Jim Senne, MetalPro Resources LLC

This will be a rather unique interview in that we are speaking with all three members of rep firm MetalPro Resources in the Ohio area.  The three members include; Jim Senne, Bill Andreski, and Steve Maus.

Jim if it is OK with you I will direct my questions to you and you can decide how you would like to answer them, jointly or individually. First off I and our readers would be very interested to know the 3 members of your team and their backgrounds.

“Jim, who holds an undergraduate degree in Chemistry and studied graduate level Material Science, held many roles at Xtek, Inc. in Cincinnati during his 25 years there, including Process Metallurgist, managing the Metallurgical Engineering Department and the Heat Treating Operations.  His hands-on experience ranges from deep case carburizing of steel mill gears to salt bath FNC of automotive components.

Bill has an undergraduate degree in Metallurgical Engineering and an MS in Material Science and Engineering.  He has over 30 years of experience in heat treatment of steel and aluminum alloys.  His primary focus has been with all aspects of manufacturing of gears and gear drives, including forging, welding, heat treatment, material selection, etc.

Steve has a BS degree in Metallurgical Engineering.  He was with what was Allison Gas Turbines, now Rolls-Royce Corporation for 17 years, eventually as Chief Manufacturing Engineer for Special Processes.  He was with furnace builder Lindberg in the 1990’s and in the instrumentation industry with Danaher Controls, and has been an independent rep for nine years.”

I believe that you originally started the company Jim-when was that and when did Steve and Bill join you?

“February 16, 2007 is the founding date, so we recently had an awesome 10th anniversary celebration in Cincinnati with our wives to commemorate.  I have to acknowledge Stahl Engineering in Indianapolis for giving me the start.  They were a very well known rep agency and they called on me at Xtek, where I ran the captive heat treat shop.  Bob Rodewald was the key to getting me involved in selling heat treating capital equipment.  I could talk for hours about that story, but I’ll leave it at that for now.  Steve Maus joined me on April 1, 2013.  I have known him since 1999, when he called on me at Xtek, and I had been stalking him to join me at MetalPro Resources since day one.  Bill Andreski joined us officially on January 1, 2016.  I have known him since the mid 90’s, when we were counterparts at head to head competitor companies.  I had been stalking him to join us since day one. “

In North America I would suggest that most heat treating products are sold through independent reps but I know that is not the case in some areas of the world. Could you very briefly tell us the role of a manufacturers rep?

“Jim: One role of the rep is to be the eyes and ears in the customer plant for the principal.  It’s amazing how many opportunities we see because we spend our time in the heat treat shops, not in our offices.  Another role is to offer technical assistance to the customer. 

Steve: In our case, we can put ourselves in the customer’s shoes because we’ve been there.  That helps us to work well with our principals because we can quickly define the situation and determine a solution to the customer’s problem.  We can shorten the cycle considerably because we generally know where to start.

Bill: We like to look at ourselves as a complete metallurgical solutions provider.  The solution may be equipment, controls, parts, analytics or process.  We like to provide a solution for any type of heat treating requirement or problem.”

What companies do you rep for and what areas to you cover?

“The front page of our line card is all about capital equipment. Everyone who reps in the heat treating business has their own approach.  Most lead with alloy.  Our front page is AFC-Holcroft, Super Systems, Wisconsin Oven, South-Tek Systems and ALD Vacuum Systems.  The back page basically says we can source you anything and everything you need in your heat treating shop.  Generally, our territory is Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania.  We go outside that region for some principals (into Michigan, Tennessee and into the rest of Pennsylvania).”

Besides the rep business does MetalPro offer any other services such as consulting or metallurgical advice?

“Bill: We are technical solutions providers … my experience is that more of the younger engineers are less hands-on, and there is not a robust training program for them … they are put into positions with less tech support and mentoring around them.  The requirements of the technical manufacturers rep role will only continue to increase in the future.

Steve: We are called on regularly to solve long-running process and equipment problems, and very often one is caused by the other. Since we all have done that in our previous ‘day jobs’ we can be a helpful resource in many situations, and that has led to quite a few consulting successes.   In addition to the areas you mentioned, we can also manage equipment installation and upgrade projects which might involve a blend of layout, equipment modification, and process development work.”

I look back over my years as a rep and I see that things have changed substantially, with electronic communication reducing the amount of face time required with customers. This leads to a very interesting debate about whether the golden age of reps is behind us (WG Montgomery Ltd. also operates as a rep firm). What do you think? In 25 years are reps going to be redundant?

“Jim: My partner Steve Maus reminds us all the time, “There’s nothing like being there.”  We can walk in to a heat treat shop, each having run our own captive shop and we say, “What is your biggest headache that we can help you with today?”  You can’t get that through an on-line fill in the blank inquiry.    

Steve: Customers are usually too busy for socializing, they need someone to help them solve problems, or in some cases to solve problems for them.  And people are spread so thin that they need all of the technical help they can get, especially from someone with specific experience in their problem area.  They don’t have time to get a rep up to speed, they need instant-on help and we can generally provide that.  We only see that need increasing, so no, in 25 years there will be a greater need for knowledgeable reps, not less.”

With three people how do you handle the different lines and areas? By geographic region, product line or a combination of both?

“All of us are “full line card”.  Generally, Steve covers Indiana and Kentucky.  Jim covers Ohio (except NE OH), West Virginia and Western PA south of I-80.  Bill covers NE OH and Western PA north of I-80.  That’s for now.  The geographical assignments change as needed.”

Please tell me about the area you jointly cover-is it more captive than commercial heat treating? More automotive? A large aerospace presence? A growing area or a stagnant area?

“All: We have a strong commercial heat treating presence in our territory but also some massive captive operations.  Automotive and aerospace are sort of dominant here, although many of our good customers are in mining and heavy industry.  There’s a lot going on in the territory, despite a lot of automotive having moved out to Mexico and the Southeast US.  And manufacturing is growing again, thanks to pro-business environment and favorable state tax policy in our entire area, but especially in Indiana.”

Jointly you fellows have seen a lot over the years in the way of technology, do you see many changes in the marketplace?

“Steve: There is so much coming at today’s heat treaters; the big challenge is to help them understand what applies and how they can justify making changes.  Plummeting prices for electronics and memory make controls retrofits and data acquisition systems easier to justify; much tighter industry specs are driving the need for more information and better tools.

Jim: We have to know NADCAP and CQI-9 like the back of our hand.  We are fortunate to have a line card full of people who also have a great handle on industry driven requirements.” 

If you gentlemen were to start a commercial heat treat plant what process would you look at first? Gas nitriding? Vacuum Heat Treating? Batch IQ furnaces? Induction?

“All: Aluminum heat treating is the fastest growing segment of what we get involved in.  Vacuum, nitriding and induction are gaining also.   Interestingly enough though we have sold a lot of endo based atmosphere furnaces in recent past and continue to get inquiries for batch IQ’s and continuous carburizers.”

You are in the heart of the USA but I know that there are a number of Japanese companies in your area. Do they follow the usual Japanese model which is to buy only from Japanese companies?

“All: There is a significant presence of Japanese owned companies especially in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.  This is mainly driven by the strong presence of Honda and Toyota here.  These companies are some of our best customers.  We work hard to understand what they really want and try to serve their needs.  Much of our capital equipment business has been to the Japanese owned customers, although you have to work extremely hard to succeed.  Other opportunities in those plants are for tools like gas and carbon analyzers, oxygen probes and furnace parts where better lead times for US-sourced items makes us a good resource.”

What complaint do you hear from your customers the most about their businesses? Examples might be government regulations, experienced employees, tough competition?

“All: That’s an interesting question.  We deal with people at all levels of the org chart at our customers’ plants.  We probably enjoy working most with the front line supervisors, QA guys and operators, given our heat treat shop backgrounds.  I think mostly we would hear:  The ability to find and retain qualified shop floor-level employees as well as the tech support metallurgist or materials engineer.”

And what does the future hold for MetalPro Resources?

“Let me get out my 8 Ball and ask!  We hope to be calling on our customers plants while riding along in the passenger seat of our self-driving automobiles, phoning, texting and emailing along the way.”