LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Michael Morrow is working toward the twilight of a more than 46-year career in the rubber industry that has seen him wear many hats.
He worked for his father's rubber company. He's worked as a manufacturers' representative under the banner of his family's Morrow Business Group (now known as MBG Associates L.L.C.) And the industry veteran has worked for others, with some of the situations working out better than others.
"I'm the eternal optimist," Morrow said during an interview at the recent ACS Rubber Division International Elastomer Conference in Louisville. "I believe everywhere I went I learned something from it, and it's made me who I am today, even if some of the relationships were better than others. But that's the way it is in life too."
Morrow now finds himself at a point in his life where he can give back to the rubber industry more so than when he was busier in his career. To that end, he is serving as the 2019 Rubber Division chair, after going through the chairs of leadership posts leading to this year.
And under the theme "Chemistry to Componentry," Morrow will have a busy agenda. He will lead the organization during the IEC and full expo this fall in Cleveland, and the division also will have a team to search for a successor to Edward Miller, the division's executive director who has announced plans to retire at the end of 2019.
The road leading to his year as a chair has been an interesting one. After graduating from Michigan State University—he remains an active MSU supporter and volunteer—Morrow started his career July 8, 1972, with Morenci Rubber, where his father, Arthur Morrow, was a vice president and part owner.
His father had grown up in Cambridge, Ohio, having graduated during the Depression. He worked at Central Bank, which assigned him to audit Continental Cans' new plastics molding business. In 1948, Continental Cans asked him to join its staff in Detroit and work with car companies to implement new plastic products being introduced. After a few years, however, Continental Cans called a meeting and Morrow's father had to go back to Cambridge and give the bad news that the plant was closing.
Over the course of about six months, he found Chicago Molded Products to do all of the molded work, and he also was referred to Morenci Rubber. That turned out to be a great relationship, and Morrow's father eventually became a partner in the business with Charles Byner.
In 1973, just a year after Morrow joined Morenci, his father's partner suffered a stroke and died at age 52. Michael Morrow had been on his honeymoon when he heard the news.
"When I came home dad all of the sudden was president and chairman," the younger Morrow said, "and I found myself with one year of experience running the sales office in Detroit."
Morenci suffered a fire in 1978 that destroyed its plant. After searching around the country for potential relocation sites, the company decided to rebuild at its Morenci, Mich., home. Michael Morrow said the business was located in a mostly farming region, and the factory had a big impact on the area, employing about 300.
Its customers, including Ford Motor Co., stuck with Morenci when it reopened in 1979. But trouble followed soon after in the form of a strike by the United Auto Workers local representing the hourly staff.
"Auto companies typically would give you 30 days to settle it, and you would have to keep supplying your products to them during that period," Morrow said. "After 30 days if you couldn't give them a contract, they would start coming in and pulling all of their business."
Sure enough, after a month the car makers started moving the work. Even though the union approved a new contract two days later, it was too late and Morenci cut 140 jobs because of the lost business.
"Because of that and the rebuilding of the fire, the financials of the company were upside down, and we ended up looking for a suitor, " he said.
Champion Spark Plug became the new owner effective Jan. 1, 1983. Morrow stayed with Champion under contract for four years. After that he worked up as a manufacturers representative for Buckhorn Rubber, thanks to former colleague Dennis Roberts. Morrow was put in charge of heavy truck industry business in Detroit and the marine industry, because he had a relationship with Mercury Machine.
After 15 years there, he went on to become vice president of business development for California-based Westland Technology. "They didn't do a bit of automotive work," Morrow said. "The intriguing part for me was they did a lot of military work and were also a big player in the water works industry. I came to the realization there was a whole other world besides automotive."
He spent seven years at Westland, followed by a short stint with R.L. Hudson.
After that he was effectively retired, but four years ago was contacted by MoldTech Inc., a custom molded parts maker out of Buffalo, N.Y., to do some business development work for the firm on a contract basis. He brought in one of his long-term customers in the water works business, and he also interfaces with Mercury Marine.
"That's enough for now," Morrow said. "I might spend 10-15 hours one week, then nothing the next week," he said. "So that's my career and I'm sticking to it."