Geoffrey Somary / Ipsen

Recently we interviewed Mr. Pat McKenna, President & CEO of furnace builder Ipsen. As a follow up to that interview we have been looking forward to speaking with Mr. Geoffrey Somary, COO at Ipsen Group who is going to give us more of a global perspective about the company.

Perhaps it is a sign of age Geoffrey but it seems that I preface many of my interviews with “we have known each other for some time now” and this interview is no different-how long have we known each other now?

“We first met at the Reno FNA show in 2006 when I was leading VFS prior to merging that strong brand together with Ipsen.   I believe I gave you a deck of ‘VFS Reno 2006’ playing cards – which are now treasured by collectors worldwide.”

I got a little ahead of myself with my first question, what is your background and how did you into this industry?

“Born and raised in New York City – I left the Big Apple to attend Northwestern University where I received my mechanical engineering degree. I spent the first 17 years of my career at a German-owned technology company where they asked me to train for my first two years near Stuttgart.  During this time, I learned the German language – I was also there to help take down the Berlin wall and I still have a piece of it.   In 2005, Ipsen recruited me to join the team as Vice President Technology and that started my journey with Ipsen which is now nearly thirteen years.”

It was not that long ago that you were primarily involved with Ipsen USA, now that you are COO of Ipsen Group how has your day-to-day responsibilities changed? 

“I became Ipsen USA CEO in 2009 and in 2013 received the additional parallel responsibility of Group COO. As the group has grown (bookings up 30%+ from 2015 to 2017) the effort required globally increased to the point that I felt the USA team needed a dedicated full time leader and Patrick McKenna seamlessly took over in 2017.   Today, I am responsible for all global Ipsen operating entities and work to implement the strategic plan of the company; I can highlight three of those focus areas here:

1) Excellence in aftermarket services:
Our aftermarket business (we call it ICS = Ipsen Customer Services) is nearly half of our annual business and we look to strongly increase the services team to have greater proximity to our customers.  Everything starts with excellence in service and delivering the same high performance anywhere in the world.

2) Advancement of products:
Expand our capabilities in highly customized heat treatment performance systems.   If you visit our facilities anywhere in the world right now you would see many first time innovations from the largest vacuum furnace ever built to high speed part manipulators to a new generation gas-tight atmosphere roller hearth furnace and more.    We also tirelessly roll out continuous improvement on our global platform products like ATLAS, TITAN, Turbo2Treater and MetaPro.  Due to the high quantity of these products, we are always working on the next generation of advancement.

3) Digital IoT Solutions:
PdMetrics launched two years ago is only the beginning.  Although customers appreciate the cool features we roll out here, we only deliver a digital product if our customers get real measurable value from the product.   Watch for more great things to come.”

Can you explain to me about the top people at Ipsen? For instance I have met Thorsten Kruger at several of the heat treat shows in Germany-where does he fit into the hierarchy? Also Marc Angenendt who is always a very friendly fellow.

“Ipsen Group is led by three people – Thorsten Krueger who is CEO and speaker, I am COO and Houman Khorram is Group CFO. We have five global operating entities and each of these has a leader, which in Europe is Marc Angenendt, in Americas it is Patrick McKenna, for China Guoxin Weng, India Shubhendra Panse and Japan Art Tsubaki.”   

Pat shared with us approximate sales figures for Ipsen USA, are you in a position to tell us about worldwide sales?

“2018 revenue will be in range of $275 to $300 million.”

Ipsen is of course based in Germany but has a number of different locations around the world. Is each plant dedicated to a certain geographic area? A certain product mix or a combination of both?

“The different global manufacturing sites have varying specializations but we prefer to think from the customer’s perspective and therefore have in each county/state/country a clear customer experience owner. This person or team will sell and support the best Ipsen products and services to that customer – regardless of where they are manufactured.  Whether you are located in Sweden, Singapore or Sacramento, you can expect one global standard of performance from Ipsen.”

I always think of Kleve, Germany as being the head office of Ipsen and the largest manufacturing facility-is this still the case?

“Ipsen’s Kleve, Germany and Cherry Valley (Rockford) Illinois facilities are comparable in size and output these days and depending on the year (and exchange rate) one or the other might do more. But, watch out for the fast growing Asia entities – in one example, after a very strong increase in 2017, our Q1 2018 bookings in India are up 75% over the prior year.”   

Most people are aware that Ipsen makes most styles of furnaces but I would venture to say that the first thing to pop into peoples heads when they hear Ipsen is vacuum furnace. A few years back you and others were instrumental in bringing the “Titan” to market. Has this been a success? How did that whole project come about?

“The TITAN, born at Ipsen’s Cherry Valley location, came to life in the darkest hours of the 2008 financial crisis when things looked really bleak. Companies were moving factories to low cost countries faster than you could count and each day the Newspapers predicted the demise of western manufacturing.   An area within Ipsen was walled-off from the rest of the business and a team of young raw talent mixed with experienced veterans got to work.  Their dream was bigger than TITAN.  Their dream was to prove to the world – that Ipsen could compete with anyone.  Not just compete – but offer something so compelling people would just have to have one.   Yes – it is a success.  More than 300 TITANs have been sold into 26 different countries and that lead to other Ipsen platform products where the total global count now exceeds 600 units.”

Is there any style of furnace that Ipsen has not built?

“When looking at Ipsen’s diverse 70 years in business, we have built nearly all types of furnaces.”

You know I have to ask this question-is Ipsen for sale? The rumors have been swirling for some time now but never seem to lead anywhere. Who does own the group?

“The shareholder of Ipsen are a Germany-based private equity firm that supports us very strongly. Ipsen is not for sale and we are firmly working on our customer-focused strategy.”

There have been some mergers and acquisitions in the industry but it also seems that each time there is an acquisition amongst furnace builder a new supplier pops up, as often as not in Asia. Do you feel there are too many manufacturers these days? How about acquisitions-do you expect to see many in the near future?

“Competition is good for the industry and keeps us on our toes – always innovating – always improving.   Regarding acquisitions, I foresee some action in the coming 12 months in our industry.”    

I would venture to say that these are the good times for most furnace manufacturers including Ipsen-how long would you guess this is going to last for?

“Ipsen has developed some good metrics for predicting the market and I believe that the market will stay strong for the foreseeable future. There are market trends that can override down cycles in the market.  One example is more wide-body aircraft – results in higher volume large diameter engines – results in older furnaces being too small.  With such trends, a segment can be nearly flat while furnace sales in that segment can grow by double-digit percentage.   Ipsen also has a unique stability advantage, as our recurring aftermarket business is nearly 50% of the total business.”

What can you share with us about future plans for the company? Anything you can share with us about the future?

“I have often heard that in our industry things don’t change. At Ipsen, we don’t agree.  We are investing million of dollars annually into game-changing ideas.  Look for great things to come from our excellent global team.   Using the words first repeated by the 2008 development team and still spoken at Ipsen today: Hard Work Wins!”