LA HABRA, Calif.—It's all in the family at Vip Rubber & Plastic Co. Inc., founded by Howard Vipperman Sr. in 1961. And it appears the firm intends to keep it that way.
A third generation of the Vipperman family is moving into top leadership positions at the company, fulfilling a succession plan that's been in place for more than a decade at the LaHabra-based molder and extruder of a variety of rubber and plastic parts.
First it was Howard Vipperman Sr., who served as president from 1961 to 1979. Next came his son, Howard Vipperman Jr., who took over as president in 1979 and held the post until the company's recent transition.
Now Bernardyne (Deena) Campana—the niece of Howard Jr. and his sister Kathy LeClair and the granddaughter of the founder—has assumed the role of president as her uncle steps back, although he will continue as chairman of the firm.
Three other members of the third generation will join her in taking over key leadership positions at the firm. Albert Perez is the new vice president of aerospace, Cindy LeClair has moved up to vice president of marketing and Martin Perez has been named technical director.
Vip's succession plan didn't just happen overnight, Howard Vipperman Jr. said. "We have been working toward succession for the better part of 10 years and it is clear that the next generation is ready to go."
Campana, LeClair, Albert and Martin Perez join second-generation family members Kathy LeClair (chief financial officer), Tom LeClair (vice president of sales) and Dean Gillespie (vice president of technical sales) in management positions within the 58-year-old business.
Other third-generation members who hold key posts include Brent Westbrook, sales manager; Lisa Perez, accounts receivable; and Peter Jonelet, outside sales for aerospace, local accounts in the Los Angeles area and international accounts.
The management staff also includes George Phillips, general manager; Frank Serna, La Habra plant manager; and George Phillips Jr., Minden, Nev., plant manager.
"I feel that we have put together a great team," Vipperman said. "We are literally poised for dynamic growth and stable management for decades to come."
In 1961, after a long, successful career in the gasket industry, Howard Vipperman Sr. purchased the remaining assets of Anaheim, Calif.-based Powers Rubber, which had gone out of business, and created Vip Rubber Co. His son was 13 years old at the time.
"It was literally a mom-and-pop shop," recalled Howard Vipperman Jr., who helped out at the company in high school as a part-time office cleaner and machine operator. During that period, it was common for his father to bring home molded parts and the family would sit around watching TV and trimming products, he said.
His mother, Bernardyne Vipperman, came on board in 1964 and the business grew under his parents' leadership.
In 1966, Howard Vipperman Jr. headed off to the University of Southern California, but every summer until 1970 he worked for the company at numerous jobs. "At the time, there wasn't one machine I didn't know how to run," he said.
After graduating from USC, Vipperman joined the Navy but returned to the firm full time in 1975 after receiving his discharge. "I worked at the company in the office and really didn't have a title. I would be in charge when my dad was away, which was frequent as he followed the USC football team to every game from 1970 until he passed away in 1979."
Vipperman became president upon his father's death, which was a very difficult time, he said. But over the next 15 years, the firm expanded its operation to over five separate buildings in Anaheim with a work force of 100 employees. "I had set the limit to 100 employees because I thought I could know each one by name and more than 100 would be difficult," he said.
But the company kept growing. Today it has more than 200 employees "and I know most of their names," Vipperman said.
It manufactures parts for industries such as aerospace, agriculture, automotive, construction, energy, mass transit, medical and military. The company also produces an extensive number of custom products and applications.
Vip moved from Anaheim to La Habra in 1994. Since then it has added two buildings, giving the company about 70,000 square feet in the city. The firm expanded further in the 2000s via acquisitions: Bentley Manufacturing in 2004, the plastic division of Kirkhill Rubber Co. in 2011, the Bandlock division of Amesbury in 2015 and Excalibur Extrusions in 2017. In 2015 it also opened its 50,000-sq.-ft. plant in Minden where it primarily extrudes plastic parts.
Today the firm operates rubber extrusion, rubber molding, fabrication, calender sheet and plastic departments.
In 2012, the firm began to direct some of its focus toward the aviation industry, gradually achieving all needed certifications. "The most current iteration of AS9100 was an extensive rework of our systems and a major achievement of our quality department," Vipperman said, adding the company is currently qualified to work with aviation firms globally.
In his role as chairman, he said he will continue to collaborate with the staff, monitor performances and give advice when needed. "It is the best of both worlds as I can enjoy life and still have an impact on the business I love. I continue to stay active in industry associations—in particular, the Los Angeles Rubber Group."
Taking the helm
Throughout its history, Vip has focused on moving forward, creating new innovations and new markets.
Vipperman said Campana was named president because she's geared to that philosophy. She has a long history with the firm, he said, and "is knowledgeable in virtually every area in which Vip is involved."
In the early 1990s she and two friends launched a computer software company and began writing software for executive placement firms. They also launched another business that put together computer networks.
"We worked so hard and wrote code so many nights and weekends—it seemed never ending," Campana said.