Ferro Corporation - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Ferro Corporation

1000 Lakeside Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44114-1183

History of Ferro Corporation

Ferro Corporation is a leading worldwide producer of specialty coatings, colors, ceramics, plastics, and chemicals for a wide variety of markets, including: building and renovation, home appliances, household furnishings, leisure products, transportation, industrial products, and packaging. The company has manufacturing plants in 23 countries and marketing operations in more than 100 nations worldwide.

Ferro was founded in 1919 by Harry D. Cushman as the Ferro Enameling Company. Cushman had worked for the American Rolling Mill Co. (Armco) of Cleveland since the early 1900s when he and fellow employee Raymond L. Williams decided to strike out on their own with a porcelain enamel shop, making themselves president and vice president, respectively.

In the early 1920s enameling was based on the manufacture of frit, a glass compound. The business commenced in 1920 with an investment of $1,000. As a subcontractor, Ferro Enameling Company applied porcelain enamel finishes to component parts, then returned the parts to the client for assembly. In its first year of operation, Ferro produced 59,000 pounds of porcelain enamel.

During that first year, salesman Robert A. Weaver approached Harry Cushman with an unusual proposal. Weaver offered to provide marketing and other services through a separate company, and leave the technical aspects of the business to the original enterprise. He had been involved in sales and advertising with several porcelain enameling companies in the 1910s and, like his prospective clients, hoped to go into business for himself.

Cushman and Williams agreed to Weaver's proposition, and in 1920 Weaver founded the Ferro Enamel & Supply Co. to sell and service Ferro Enameling Co. products. The two companies endured early financial problems but soon grew in the favorable economic climate of the 1920s.

By passing marketing responsibilities on to Weaver, Cushman was given more time to concentrate on the technical aspect of the enameling business. His early emphasis on technical research and development started a tradition of scientific inquiry at Ferro that would continue throughout the company's history and drive its growth and expansion. Cushman's emphasis on quality control gave birth to the company's logo in 1921. The "Check-Mark-Within-a-Circle" has evolved over the decades, but remained the trademark into the 1990s.

While Cushman concentrated on the technical aspects of the business, Robert Weaver formulated a new marketing plan that later would be known as "systems marketing." He proposed that the company not limit its products to porcelain enamel frit, but also produce the tools customers needed to complete the enameling process.

Soon Ferro Enamel & Supply Co. was in the business of designing and manufacturing complete equipment for enameling, from furnaces to finishing. In 1926 the company formed an engineering division to handle this burgeoning business that grew with the expanding appliance industry. The division's first technical achievement came in 1928 when Ferro patented the "U-type" continuous furnace, which soon became an industry standard.

In 1923 Weaver came up with another innovative marketing tool. He founded the industry's first trade journal, The Enamelist, to foster use of enamel coatings. The periodical featured advertising, news, and semi-technical pieces. It was emulated by competitors, and eventually evolved into The International Enamelist, reflecting Ferro's global scope.

The company's first international expansion came in 1927 after a Ferro executive from Canada suggested that the company build a plant in his adopted homeland. In its first three years of operation, Ferro Enamels (Canada) Limited, Canada's first porcelain enamel supplier, imported the product from the United States. But by the end of the decade, the company opened a modest plant in Ottawa.

Ferro ventured across the Atlantic Ocean before the decade's end, but the company took many factors into account before deciding on its overseas locations. At the time, long-distance communications still posed a problem. Political and currency stability and the initial investment were also considered before Ferro settled on England and Holland as subsidiary locations.

Despite the relatively high shipping costs associated with exporting, The Ferro Enameling Company (England) Limited was undertaken as strictly a marketing business in 1929. The company was established in a Wombourne warehouse about 120 miles from London. Ferro chose Rotterdam as its Holland site for production and distribution because of its access to fuel and raw materials, and for its situation on the largest port in continental Europe.

This first decade of growth ended with three events that shaped Ferro's future: the decision to sell shares in Ferro Enameling Company on the American Stock Exchange and the October 1929 stock market crash that precipitated worldwide depression. The onslaught of the Great Depression motivated Ferro Enamel & Supply to merge with Ferro Enameling to form the Ferro Enameling Corporation in the spring of 1930. The company was struck another blow when Harry Cushman, recently named chairman of the new entity, died in May. Co-founder Raymond Williams replaced Cushman as chairman, and Robert Weaver was elected president.

In Weaver's continuing quest to promote Ferro's porcelain enameled products, he advanced the idea of an all-porcelain house in 1932. The company's first attempt at the concept featured porcelain enameled steel shingles on the outside and porcelain amenities inside. A second model, opened that same year, was subjected to various strength tests to illustrate the durability of Ferro's products. Although the company would make forays into the residential building materials market in the 1940s and 1970s, the products did not catch on.

Despite the deepening recession, Ferro continued to expand in the 1930s. In 1933 the company acquired Allied Engineering Co. of Columbus, Ohio, and made it a second engineering division. Allied was a recognized leader in the design and manufacture of china, pottery, and tile kilns, having created the industry's first circular kiln.

Ferro dramatically expanded its international influence in the 1930s, establishing businesses in four countries within just two years. Ferro France, founded in 1934 about 150 miles from Paris, imported porcelain enamel frit from Ferro Holland for its first year in operation, then inaugurated a smelting facility the following year. Ferro Enamels (Australia) Ltd. in Victoria, Ferro Brazil in Sao Paulo, and Ferro Enamel S.A. (Argentina) were created in 1935 with the cooperation of American Rolling Mills Co., former employer of Ferro's two founders.

As the world emerged from the Great Depression, Ferro expanded its operations in Britain and Holland with manufacturing facilities in England and enlargement of the Holland business. Ferro achieved 100 percent ownership of both the Holland and Canada enterprises in 1937, making the operations full-fledged subsidiaries.

Ferro augmented its product line and improved its original products near the end of the 1930s. The corporation purchased the Ceramic Supply Company (Cesco) in 1936 to supply kiln furniture and compliment its Allied Engineering Division's kiln business. Ferro's sales more than doubled over the course of this difficult decade, but net income grew by only 15 percent, from $390,000 to $457,500.

Ferro penetrated the paint industry in 1940 with the purchase of the Chase Drier & Chemical Co. in Bedford, just outside Cleveland. Later renamed Bedford Chemical, the company made metallic soaps that promoted the paint drying process. This timely acquisition initiated Ferro's Chemical Division and provided inroads for wartime contracts.

As the United States' entry into World War II grew imminent, the federal War Production Board prohibited all industrial production except "war work." The ban included a Ferro mainstay, appliance manufacture, thereby threatening the company's future. Sales manager Dud Clawson earned the gratitude of his co-workers (and the presidency of Ferro in 1947) when he negotiated U.S. government contracts to manufacture incendiary products like thermit, an iron oxide-aluminum metal powder, and the newly-developed napalm, a liquid explosive. Over the course of the "Great War," Ferro produced more than 61 million pounds of thermit and more than eight million pounds of napalm. The government even asked Ferro to take over a munitions plant in Marion, Ohio. Ferro's unanticipated involvement in the war effort earned it five Army-Navy "E" awards.

The company's overseas outposts were more directly affected by the war. In Holland, Rotterdam was unmercifully shelled for four days in 1940. The city was occupied by Germany throughout most of the war, and inhabitants concerned themselves more with day-to-day survival than with frit. Similar conditions prevailed in occupied France. Ferro England supplied hospital ware and military canteens for the government.

After the war Ferro concentrated on reconstruction of war-damaged plants in Europe and expansion of other international interests. Canadian facilities were moved to Oakville, Ontario, and expanded by 1947. A new South African subsidiary, Ferro Enamels (Pty.) Ltd., imported ceramic products from Ferro's England subsidiary.

Ferro also focused on meeting postwar demand for appliances in the United States. The company built two new frit manufacturing facilities in Nashville, Tennessee, and Los Angeles, California, to meet market requirements. In 1946 Ferro research perfected a new frit composition that soon became an industry standard.

Ferro's Color Division grew rapidly in the postwar era. It had been established in 1939, but the work had been suspended during the war. The company's line of porcelain enamel was soon complemented with a series of ceramics pigments that catapulted Ferro to international leadership in the field. And recognizing the ascendancy of plastics, the company developed a third line of coloring agents engineered for that market. By 1947 the Color Division produced almost 5,000 different colors for the enamel, clayware and plastics fields.

Ferro focused on expanding its product base through technological research and acquisitions in the 1950s, and changed its name to Ferro Corporation in 1951 to reflect these new aspirations. When the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated the Owens-Corning Fiberglas Company's monopoly on the fiber glass industry that year, Ferro invested heavily in five domestic fiber glass plants. But the company's profit margins never met industry standards, and the operations were eventually divested in the late 1970s.

Ferro's gel coat business fared much better than its fiber glass enterprise. This durable plastic coating developed at Ferro's Los Angeles plant in 1953 was used to coat fiber glass boats, and soon became an important product line for the company.

Ferro applied two criteria to new acquisitions: each must have the potential for growth and competent management in place. During the 1950s two specialty ceramics companies were purchased that contributed to Ferro's diversification goals: the Louthan Manufacturing Company in East Liverpool, Ohio (1954); and the American Clay Forming Company of Tyler, Texas (1957). In 1957 these two companies were organized with the Cesco Company as members of the Refractories Division.

Technological developments in the 1950s revolutionized Ferro's primary business, porcelain enameling. After observing a customer's experimental frit cooling process, Ferro engineers spent several years developing a procedure that used water-cooled steel rolls to cool molten frit. The new process was cheaper and cleaner than the centuries-old water cooling technique, and gave Ferro an advantage in the industry.

The Korean War precipitated another major development for Ferro when the company was asked to develop camouflage colors for the U.S. Army Engineer Corps. The Color Division maintained sole rights to produce camouflage colors for many years, and continued to hold more than three-fourths of the market through the 1980s.

Ferro expanded its international presence in the 1950s with the launch of international businesses in Mexico (1951), West Germany (1951), Italy (1958), Japan (1950), and Hong Kong (1953). After postwar reconstruction, Ferro Holland grew quickly, subsuming many competitors and launching many foreign subsidiaries. Ferro Holland also developed a technical advance in ceramic tile glaze that cut production costs in half. Ferro England and Ferro France expanded research facilities, entered the plastics field, and brought modern equipment on line.

The end of the decade was marked by the untimely death of president Dud Clawson. Over the course of the 1950s, Clawson had managed dramatic growth and expansion at Ferro: sales rose from $17 million to almost $64 million during that time. He was succeeded by Harry Marks, a 25-year Ferro veteran who would serve 17 more years as president, chairman, and CEO.

The company continued its acquisitions spree in the 1960s, adding nine domestic companies in the chemical and ceramics fields and making the largest purchase in its then-48-year history. Although some of the purchases were short-lived, others further expanded Ferro's product line. The addition of Pittsburgh's Vitro Company at the beginning of the decade eventually propelled Ferro to leadership in the glass color industry. Other acquisitions added coated fabrics, porous ceramic components, and specialty organic and inorganic chemicals to the conglomerate's list of products.

In 1967 Ferro purchased the Electro Refractories and Abrasives Company and thereby entered the high-temperature ceramics industry. The massive acquisition took several months to negotiate, and brought such specialty products as cements, diffusing plates, and silicon carbide under Ferro's growing product umbrella.

Technological developments in the 1960s were encouraged and consolidated with the construction of a Central Research Division where research on porcelain enamel, glaze, and pigments was undertaken. One of the center's innovations was the development of "self-cleaning" coating for household ovens, which was instantly popular.

Ferro's international businesses in Japan, Holland, Canada, and Australia grew during the 1960s, and new extensions in Spain and India spread the company's global influence. The Holland subsidiary's reorganization of Ferro's French business raised that operating unit to full ownership.

Ferro's dramatic growth in the 1960s required a move into larger headquarters, and in 1969 the company moved to Cleveland's new trade center at Erieview Plaza. Driven by acquisitions, the conglomerate's sales more than doubled over the decade from $64 million to $148 million; net income kept up with that pace.

Despite economic fluctuations, a worldwide oil crisis, new environmental regulations, and shifts in top management, Ferro managed to record several accomplishments in the 1970s. Cliff Andrews was elected president and chief operating officer in 1972; he added CEO and chairman to his list of titles in 1975 and 1976. But within just six months of those promotions, Andrews was obliged to leave his post because of poor health. Ad Posnick ascended to the presidency and chief executive officership in 1976 and led the company throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s.

Ferro established manufacturing facilities in Portugal and Venezuela and expanded operations in Spain, West Germany, Japan, and Brazil. Ferro Canada reached $10 million in sales in 1973, and Ferro Holland grew so large and complex that a holding company, Ferro (Holland) B.V., was organized to manage those businesses. Political instability and anti-American terrorism plagued Ferro's Argentinian subsidiary in the 1970s and forced the company to take extraordinary measures to protect its employees.

Technological developments were facilitated by a new corporate Technical Center that replaced the Central Research Division in 1970. Ferro's Frit Division developed forehearth colors, enabling the company to produce small runs of colored glass by the early 1970s. VEDOC organic powder coatings developed in the 1970s helped Ferro capture a vital share of the paint and enamel market. VEDOC stood for "versatile, everlasting, durable organic coating": the product line was used to finish appliances, automotive parts, and outdoor furniture.

Ferro's Refractories Division grew in the 1970s with the acquisition of the Gem Manufacturing Company, and Ferro began manufacturing vacuum-formed products like catalytic converters, insulation, and refractories for the steel industry following the purchase of the Gemcolite and Therm-X companies. The acquisition of the Keil Chemical Company in 1974 expanded Ferro's Chemical Group. At the end of the decade, Ferro purchased Transelco, Inc., a manufacturer of extremely specialized ceramic materials for the optical and electronics fields.

Having entered the plastics field just after World War II, Ferro expanded those operations into a full-fledged division in 1979 with the purchase of five plastic color businesses. The new Thermoplastic Colors and Compounds Division manufactured and marketed a comprehensive line of thermoplastic colorants.

By the end of the decade Ferro had evolved into a highly diversified worldwide conglomerate with sales of almost $600 million. But a deep recession in the early 1980s forced divestments and a mid-decade reorganization. The company identified thermoplastics as its new core business early in the decade and worked to bring those new operations to profitability. The new kid on the block, Ferro had competition in the industry that included established companies like General Electric, Imperial Chemical, Hercules, and Rhone-Poulenc. Occupied by the competition, Ferro was threatened with takeover by Crane Company, which acquired 22.4 percent of Ferro's stock between 1980 and 1982. Ferro blocked the hostile action by repurchasing 1.73 million shares from Crane in late 1982.

In the latter half of the decade, plastics became Ferro's fastest-growing business, providing up to a third of revenues. The company acquired plastics manufacturers in France, Portugal, and Great Britain, and established or expanded plastics operations in Holland, Canada, Spain, South Africa, and Brazil. Ferro added a plastics lab to its corporate Technical Center, and focused on the food packaging industry as a growth vehicle.

Ferro's reorganization started with the development of a new mission statement to establish general goals for the corporation, but soon progressed to more concrete changes. Over the course of the decade, the corporation pared down its specialty ceramics division to concentrate on high-margin niche markets and sold its Allied Division and coated fabric business. In an effort to streamline operations, Ferro Europe was reorganized to include three core product lines: frit, pigments, and plastics.

Ferro Corporation moved into a new headquarters in time for its 70th anniversary in 1989. The renovated building featured Ferro architectural products, including ceramic tiles, engineered plastic materials, and powder coatings. The company entered the 1990s with a strong earnings growth of 24 percent annually from 1985 to 1989, surpassing $1 billion in worldwide sales by 1988.

But Ferro was not without problems. As the corporation's share price plummeted from over $40 in 1989 to under $20 in 1990, takeover threats came from four directions. Scarce raw materials and low profit margins kept the plastics division hamstrung, and both sales and earnings dropped from 1990 to 1991.

That year, Albert C. Bersticker succeeded Ad Posnick as president and CEO. Even before advancing to Ferro leadership, Bersticker set out to enhance the company's positives and eliminate the negatives. His plan to restructure the company featured three primary parts: an emphasis on income over sales growth, concentration on core businesses, and reliance on Ferro's long history of global, technological, and customer service advantages. The strategy equated into $60 million in capital investments, the elimination of 12 percent of the company's U.S., European, and Latin American salaried workforce, and increased corporate debt from about 20 percent up to 40 percent.

A number of changes occurred in the early 1990s. In March of 1992 Ferro sold its steel mill products business in Tyler, Texas, to Vesuvius USA Corporation; two months later, though, Ferro's Plastic Colorants and Dispersions Division acquired ICI Americas, Inc.'s PDI business unit, which produces polyester, epoxy, and urethane dispersions. A year later Ferro purchased Bayer S.p.A.'s ceramic frit and color operations in Milan, Italy.

As the 1990s progressed, Ferro Corporation continued to find strength in its core businesses and international companies. The company continued to hold about 40 percent of the world's steel and porcelain enamel markets. Foreign sales brought in more than half of the company's revenues and 75 percent of net earnings, and had profit margins of 5 percent of sales.

Principal Subsidiaries: Ferro France S.A.R.L; Eurostar S.A. (France); Ferro Chemicals S.A. (France); Ferro (Deutschland) G.m.b.H.; Ruhr-Pulverlack G.m.b.H. (Germany); Ferro (Great Britain) Ltd.; Ferro (Holland) B.V.; Ferro (Italia) S.R.L.; Metal Portuguesa S.A. (51%); Ferro Enamel Espanola, S.A.; Ege-Ferro Kimya A.S. (Turkey; 49.9%); Ferro Enamel Argentina, S.A.; Termoplasticos de Ingenieria S.A.; Ferro Enamel do Brasil I.C.L.; Ferro Enamel do Sul I.C.L.; Nutriplant I.C.L. (50%); Ferro Ecuatoriana S.A. (49%); Ferro Mexicana S.A. de C.V.; Ferro de Venezuela, C.A. (49%); Ferro Corporation (Australia) Pty. Ltd.; Ferro Industrial Products Ltd. (Canada); Ferro Far East, Ltd. (Hong Kong); Excel Frits and Colours Limited (India; 40%); P.T. Ferro Mas Dinamika (Indonesia; 55%); Ferro Enamels (Japan) Ltd. (10%); Nissan-Ferro Organic Chemical Co. Ltd. (Japan; 51%); NFE Co. Ltd. (Japan; 50%); Ferro Plastics (N.Z.) Ltd. (New Zealand); Ferro Industrial Products Limited (Taiwan, Republic of China); Ferro Toyo Co., Ltd. (Taiwan, R.O.C.; 60%); Ferro-TPI (Thailand) Co.Ltd. (44%); Ecotech Italia S.P.A. (Italy).

Additional Details

Further Reference

Bozsin, Michael A., Harold P. Connare, and Catherine N. Scott, Ferro: The First Seventy Years, 1919-1989, Cleveland: Ferro Corporation, 1990.Kiesche, Elizabeth S. and Debbie Jackson, "JV Talks Falter," Chemicalweek, January 29, 1992.Lappen, Alyssa A., "Someone Else's Turn?," Forbes, February 4, 1991, p. 94.Marcial, Gene G., "At Ferro, It's 'Move Over, Mario,"' Business Week, October 29, 1990, p. 92.McConville, Daniel J., "Despite a Trying Year, Ferro Keeps a Confident Outlook," Chemical Week, November 21, 1990, pp. 36-37.Moskal, Brian S., "The Buck Doesn't Stop Here," Industry Week, July 15, 1991, pp. 29-30.

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