Bill Gasbarre / Gasbarre Products

To get started Bill I would appreciate hearing how you got started in business and what your background is.

“My father had been in the Powder Metallurgy Parts-Making business until the age of 47, at which time he started Gasbarre Products.  He recognized a need for a press designed for ease-of-use and with the maintenance person in mind.  He started that company in 1973, just a couple of months prior to my graduating high school.  I went to work with him that summer, went to the local Penn State campus, studied business while working for the company.  I have worked in the family business for 40 years now.”

My understanding is that Gasbarre Products was not originally a furnace builder but rather more involved with presses for the sintering industry. When and why did you get involved in building new furnaces?

“That is correct, we were, and still are, very involved in the powder metallurgy industry, and we became good friends with Ron Brennen, who founded Sinterite in 1978.  Both companies were selling to the same customer base, so we were always aware when customers needed furnaces to complement their press needs and growth.  Ron approached us about buying the company when he wanted to sell, we did due diligence, and agreed it was a smart move to acquire the business. Sinterite, being only 30 miles away from our press facilities, could be managed locally.  It has proven to be one of our most important and successful decisions in our company’s history.”

What are the capabilities of the company as a whole and what do you offer?

“Gasbarre Products consists of our Press Group, Furnace Group, and Tooling Group.  We have 10 divisions and subsidiaries, offering powder compaction presses (mechanical, hydraulic, high speed, and isostatic) and furnaces (continuous furnaces for brazing, annealing, sintering, steam treating, tempering; tip-up furnaces, vacuum furnaces, IQ furnaces, box tempers, car bottoms, virtually any design needed for heat treating of any sort).  Precision tool and die parts are also an important part of our business.”

So you have ended up with a press group and a furnace group? Which is larger and which do you find more interesting?

“Our press group consists of four press companies: Gasbarre Mechanical Press; Gasbarre Hydraulic Press; PTX-Pentronix; and Simac, Ltd (isostatic press manufacturer).  The furnace group consists of Sinterite, C.I. Hayes, and J.L. Becker Co.  The tooling group is made up of Major Gauge & Tool and McKee Carbide Tool Company.  Finally, Gasbarre Technologies services our local business market with equipment and fabrications to the natural gas and other industries in the Pennsylvania area. The furnace group is presently the largest, at $30 million; press group at $17 million; tooling group at $6 million.  Although I am responsible for the entire corporate sales and marketing, I have been assigned the daily activities of J.L. Becker sales & marketing, where we are changing the face and implementing new strategies.  We will have a whole new presence in the heat treating industry, and I find this challenge to be the most rewarding throughout my 40 year career.”

Would you care to share with us the size of the entire company and in particular the furnace group?

“Answered in #4”

At first glance it would appear to me that the furnace group has largely grown through acquisitions. Sinterite in 1989, C.I. Hayes in 2003 and J.L. Becker in 2011. Is this a strategy that you had planned all along or did you seize the opportunities as they became available?

“All but Sinterite were planned strategies.  Even though we didn’t go after the acquisition of each individual company, when the opportunities became available, and we made sure to revert to our strategic planning of what makes sense that will fit in with our strategic goals.  The acquisition of C.I Hayes made sense, because it gave us the capabilities of Vacuum Furnaces and High Temperature Processing to 3000oF, providing us entirely new industries to serve.  Then with the J.L. Becker opportunity, we took advantage of the capabilities of offering Tip-up Furnaces with quench tanks and manipulators, box furnaces, Batch IQ, Car Bottom furnaces, etc.  This also opened up new markets and further enhanced our furnace offerings.  Also, we provide entire process lines which helps the customer with full support, so they can lean on us for entire turnkey operations (and they do).”

Have all of these acquisitions proven to be good business decisions? Is there any that you regret?

“I am happy to say that all acquisitions have proved to be good business decisions.  Some, obviously, have been more challenging than others, but all-in-all, each and every one has been a good fit, we have added some excellent technical personnel which only enhances our internal interaction which helps the customer achieve success with each piece of equipment offered, providing support and service.  Our aggression and excellent top level management has been successful for Gasbarre Products, our employees, and our customers.”

When I think of Gasbarre I think sintering furnaces although I know this is not a completely correct assumption as CI Hayes is better known for vacuum furnaces in particular vacuum oil quench furnaces. Do you see a time in the future that you will be branching out into other types of furnace such as Batch IQ units?

“There really aren’t a lot of furnace types that we don’t offer now.  If we get a lot of requests for equipment we don’t offer presently, we will consider supplying it if it is a fit with our core competency.  We will do what makes good business sense at the time.”

If we go back to your acquisition of Sinterite in 1989 we see that you have been providing furnaces for quite some number of years. Have you found that profit margins have increased or shrunk over the years? Out of curiosity I also have to ask; which is more profitable for you? Presses or furnaces?

“Interesting question!  Profit margins are managed minute-to-minute, not just hour-to-hour, or day-to-day.  We are literally focused on profitability as part of our daily practice, with each decision we make.  Profits only shrink or grow based on good management decisions, and of course on the economy and level of business.  It’s also a direct result of overhead.  If overhead is managed, then profit margins are realized.”

You issued a press release not that long ago about an order your had received for a mesh belt annealing furnace from the Pacific Rim which prompts me to ask if exports are a large part of your business?

“International sales and service is about 20% of our business.” 

As your export side of the business has been growing do you see this as a key to future growth? This prompts the question about what if exports do not continue to grow? Could Gasbarre grow and survive based on the industrial base in North America?

“Our export business has remained at anywhere from 15 to 30% of our business.  We manage these sales very closely, we need this business, but we don’t rely solely on it.  The North American manufacturing base is strong and there are always opportunities for sales.  How a company manages those sales determines their success and survival, not on the International markets.”

With the exception of some of the European furnace builders I have seen little sign of “foreign” furnace builders entering the North American market or at least successfully entering it. In your opinion will this change in the future? Are we in North America going to be flooded with furnaces from lost cost areas such as India or China?

“I don’t think that will be a major factor.  I have heard our competitors and association members worry about overseas competition coming in and taking away business.  It doesn’t matter if they are from another country, we just need to be cognizant of competition overall, no matter where they are from.”

Are you a “glass half full” or a “glass half empty” type of guy? What I mean by this is are you optimistic about the heat treating industry?

“My glass runs over!  Negative thinking has never been part of my being.  I am extremely optimistic and enthusiastic about the heat treating industry!  There are great people in this industry, and I am looking forward to meeting new friends and colleagues.  I’ve been doing this for 40 years now; I have heard older people say things like “it’s not the same as it was 20 years ago” and “it’s just no fun doing this anymore”.  I enjoy and relish every minute of what we do!”

And what does the future hold for you? I know you are a very hard working fellow who truly seems to enjoy what he is doing. Do you plant to continue to grow the company or are you going to be sailing the world in a few years and leaving this industry behind you?

“I am a very intense business person, and stay focused on daily activities.  My future is with our company and all the sales challenges and successes that are out there.  I don’t like to sail, so I’ll never leave this industry!”