Eubank leads company’s restructuring during critical financial times
As a company, Elé Corporation casts a very long shadow, one that dates back to 1945 when Pelron Corporation was founded to manufacture metalworking fluids primarily for engineering applications and automotive industry suppliers. Pelron also was one of the first companies in the U.S. to explore and promote the benefits of urethane chemistry.
In 1986, Elé Corporation was created to act as Pelron’s marketing, sales, finance and administrative sister company. Together, the two companies have expanded into markets both complementary to and independent of Pelron’s core product lines.
Adapting to an evolving chemical manufacturing market, Pelron and Elé worked as one with a mission to unite technological excellence with marketing expertise and outstanding customer service. While maintaining its roots in the metalworking fluids market, the company has grown and developed into a well-known supplier of catalysts, specialty polyols and silicone surfactants to the ever-expanding PU market.
Over the past 20 years, Elé has continued to market and sell the Pelron product line, but it has become distinguished in the global marketplace as a world class supplier of specialty chemical products in personal care, pulp and paper, agriculture, and HI&I (household, industrial & institutional), and within the last five years in the coatings, inks, food processing and oil fields industries.
One such example is the development of a unique kosher-based coating for containers in the food processing industry that has ensured the contents of the containers would remain kosher and, therefore, compliant with the dietary requirements of Jewish law.
The “Great Turnaround”
In 2008, Michele Eubank took the helm at Elé during a critical financial time in U.S. history: The Great Recession. With Ms. Eubank in the lead, the company was restructured and a new team brought on board to move the company away from primarily making private label products for other companies, with very little emphasis being placed on the marketing and sale of Pelron-branded products.
“I like to think of the economic period most people now call the Great Recession as the ‘Great Turnaround’ for our company,” Ms. Eubank said. “We were able to change our focus without losing any traction among our Pelron-branded products, expanding our client base and product offerings in both the U.S. and abroad.”
The daughter of Pelron’s Vice President, Ms. Eubank had worked in the company early in her career, then left to become the Purchasing Manager, then VP, of AerChem, LLC. Ultimately, she left AerChem and built a consulting business that took her to Europe for 15 years. During those years, Ms. Eubank brought PIR technologies and related additives – long established and used in the U.S. – to European rigid foam manufacturers in Italy, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. She also introduced an Italian machine manufacturer into the U.S. urethane market.
“When I took the reins, it was clear that we had to ensure that Elé was on a more solid financial footing,” she said. So she got busy with the restructuring of the company itself as well as its debt load, moving toward a day when Elé was less tied to outside financing and more able to self-fund its growth and development. Elé is enjoying such success today.
As one of a small number of female CEOs in the specialty chemical manufacturing industry, Ms. Eubank has faced her share of obstacles, but the greatest of them has been finding a distinguishing place for Elé in the vast middle-market manufacturing space.
“Every day,” she said, ”I feel that we’re fighting to flourish as a mid-size company in an ever consolidating ‘big-business only’ market.
“In addition, we’re extremely committed to contributing to the U.S. manufacturing base,” she continues, “because ‘Made in America’ is critically important to our nation’s future, stability and national pride. No country wants to lose its foothold in manufacturing, so we work every day to help bolster ours.”
All About Collaboration and Co-Invention
Ms. Eubank’s solution to the challenges she’s faced over the past seven years, specifically, has been to position her company to grow and flourish in the field of research and development, with a keen eye on new product development.
“I wanted us to stop waiting for customers to call us and ask, ‘Can you make this?’" she said, adding that collaboration and co-invention have become the watchwords Elé now uses to describe itself.
To achieve that goal, the company has invested heavily in research and development (R&D) and new product development, including the recent addition of two Ph.D. scientists. Between them they have just shy of 50 years of experience in specialty chemical R&D, nearly 25 of which is in new products. One of the scientists has more than 40 patented products and processes to his credit.
The new R&D team’s focus in the past six months has been to repurpose the company’s existing products into new applications in the short-term; look for new specialty combinations using Elé silicones, alkoxylation technology, catalysts and urethanes in the mid-term; and anticipate the specialty marketplace’s needs through a “look to the future” approach. “Between the new scientists and equipment, the company has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in R&D and new product development over the last six to eight months,” Ms. Eubank said.
One example of a short-term success is the recent launch of PEL-CAT™ 1313, a proprietary solution used to create a more effective catalyst in the production of rigid urethane foams. In short, the new addition to the PEL-CAT line performs better in the presence of water, making it easier to maintain firm times despite varied water levels.
In the coatings, adhesives, sealants and elastomers (CASE) market, the R&D team said it is “looking for new paradigms that promise better performance in all CASE applications, as well as extending our existing technologies to meet or exceed high-performance gold standards in the vast CASE marketplace.”
To support these and other anticipated new products and processes, Elé has invested heavily in new laboratory equipment – and related changes to its physical plant.
Today, Elé is not only an ISO 9001:2008 certified global manufacturer of specialty and intermediate chemicals used in consumer products and industrial applications, but it also maintains a solid reputation as a solutions-based company that addresses its current customers’ challenges and looks into the future to anticipate specialty manufacturing needs not yet imagined.
“We are in the field meeting with customers, typically on a monthly basis,” said the new R&D team. “Doing so enables us to understand what their needs are, and how we can solve them, plus we are able to share with our customers’ technical staffs what we’re working on in the Elé laboratory.”
The new approach to R&D seems to be working, Elé officials report, and demand for new products is on the rise.
They’re also managing the principles of chemistry within a greener world, adapting where they can to deliver products that are renewable and recyclable. The cosmetics and personal care markets are particularly demanding these types of changes, so Elé is heeding the call. In related attempts to manufacture while reducing the carbon footprint, Elé has already developed an environmentally friendly polyol that can be integrated into existing urethane systems.
Her Vision of the Future
As for the future of Elé Corporation, Ms. Eubank said, “We are actively pursuing customers that are seeking an agile, problem-solving, unencumbered manufacturing partner – customers who truly value not only the notion of collaboration and co-invention, but also the process of doing so. The partnership should be win-win for both.”
Otherwise, Ms. Eubank said her vision of the future is growth, grounded in a high-quality work environment that engenders low turnover. “Low turnover speaks volumes about stability to customers, so we have been building a meritocracy at Elé that recognizes and rewards our human resources with our financial resources.”
In addition, she wants to bolster existing customer relationships in the industries the company already serves, while investing in product-line extensions that exceed “me-too” expectations and add real value to their customers’ and prospects’ product lines.
We’re all about making our customers more successful and ensuring our own future as a result.”
When you put the two priorities together, she said, you find a spirit of innovation rooted in customer-based collaboration that exceeds the norm in our industry. “And that’s what we aim to do,” Ms. Eubank said, “to exceed the norm in all that we do.”