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Wired to Perfection

Gendon Polymer Services was founded in 1993 in Toronto, Ontario by two entrepreneurs and experienced early success. Through investment in its equipment and abilities, Gendon quickly established itself as a specialty compounding house, making nnovative, high-performance products for the rubber, polymer and plastics industries.

“They essentially did services for the polymer and plastics and rubber industries that no one really wanted to do – some of the stuff you wouldn’t even want in your factory – and they were ready and willing to do it,” General Manager Doug Burwell explained. “Over the years, they were successful, and through that early growth, hit a million dollars within two years.”

Through strategic decision making and an ongoing commitment to invention, Gendon Polymer Services built a strong network of loyal customers who appreciate the consistency of its high-performance, quality products.

“They decided, around the 2000 timeframe, to focus on the wire and cable industry, more specifically low-smoke zero-halogen products, as in Europe there was a mass transfer of technology from halogenated flame retardant products over to these low-smoke zero-halogens during this time,” Burwell recalled.

These products are safer for both people and the environment, he explained. When cables are subjected to flame or high heat, both halogenated and zero halogen products will emit fumes and gases. The benefit of a zero halogen system lies with both the toxicity of these fumes and gasses as well as the amount of smoke produced. “If you compare the two systems side by side (YouTube has some great examples), the halogenated system will fill a room with much denser smoke and it would be more difficult to see the exit sign, for example. Furthermore, the smoke and fumes themselves are much more acrid and toxic in a halogenated system.”

“If you’re in a confined or closed area, like a subway train or in a tunnel or in a platform where air is not circulating and a fire erupts, this phenomenon becomes very important. Essentially, a zero halogen system will give people trapped in these confined environments more time and a greater chance of escape,” added Mark Sparano, sales and marketing professional at Gendon.

Gendon Polymer Services’ customers are some of the largest wire and cable companies with applications in the oil and gas, transportation, industrial and utility, communications, alternative energy and military sectors. Though its primary market is North America, it will work with customers worldwide on complex projects.

Oil and gas and military drove the company’s growth until around 1994 when Gendon diversified into transit, industrial and some nuclear work.

“One of our big market focuses is on the non-wire and cable industry,” said Burwell, “so we’re really striving to look at applications for this product and this technology in non-wire and cable. We’ve had some success in the building industry so far and some in the highly conductive polymer area.”

By 2004, Gendon Polymer Services was experiencing commercial success, and in 2009, it built its research and development (R & D) facility which remains a cornerstone of the company today. The company is also represented on several committees that work to establish new technical standards.

In 2012, Gendon Polymer Services was acquired by Marmon Group (A Berkshire Hathaway Company). This acquisition enabled it to employ the capital and resources of the Marmon Group to support its development of advanced products on a much larger scale.

“Since 2012, we’ve experienced substantial growth in the marketplace, partially due to the increased volume and demand for these low-smoke zero-halogen products but also because we diversified our products into different areas,” Burwell noted. “We focussed on the transit, industrial and the non-wire and cable product lines. This strategy coupled with a strong focus on our traditional markets allows a healthy increase in revenues and operating income.”

The acquisition, despite the potential to expand Gendon and although Gendon was to remain independently operated from Marmon, still posed a concern to some customers.

Gendon Polymer Services was willing to do anything in its power to put its customers’ minds at ease and prove its loyalty to the longstanding industry relationships that helped to build the company. Moves included signing nondisclosure agreements when necessary to protect intellectual property that was under development.

“We are very sensitive to cross-transfer of knowledge from one customer to another, so we don’t talk about our customers to our sister companies at Marmon. That would be potential competitors, and in some cases, it took a good three years of ‘walking the walk’ for some of our external customers to trust us more,” said Burwell.

“Because we are part of Marmon, and some of our sister companies are wire and cable, you would think that our growth would be more internal and that we would be serving more and more of our sister companies, but that really isn’t the case. Our big growth has been outside of the Marmon Group,” said Burwell. “Our mandate from Marmon Corporate is to grow the business, and there is nothing that says grow the business internally or externally, it’s just simply grow the business.”

Gendon Polymer Services’ biggest success has been these partnerships that bring its customers’ ideas to life. “We’ll co-develop the product line with them, and our agreement is, when they start to buy it that we don’t give them the formulations, we keep the intellectual property, but we also guarantee that the product that we are selling to them will not be sold to their competitors,” said Burwell.

While independent, Gendon Polymer Services still benefits greatly from Marmon Group’s resources including central labs for more comprehensive testing while maintaining a respect for confidentiality and anonymity. “For the internal labs that we have, Gendon is the customer, so we don’t have to divulge who the customer is,” stated Burwell.

“This external source within the company is designated as an innovation centre, so they do have a number of highly-skilled, highly-qualified people – PhDs – within the polymer world that we draw on and we can bounce ideas back and forth. So, having Marmon acquire Gendon has allowed us access to this resource,” said Sparano.

Gendon Polymer Services analyzes the thermal, physical, rheological and flame retardant properties of compounds and uses this knowledge to customize products that meet various industry standards.

“From an innovative perspective, we have our own R & D department, and it’s the biggest department in our company. We don’t have very many people here, but we really focus on our R & D group, and our sales and marketing staff are all technical people as well,” said Burwell.

Technical expertise and professionalism are an inherent part of Gendon Polymer Services, and this was very apparent from speaking with Burwell and Sparano. Both Burwell and Sparano are professional Engineers; Sparano’s counterpart on the marketing and sales side of the business is a chemist, and all have many, many years in the wire and cable and Polymer industries. This technical knowledge proves to be invaluable to Gendon.

The technical capability of its team of employees is a key difference in Gendon’s ability to take the specifications of its customers and produce results. The sales team works with customers to determine what their budget is and reconciles that with the potential of the R & D team. “Not only does the polymer have to work, it has to be able to process on the equipment, and it has to be cost effective,” Sparano said.

“They can translate those requirements and bring them back to the R & D team here at Gendon, and the benefit of having that team here with those resources is that they turn out multiple trials very quickly. So they really zone in on exactly what options there are when it comes to chemical formulations,” said Burwell.

“The customers are trying to innovate and do something that is very difficult to do,” added Burwell. “Those are our favourite projects: the difficult ones. If it’s something that anyone can do, you can get a better price on it somewhere else, but if it’s hard to do and it’s a unique product that you’re looking for, then that’s where we really shine.”

Safety also plays a role in Gendon’s achievements. “We have an enviable safety record. We enjoyed our ten-year no-lost-time-accident anniversary in May 2015, and we’re continuing to build on that record,” said Burwell proudly.

“We are a Canadian-based company based out of Bolton. We have a small tight-knit group, and we have the ability to reach out there and service customers and help them gain market share and enter into new spaces. This is something that Gendon is striving for, and this is really where the growth and long-term stability of the company is going to be headed,” Burwell concluded.

This article was originally posted in Business In Focus Magazine.

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