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Minnesota R&P establishes new leader, focus

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Minnesota Rubber & Plastics, Marlin Braun
Hup Thong (left), production manager at Minnesota Rubber & Plastics plant in River Falls, Wis., shows off the facility to Marlin Braun, who was appointed CEO six months ago, replacing the retired Jim Lande. Minnesota Rubber & Plastics will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2015.

MINNEAPOLIS-—With new leadership, Minnesota Rubber & Plastics is setting the foundation for long-term success.

Quadion L.L.C., which does business as Minnesota Rubber & Plastics, appointed Marlin Braun as its CEO, succeeding Jim Lande, who retired from Quadion after serving as CEO since 1985.

Braun was appointed CEO just six months after being hired as the firm's chief operating officer in July 2013. He has 30 years of technology manufacturing experience, both on the original equipment manufacturing and material sides.

Prior to joining the firm, Braun worked at Greene, Tweed Co., VEECO Instruments Inc. and Perkin Elmer Inc.—spending more than six years with Greene, Tweed immediately before joining Quadion.

“We were really impressed with Marlin's experience, especially working with what we'd consider very technologically driven manufacturing organizations. He had a really detailed and thoughtful vision for the opportunities in front of the company and where we could go,” said Andy Cantwell, principal at Norwest Equity Partners—the equity firm that owns Minnesota Rubber & Plastics—and a member of Quadion's board.

Quadion said Braun has had experience in growing private and publicly held businesses with revenues between $50 million and $750 million, both organically and through acquisitions, which helped him stand out in the selection process.

Most of Braun's career has been in critical applications and technology manufacturing. In addition to a split between the OEM and materials sides of the business, Braun has spent time in the commercial and operations side. He said he spent the first half of his career in business development and sales and marketing, and the other half on the operations side.

“He's really great at understanding the important issues that drive a business forward,” Cantwell said. “He's the type of guy who develops a really nice vision and strategy of where he wants to take things. He understands the market, the customers and what the needs are.”

Braun, with the support of Norwest Equity Partners, will bring a new focus for the firm that is turning 70 in 2015. Historically, Minnesota Rubber & Plastics has been highly diversified and very opportunistic-driven, taking on different applications in a variety of markets. Braun said the firm is narrowing that focus to four core markets: transportation/automotive; fluid delivery; medical; and fluid power.

Each market involves solving critical-to-function problems in very demanding environments involving chemical attack, temperature, friction and wear, he said.

“We're still diversified, but we're diversified across four primary market segments. It's a much more focused effort, and we're aligning our entire organization with those four markets,” Braun said.

“We will certainly support customers in the other markets and we will continue to support those customers that we currently have within our base,” he added. “But as we make investments in our organization in terms of resources, those efforts will be primarily focused on those four markets.”

Braun estimated between 60 and 70 percent of Minnesota Rubber & Plastics focuses on rubber, but many products that it produces are a combination of rubber and plastic materials. The firm works with fluoroelastomers, HBR, HNBR, liquid silicone rubber, high consistency silicone rubber and high-end plastics.

“We invest very heavily in high performance materials,” he said. “We have a very strong material science capability that we're continuing to invest in, and grow and strengthen. Material science is a key part of who we are and always will be a part of who we are moving forward.”

Expansion underway

The company operates facilities in the U.S., Mexico, Europe and China. Braun said the firm will continue to invest in each region aligned with customer requirements.

One such investment is underway: The firm just broke ground on an expansion to its Mexican facility in July with a target completion date by the end of 2014 or early 2015. Minnesota Rubber & Plastics will make about a $4 million to $5 million investment, including facilities, equipment and adding additional capabilities to its rubber mixing, milling and compounding site in Mason City, Iowa.

The firm will add 30 employees at the facility that is designed primarily to serve the automotive market, with a secondary focus on fluid delivery.

The building will expand by 33,000 square feet, bringing the total size of the facility to 88,000 square feet, Braun said. Minnesota R&P is not adding any capacity; rather it is relocating most of the capacity from its soon-to-be shutdown plant in Waterford, S.D., which is scheduled to go offline at the end of 2014.

“A lot of automotive expansion is occurring in Mexico,” he said. “A lot of our customers are moving manufacturing facilities and are looking for us to have a presence there.”

Setting a foundation

Minnesota Rubber & Plastics
CEO Marlin Braun (center) and Hup Thong (left), production manage, listen to Sid Shroff, director of technology and operations at the River Falls, Wis., plant. Braun said Minnesota Rubber & Plastics will align its organization to focus on four primary markets: transportation/ automotive, fluid delivery, medical and fluid power.

The immediate goal of Minnesota R&P is to align the company with its four core vertical markets. But once that is accomplished, Braun said the firm will switch into offense, targeting complementary acquisitions that strengthen its focus.

“We anticipate being active with acquisitions that align with our strategy as we move into 2015,” Braun said. “This year has been all about this strategic alignment and getting the foundation in place to be able to integrate acquisitions into the foundations.”

Braun said the firm will explore multiple paths on the acquisition front. The first is to target companies with similar capabilities. The second is technology related, looking at firms with unique capabilities in either material technologies or dealing with materials Minnesota R&P doesn't focus on.

“A lot of our customers are asking us to combine materials together to form a component solution versus just a piece part,” Braun said. “Through our voice of the customer and our technology road mapping, we're going to be looking for other technologies we might add.”

The company wants to break into the oil and gas market and will target firms that allow it to do so rapidly.

Braun said a major reason Minnesota R&P is positioned to be active on the acquisition front is its owner, Norwest Equity Partners. NEP's instructional limited partner is Wells Fargo, which will provide Minnesota Rubber & Plastics the capital resources it needs to pursue acquisitions it feels will strengthen its position in the market.

“We're going to be very opportunistic, very supportive of this company,” Cantwell said. “Our goal with our businesses is to grow them into great companies. We take a long-term view with our investments, and there is no difference here. We want to do the right things that are in the best long-term interest of the business. If you take care of the business, it will take care of you.”