PLACENTIA, Calif.—George Kipe definitely is an old-time rubber guy.
He started working in the rubber business in high school, formed his own tooling company in 1970 and he still works full time as president of family-owned Kipe Molds Inc. in Placentia, continuing to do much of his design work on a drafting board.
And he also is considered one of the early leaders of the liquid silicone rubber industry, jumping into the sector not long after attending a seminar put on by General Electric in the late 1970s. He made both tooling and finished LSR products, and the vast majority of Kipe Molds' business is supplying LSR firms.
Kipe started out with Fullerton Rubber in California while he was in high school, working part time in the summer months. He ran extruders and the firm produced super balls and hula hoops, among other goods.
It was there that he met Ron Bergdorf, who had moved out from Akron and was building tooling for Fullerton Rubber. “I ultimately worked for Ron building molds,” Kip said. “It was easy. I enjoyed it. And the good thing about when you run tooling, after awhile you get bored with it and start looking at the mold and things that could have been done to make it easier and more efficient.”
After working there a number of years, he started Kipe Molds. His wife took care of the accounting, and among his early jobs was to perform repair work and things no other company wanted to do. “You're hungry and reasonable in your rates, and I did it all myself.”
Early on, though, he realized the only way to get ahead was to have help from other people.
His father joined the business after being laid off from General Dynamics. When business started growing, his dad started working on cultivating new accounts. One of those was the U.S. Divers Co. when the Cousteau family was heavily involved in the business.
“That was really fun because they were a really aggressive company, and they would come out with new ideas and new products,” Kipe said.
Kipe Molds continued to grow, moving from one location to another, each time adding space and machinery. “That was a period of time when there were more rubber companies in Southern California than there was in Akron,” he said. They didn't do the tonnage Akron did with tires, but there were more specialty companies.”
But many in the Golden State had the idea of a rubber industry that was dirty and polluting, which led to a number of closings and a sharp decline in the states' rubber sector. It definitely had an impact on Kipe Molds, he said, because the downturn left a number of qualified tool makers vying for less and less business.
“I learned early on that you really analyze the customer that you're doing work for,” Kipe said. “You understand where they're coming from money-wise and efficiency wise. You need to know if you make them something special, are they capable of running it?”
Kipe Molds kept afloat by continuing to do repair work along with extensive business for U.S. Divers.
Then came the seminar that changed his company's direction.