Anton has spent his whole career in the rubber industry at Rahco, a family business that was founded by his father Bill and two partners in the early 1970s. It was incorporated in 1972 after they bought a small rubber portion of a business being sold by phonograph needle maker Fideltone, where Bill Anton was employed.
One of the partners ran the firm until 1976 before deciding to step down because of health issues and Bill Anton asked his oldest son Steve to head up the Rahco operation.
At the time, Steve Anton, a 1973 graduate of Benediction College in Atchison, Kan., was working in sales at a computer microfilm business. "I didn't want to do it," he recalled, "and at first I said no. But I thought about it for awhile and was single at the time with an apartment and a car payment and figured, what the hell." He was 24 years old at the time.
Bill Anton was president of the business, but continued to work at Fideltone, where he remained until he retired from the firm years later. Because of that, he never took a paycheck at Rahco. Bill Anton passed away in January.
"He never pushed me," Steve Anton said. "He loved the business until his death, but he never pushed. He never got involved in the decision making—only if we brought him in and then he would give us his thoughts. But he was very emotionally involved and led by example. He was a major influence on me. Even today, I think at times, what would he have done?"
In 1976, Rahco had four employees operating out of a 5,000-sq.-ft. facility that housed seven presses.
Jim Anton joined the company as a vice president in 1979 and Steve's other brother Jack, also a vice president, followed in his older brothers' footsteps a few years later. "Titles mean nothing to us," Steve Anton said. "I'm the president and one of three owners with my brothers. We share the duties."
The Antons took over ownership of the business in 1977-78. "When we started off, we knew nothing … and we just learned as we went along," Steve Anton said.
But they did learn quickly. And the company grew steadily in the next four decades. Today its Des Plaines plant spans 60,000 square feet.
"We continue to challenge ourselves with the complexity of projects we take on because we have to distance ourselves from the low cost (commodity) producers," Anton said.
He's involved with many of the company's customers on some levels. "My strength is selling and getting our message across in an enthusiastic way," he said. "I like getting them involved. That's not a trick or a ploy. That's how I feel. People will say after a tour of our factory, 'I see you're passionate about this.'
"We're all consumers as well. We want to buy from people who want to work with us. We don't want to be a commodity seller. We want to be a relationship seller."