AirBoss of America Corp. has been fortunate throughout its 30 years of existence. While a few key leaders have come and gone, since the beginning one always has remained at the very top as a mainstay to guide the ever-expanding business on a steady course: P. Gren Schoch.
Co-founder, chairman and CEO of the versatile manufacturer and compounder, Schoch was at the helm as the company powered through peaks and valleys on its way to great success as a producer of first defense, first response, automotive and other products, and as one of the leading mixers of rubber compounds in North America.
In the last year alone, AirBoss' defense business, which is part of its Engineered Products segment, has been awarded several significant contracts totaling about $150 million to manufacture military products, primarily for the U.S. Department of Defense, while its rubber compounding operation has continued to expand and gain ground.
In fact, virtually every AirBoss business has performed well this year. And it was only a downturn in the automotive sector that negatively impacted the firm's anti-vibration products unit. Despite that, in the first nine months of the year, overall sales and earnings steadily increased from those recorded in 2018.
While good financial results were his goal in 2019, Schoch's total focus isn't locked strictly on the here and now. He always has an eye on next year, the following year and five years down the road.
Three top officials on AirBoss' management team referred to him as a creative, dynamic and resourceful leader. Yet, one said, he's humble and has always been a "we" guy, not an "I" guy.
For his consistent role in leading the company to new levels of growth this year and in the past, P. Gren Schoch has been selected as Rubber & Plastics News' Rubber Industry Executive of the Year for 2019.
AirBoss never seems to rest on its laurels. And 2019 has been no exception as it made significant moves to improve its businesses.
Throughout the year, the firm has expanded just about all of its production operations. It invested roughly $7.5 million in its Rubber Solutions segment in the first half of 2019. In the last nine months, that figure increased to about $13 million as it began to upgrade its Engineered Products division, especially the operation's anti-vibration products business.
AirBoss recently began combating the slide in the automotive market by launching a program aimed at improving the performance of the anti-vibration unit through a combination of disciplined cost containment, client relationship expansion, new product development and diversification.
It also is expanding the business by adding new injection molding presses and replacing old ones at the firm's production plant in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Schoch said the new presses will greatly cut cycle time and improve costs, "which should support improved margins." The machinery was needed, he said, to help the business move into more highly engineered and sophisticated products.
He added that the plan is to diversify into non-automotive applications and invest in the development of new anti-noise, vibration and harshness offerings.
AirBoss' compounding business and, to a lesser degree, its defense products operation also have been and will continue to be upgraded. Included among the investments for the compounding business are:
- A mixing line was added at the company's Scotland Neck, N.C., mixing facility and a new color and specialty polymer line was installed at its Kitchener, Ontario, compounding factory earlier in 2019;
- Another large volume mixing line will be added at Kitchener by early 2020; and
- A new state-of-the-art laboratory and development center in a building located adjacent to the firm's Kitchener compounding plant was recently completed after AirBoss gutted and renovated the building. Included in the renovations are the addition of a first-floor reception area along with a lobby for customers and suppliers, a large customer conference room, a technical library, purchasing and sales offices, and the new laboratory that is being used for research and development.
On the defense side of the business, AirBoss added another injection molding press at its Acton Vale, Quebec, facility to help with the operation's military products order backlog.
By the end of 2019, the firm anticipates its capital expenditures will be in the range of $18 million to $20 million. In 2020, expenditures are expected to decrease to levels closer to depreciation.