Q&A: Forgash leads the family business
For Tony Forgash Jr., machine design has always been a family affair. After completing an engineering program in college, he went to a tool and die apprentice school and earned his journeyman card; then, in 1963, joined his father’s tool and die shop, Jetro Inc.
With that, he started on a long career path that led to the plastics industry. Soon after joining the family business, his father designed the company’s first pelletizer for Dow Chemical Co. Originally conceived as a one-off project, the pelletizer made a favorable impression on customers, and Jetro received additional orders for it from Dow and other companies.
Like his father, Forgash took a hands-on approach to the business. He continued to improve on the design, which included stainless steel construction and helical rotors with long-lasting Stellite cutting edges. Jetro’s pelletizing technology caught the attention of John Reib of Conair Group, which acquired the company in 1974—a partnership that led to the formation of Bay Plastics Machinery in 1997.
Bay Plastics Machinery was the new name for an old-line company that stayed true to its tool and die shop beginnings as Jetro. Working from its original home base of Bay City, Mich., Forgash and a core group of employees continued to expand the company’s line of pelletizers, while servicing existing machines. Today, Forgash is passing the reins of the now third-generation company to his sons.
Forgash recently answered questions for Plastics Machinery Magazine. He spoke with contributing writer John DeGaspari.
Tell us about the earliest years of the company, which was started by your father, a tool and die maker.
FORGASH: My father [Anthony Forgash Sr.] started the company in 1946 [as] Jetro Corp. He owned a job shop in the local area, and they did repair jobs and machining jobs for various companies in the area, Dow Chemical and some of the other companies that were around at the time.
There’s a story that your father designed his very first pelletizer for Dow Chemical Co., which was having trouble with the pelletizer it was using at the time.
FORGASH: He said, “I can build a better machine.” Actually, they were using an old paper shredder, trying to make that into a pelletizer. It was very cheaply built and didn’t hold up. He did a lot of repair work on the paper-cutter machines that they used as pelletizers. He went out and got a person to do the design work, based on his recommendations. It was a very good machine; it was well-designed and he had some very good ideas, new ideas, on how to make a machine more easily serviced and last longer. At the time, I was with the company, but I was brand-new, so I hadn’t gotten into design work yet.
When did you join the company?
FORGASH: I studied tool and die. I got my journeyman card in tool and die, and started working for my dad in 1963. I got heavily involved in repairing the pelletizers, and one thing led to another. We manufactured pelletizers from 1965 until 1974. The pelletizer was basically something that he lucked into because of our relationship with Dow in Bay City that got the pelletizer [business] off the ground, but our main job was the job shop business in the local area, until about 1969 or 1970.
Conair acquired Jetro in 1974. What led to the acquisition?
FORGASH: John Reib [founder of Conair Group] wanted to diversify his product lines. He hired a guy who was formerly with Cumberland [Engineering], to find companies he could either acquire or partner with. He connected John Reib with my father, and we sold the company to Conair.
[By 1974] I’m fully ingrained in pelletizers: I’m selling the pelletizers; I’m servicing them in the plant, starting them up and I’m getting my baptism in plastics. At the same time, when Conair bought our company, we wanted to expand our lines into smaller machines.
What set the design of your original pelletizer apart from the competition?
FORGASH: Our machines were designed entirely out of stainless steel, so there were no corrosion problems years after they were made. They lasted forever. We used an eccentric design on the rotor, to adjust the rotor to a stationary bed knife. And we used a helical milling type rotor. We also manufactured the rotor out of Stellite, the cutting edges, which is a much longer-lasting edge. They were a lot quieter because of the helical design of the rotor.
What was your role at Jetro when it was a subsidiary of Conair?
FORGASH: We were actually independent of Conair other than my reporting to John Reib. In 1976 I was named the president of Conair Jetro, so I reported directly to John Reib. My father was semi-retired at the time. We phased out the job shop operations and strictly started concentrating on pelletizers.
Jetro was in Michigan and Conair is in Franklin, Pa. We had our own manufacturing facility, the job shop business and we had lathes and mills and all kinds of different machines to manufacture the components. We did all of our own manufacturing in the Bay City plant. Also at the time, we were doing some manufacturing of granulator components for Franklin, Pa.
At the time, when Conair took Jetro over, Cumberland Engineering had probably 95 percent of the pelletizer market; they were the dominant force in the pelletizer market. By 1979, we had the biggest share of the pelletizer market. Then of course, we all know what happened in the early 1980s: Business went right down the tubes.
Was there a “eureka” moment or “aha” moment when you hit on the idea of building up Bay Plastics Machinery as a major pelletizer supplier?
FORGASH: I was the president of the Conair Jetro division until 1991, and in 1991, they put another person in charge of the Jetro division, and I was the vice president of pelletizer sales. That lasted until 1997, and then they announced that they were moving Conair Jetro to Pennsylvania. They wanted to put everything into one location. They made us temporary assignment offers, and I didn’t want to transfer my family and myself to Pennsylvania for two or three years of employment.
Several of us decided to start our own business servicing the pelletizer industry. We didn’t have a design of a pelletizer at that point, but we knew that we could do service work, startups for customers; we could build replacement parts for the machines--that’s how we started out [in 1997] at Bay Plastics Machinery. We had no product; all we had was service and spare parts and the ability to manufacture spare parts. We didn’t have any drawings or anything, so in order for us to manufacture a company’s parts, we had to have them send us a part so that we could re-engineer it.
There was no non-compete at that time. I started designing machines in 1969, and most of the designs that Conair had were designs that I had come up with, so I was very familiar with the machines. We decided that all we had to do was wait a couple of years and we would take over the market, and that’s exactly what happened.
You entered into a joint venture agreement in 1998 with C.F. Scheer, a manufacturer of pelletizing systems based in Germany. What was behind the decision?
FORGASH: We were just beginning the process of designing our own machines, and Scheer came to us and wanted to know if we wanted to have a joint cooperation. They needed someone in the States to sell their equipment, and they had what appeared to be a very good pelletizing line. We decided that we would sell their machines in the States.
It brought us a pelletizer line right away that was recognized as a good machine. It got us off the ground quickly, with a machine design that we could go to market with and expand our business immediately. At the same time, there were some gaps in the Scheer line that didn’t fulfill the needs of some of our customers, so we continued developing our own line of pelletizers.
In 2008, just as the Great Recession hit, C.F. Scheer became insolvent, and liquidation proceedings were initiated against it in Germany. How did Bay Plastics Machinery survive that double whammy?
FORGASH: That was a hard time because we had to buy out their shares, and it was right at the worst possible time, as far as the market went, because we weren’t selling anything at the time, except spare parts. Our business really took a nosedive; nobody was buying new machines. We had to buy them out, which was quite expensive. We had to lay off, of course. We cut back on salaries and there was no overtime; we just reduced our expenses to a minimum. We got through that period, and business came back like it normally does, and we brought back all our people, plus more.
Through all of its iterations, your business has in many ways remained a family enterprise. How important is the concept of family to running the business?
FORGASH: I have three of the boys in the company now, Jason, Jeff and Jim [executive VP; VP of sales, parts and service; and VP of sales, respectively]. They are doing a great job; the three boys are taking over the company and I am semi-retired. They are taking it to heart, they love the company, and they are excited about expanding it. Basically, I am just coming up with new ideas, new products.
How would you like to be remembered?
FORGASH: I’ve had a lot of years in the business, and I know a lot of people and I’ve done a lot of things that I’ve really enjoyed. That’s enough gratification for me to watch the business grow. I like to play golf and go fishing and enjoy my grandkids. That’s enough for me.