NEWCASTLE, Ontario—Tim Toppen wasn't looking to become a top executive at AirBoss of America Corp. or, for that matter, any other company just a few months ago.
He was quite happy serving as chairman and CEO of TruVitals Inc., a small medical device company he launched with partner Bob Herbolich in September 2011.
But a phone call or two from Gren Schoch, chairman of AirBoss, dramatically changed all that.
Schoch wanted Toppen to take over as president of the rubber compounder and diverse rubber product manufacturer, assuming many of the management duties of President and CEO Robert Hagerman, who is on extended medical leave to recover from injuries sustained in an accident.
It didn't take long for Toppen to accept the offer because, he said, the timing was right. He knew the president's post was almost tailor-made for him. He took over the position Jan. 6.
In Hagerman's absence, Schoch has become interim CEO, and Stephen Richards, vice president of finance for the last eight years, has assumed the additional duties of chief operating officer. Schoch has been chairman of AirBoss since 1989 and is a substantial shareholder in the firm, while Richards joined AirBoss in April 2005 as its chief financial officer.
One of the original directors of AirBoss, Hagerman has been CEO of the company since 1992. He has been instrumental in building the firm since then and turning it into a solid, multi-faceted business, Schoch said.
Hagerman, who also is a large shareholder of Newcastle-based AirBoss, is expected to make a full recovery from his injuries, although it may take some time, according to Schoch.
Hagerman will remain a director of the company during his leave and will be available to both the board of directors and the executive management team for strategic input, Schoch said. Meanwhile, he added, the company is in very good hands.
Keys: knowledge, experience
Toppen was selected for the post because he has extensive experience in the rubber industry, was well known by both Schoch and Hagerman, had handled some consulting work with AirBoss over the last few years, and he has been in charge of rubber mixing and military products businesses when he was with Goodyear and Veyance Technologies Inc.
He spent 32 years at Veyance and Goodyear until November 2010 when Veyance's parent, Carlyle Group, replaced him as CEO and president of the company with John Hamilton, a former executive with Black & Decker.
Toppen joined Goodyear fresh out of college in 1978, rose through the ranks before heading up the Goodyear Chemical division. In 2001, he advanced to president of Goodyear Engineered Products, which became a stand-alone company in July 2007 when the Carlyle Group purchased the billion dollar business from Goodyear.
After leaving Veyance, he was approached by other firms but wanted a little more freedom and the right opportunity, at the time. So he set up a consulting business that worked with several companies, including AirBoss.
In September 2011, he and Herbolich started TruVitals in Gainesville, Fla. The firm is preparing to produce its first product, a non-contact vital signs monitoring device based on Doppler radar technology. Toppen will remain chairman of TruVitals while Herbolich will take over as CEO and run the company.
Toppen said he wasn't actively looking to join another company because "I was happy doing what I was doing." But he figured this was an ideal spot.
"I've known both Gren and Bob for some time," Toppen said. "Our medical device business at TruVitals was up and running." So he was in a position where he could consider the AirBoss offer.
"I looked at my background, and I knew I would fit in (at AirBoss) because it is similar on a smaller scale to Goodyear Engineered Products," he said. "I know I can help this company because I have the right background. I'm in the right place at the right time.
He is excited about becoming part of AirBoss. "With a strong balance sheet and strategic investments, the company is well positioned for growth. I look forward to building on the positive momentum already established."
AirBoss posted an estimated $350 million in 2013 sales, including proforma data from Flexible Products Co., which it purchased in October, according to information included in a presentation to investors. AirBoss posted an estimated $26 million in EBITA on the year. Compounding makes up 49 percent of revenues, the Flexible Products business 32 percent, industrial 11 percent and defense 8 percent.
Toppen likely will be splitting time between AirBoss' U.S. and Canadian operations but, for the time being, he plans to set up shop at Flexible Products' headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich.
AirBoss bought the company to give it a strong presence in the anti-vibration products market.
Flexible Products manufactures such rubber products as dampers, bushings, boots and isolators, primarily for the automotive industry.
Right fit for both
"We feel very confident about Tim, and we had no hesitation about hiring him," said Schoch. "We know him, and he's well known in the industry."
He cited Toppen's experience in rubber mixing and running a military products operation at Goodyear, both of which are key growth divisions within AirBoss.
Toppen will be responsible for the company's rubber compounding, engineered products, auto parts and defense businesses.
"Both Bob and I agreed some time ago that if we needed a president, he was a good fit for us," Schoch said. "He's someone we would probably have recruited anyway. But a year ago he was tied up. Getting him now is perfect timing for both of us."
He said Toppen has the experience needed to help continue AirBoss' growth and expansion, both in North America and abroad.
The loss of Hagerman for a short while has been difficult for the company, he said, but the firm has maintained a steady course in his absence.
With Toppen on board, according to Schoch, AirBoss again will have a solid, highly experienced leadership team in place, consisting of: Schoch as chairman and interim CEO; Toppen as president; Richards as vice president of finance and COO; Robert Dodd, executive vice president; Earl Laurie, president of the firm's defense products business; and Yvan Ambeault, vice president, director of operations, AirBoss Engineered Products.