possible investments," he said. "I can now do more with less time committed."
However, he cautioned, there is nothing imminent. "I discovered OTB by coincidence while attempting to make equipment loans. It had a very interesting product and manufacturing capability that I understood.
"I should be able to bring good advice to them as they grow. I know many people in the industry, and there may be opportunities to help other firms in the molding or processing industry."