Thursday, December 06, 2012

Back When America Made Stuff . . .

Ernest Scheller Jr., 1952 Georgia Tech graduate, recently donated $50M to the Management School, endowing chairs and fellowships.  The alumni magazine recently did a first-person profile on him:

My dad had a lot of courage to start the business. He worked for Reynolds Metals Company and left right at the end of the war. His expertise was in foil and he wanted to get in the foil business. Those days it took a million dollars of capital to set up a foil mill, and he couldn’t raise the million dollars. But it only took $100,000 to get into the pigment business, and he was able to raise it.

The big producers were Alcoa, Alcan and Reynolds Metals Company. They all made about the same thing. My father’s philosophy was that we couldn’t afford to be market leaders as far as new products was concerned—we didn’t have the muscle or the dollars to do it. But the one thing we sold back in the very early days was uniformity from batch to batch. If you bought some paint today and you wanted to match it a year or two years later, it would match. That wasn’t true of our big competitors. We were selling the consistency of product. We also undersold the big guys by a few cents a pound.

We had quality control. That was my first job in high school, when the company was very young. It was just my father, a part-time secretary, one production employee and me doing some quality-control work. That was the job I had all through my senior year of high school, before going to college.

Foil scrap was our basic raw material. We did some atomization of aluminum—I still have the scars on my arm. We’d shatter a stream of aluminum with a continuous air blast and that would make these tiny aluminum droplets, atomized powder. If you get any moisture on the scrap when you’re charging it, it’ll pop—the moisture turns to steam and pops the metal up. I got a few residual scars going back to when I was 15 or 16 years old. I guess I started in April or May of 1945. I worked that summer and the following summer and then went down to Tech, then worked there [during the] summers after I went to Tech.

Read the whole thing.

Also, for those of you keeping score at home, here is a link to the Scheller’s other charitable work.

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