An Interview With Mr. Jean Francois, Cloutier, CEO of Nitrex
Jean Francois I and many others in the industry have been very curious about your acquisition of vacuum furnace builder G-M Enterprises a couple of months back, how it came about and what these means going forward. However, before we get into that perhaps I could ask you a couple of general questions.
First off what is your background and how did you end up in the position you are now in?
“Let me begin by thanking you Gord for the opportunity to talk about Nitrex with your readers. I graduated from Law school at the University of Montreal and hold a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Ottawa in Canada. I have over 20 years experience in the industrial market, in managerial positions of multinational manufacturing companies. I have lived in various countries so the global aspect of the Nitrex business was and still is of interest to me.
I joined Nitrex as CEO at a transformational time in the company’s history, where our founder Michel Korwin had retired from the day–to–day activities of managing the business but was willing to keep contributing and working together with me on the business strategy. These are truly exciting times at Nitrex and its affiliated companies. Our shareholders and board members, notably our majority shareholder Novacap, a leading private equity firm in Canada, are very supportive of our growth strategy, which led to acquiring G-M Enterprises earlier this year.”
Nitrex is a very well-known name in the global heat treatment industry, however having said that perhaps you could tell us something about the company, the history and what you have to offer?
“Monty readers know Nitrex for gas nitriding in the heat-treating industry. Nitrex is a leader in that field, but we are more than that. Nitrex was born by being innovative in gas nitriding control, which allowed the firm to reach unequaled repeatable quality, supported by over 4000 formulas or recipes and over 18,000 laboratory tests results. This library of knowledge is constantly evolving, which allows us to provide the highest quality while significantly reducing the development time for our customers.
However, what really makes the difference is our people. With the deep knowledge I just referred to, our experts in heat treating, metallurgy and controls are able to go way beyond selling a product: they provide technical expertise to our customers, solving complex problems. That is one of the reasons our customers see us as a solutions provider. The acquisition of various companies that operate today as United Process Controls (UPC) and now G-M Enterprises has enhanced our portfolio and expertise, reinforcing the strategy of being a solutions provider.
Our science and technology will shape the future of heat treating. And this is where I come in: charting a path for the future of Nitrex and setting sights on global expansion.”
What is the relationship between Nitrex and UPC (United Process Controls)?
“The relationship between Nitrex and UPC is highly recognized in the heat treat community. Presently, NTS (the abbreviation for Nitrex Turnkey Systems), and UPC (controls and aftermarket) are standalone divisions of the same company.
That said, both divisions along with our worldwide network of commercial heat-treating centers (referred to as HTS) are an excellent strategic fit – serving the same industries and embracing a vertically integrated business platform. They share a common mission to provide customers with state-of-the-art, sustainable heat-treating processes that exceed industry regulations and quality standards, as well as to increase process and equipment efficiency.
UPC was formed through the acquisition of 5 companies (Atmosphere Engineering, Furnace Control, Marathon Monitors, Process-Electronic, and Waukee Engineering). Over the course of several years, UPC become one of the largest specialized controls company with a competitive advantage both in scale and product offerings.”
January 9th 2020 it was announced that Nitrex had purchased vacuum furnace builder G-M Enterprises of California. First question-when did you enter discussions with Mr. Suresh Jhawar the former President of G-M Enterprises?
“The addition of G-M Enterprises marks a major milestone for Nitrex, on its path to diversifying its NTS division’s portfolio. Discussions with Mr. Jhawar started in the fall of 2019, which went relatively smoothly, and the deal was signed beginning of January this year. The entrepreneurial mindset and culture combined with the strong customer focus within the company are consistent with the Nitrex values.
The acquisition represents a great fit with Nitrex, as both share the same goal of providing sustainable technologies that improve customer workflow and efficiency while maximizing the life span and quality of engineered parts and components.”
What can you tell us about G-M, the products, the size and the market segments they service?
“For the past 30 years, G-M has earned the reputation as a leading supplier of vacuum heat-treating systems in the USA. The potential applications for G-M vacuum furnaces are endless and systems are currently in use by customers in the aerospace, defense, power generation, energy, MIM sintering, additive manufacturing, and commercial heat-treating industries. The addition of G-M Enterprises to the Nitrex family represents a great complement for us and will provide G-M the opportunity to grow internationally through the Nitrex global sales network.”
Now this is the question I have been dying to ask-why? Nitrex offers nitriding solutions, UPC offers furnace controls, what is the fit here?
“As I mentioned previously, the companies are a good strategic fit and our complementary portfolios of trusted brands set us apart from other industry peers. The vertical integration allows both to leverage industry-leading equipment, capabilities and know-how. Through this dynamic and symbiotic partnership, UPC’s focus reinforces Nitrex’s turnkey systems platform with leading edge control technologies; and in return, as new control technologies are developed by UPC, these are incorporated and tested at Nitrex’s commercial service centers, which helps to reinforce UPC’s reputation. As a result, we add value to our customers operations by solving their process problems, which allows our customers to succeed in the markets they serve.”
Have you made any changes at the company? Either management, product mix or marketing plans?
“When I joined Nitrex, my first priority was to understand the business and the organization. Then, we decided to bring on a management team of experienced leaders in both large OEM and small/medium corporations who share the same entrepreneur mindset and servant leadership values. Their experiences are great assets supporting our growth strategy to become a global leader in heat treating solutions. The new structure in place allows the management team to work as a united entity and at the same time promote the particularities of each division.
I am also very pleased that Mr. Michel Korwin, founder of Nitrex, and Mr. Chris Morawski are still active in the company as advisers on strategic topics. Their experience, combined with some new comers to Nitrex, offers a well balanced management team. As an example, just to name a few, Mr. Olivier Caurette, an ex-executive from Bombardier, joined us as the UPC President; Eric Jossart is now UPC Vice President Global Sales; Pat Torok, Head of Product Management; Jason Orosz, President Heat-Treating Services; Michel Frison, Vice-President Global Sales, NTS; Michael Winter, Vice President of Engineering and R&D; Paul Oleszkiewicz, Chief Strategist & Chief Technology Officer and Mr. Iwo Korwin, the NTS division President.
In diversifying, we have also developed a compatible product mix that works for our consolidated global sales network, which now distributes and supports all product lines.”
Jean Francois are you able to share with us the future direction of G-M Enterprises?
“G–M has an outstanding growth opportunity, and with the integration of our assets and workforce, the company is poised to enhance its products and services and its capacity to serve international markets and customers, particularly in Europe and Asia. We’re also scaling up G-M’s ability to deliver even more value to the additive manufacturing industry. Planned investments in R&D and the application of AI technology will enable us to develop new innovative solutions that support intelligent workloads and improve process efficiency and application performance.”
One final question-what can we expect to see from Nitrex, G-M Enterprises and Novacap in the future?
“Right now, we are completing the integration of G-M including all assets, employees and systems to the organization structure, while teaming G-M engineers and sales people with Nitrex counterparts to get them onboard, train and leverage expertise and talent. At the same time, we are actively pursuing other acquisitions that fit nicely into our strategic growth plans and which will broaden our capabilities and strengthen our competitive advantage.”
Michel Korwin, Jean Francois