Life in the Fast Lane
Edited by Kathleen McGinn Spring
Two University chemists, one from Columbia and the other from University of Pennnsylvania, started Process Research Products halfway between the New York & Philadelphia, choosing an office on Nassau Street above Hulit’s Shoes. In 1958 they focused on local industries, such as General Motors in Ewing, and then they branched out into precision industries and into exporting.
Now each month the 25-person firm ships half a dozen 20-foot containers with more than 100 tons of specialty chemicals — 60 percent to Asian markets — from its 30,000 square-foot plant in Ewing Business Park. British-born CEO Anthony Broomer says this is an encouraging sign that a small-to-medium privately owned business in New Jersey can compete in the global marketplace.
Broomer moved to Princeton in 1968 when the Process Research factory was in Pennington and its major clients were European. Finding the Japanese market “frustrating and difficult to penetrate” he turned to other Asian countries and set up distributors there. They moved the business to Ewing in 1986 and, helped take the firm public, and was part of the group that brought it private again. Now Process Research comprises one-quarter of Connecticut-based Chessco Industries. With eight salespeople, three lab scientists, seven people making the chemicals, and seven workers in the office, the half-century old company is small enough that it can celebrate employee birthdays with cookouts in the parking lot in Ewing.
Part of his success, Broomer admits, is that he picked the right industry. “For specialty chemicals, the cost of entry is not high, and you don’t need many employees. You have proprietary information, and if you get it right, it can be very profitable.”
Broomer attributes their success in the Chinese market to getting in early. “We have been a reliable supplier over many, many years, since the silicon wafer industry started. Like the IBM ad, the one about nobody getting fired for purchasing IBM computers, the Chinese like to know that their sources for ingredients are stable. They realized that world-class manufacturing could be achieved with more certainty by adopting Western processes and products.” Process Research’s' latest products are for manufacturing solar cells.
In addition to China, the firm ships to 15 different countries, including Malaysia, Korea, and Taiwan, etc.. Global geography markets make it hard to use sales quotas by territories for the five-person sales staff. “Once somebody is out there, they cover for the others,” says Broomer. “They’ll be reimbursed based on their profit contribution, not by a formula. It is hard to do it fairly by a formula.”
Process Research has just started to manufacture products for solar in Taiwan. “We plan to keep our core products manufactured here in the USA, and manufacture only the very price sensitive products, for the solar industry, near the market. The whole solar industry is driven by cost, in order to be more competitive with the electric grid.” Chemicals for silicon wafers industry are very cost competitive, and our main competition comes from small Japanese firms. Says Broomer: “The challenge for us from now on is to be competitive in Asia and still manufacture core products here in NJ.”
Broomer agrees that his British background helps him in the export business. “Traditionally, as you travel around the world, there are more British people involved in the export business. It is a national trait that after college a lot of British people go into overseas sales & marketing."
On the home front, he tends to hire immigrants, and that’s also due to his multicultural heritage. “In 1947, when I was seven years old, Pakistan was formed and Britain was flooded with immigrants. They were my friends and co-workers. Process Research hires mainly immigrants here — Filipinos, Indians, Taiwanese, or Guatemalan — and well over half of our employees are first or second generation workers.”
Broomer and his artist wife, Zenna, live in the Hillier-designed glass-walled condominium on Quarry Street (the house was viewed as an unwelcome “urban insertion” by some neighbors — U.S. 1, June 4, 2008). The Broomers met in England, and they have four children and two grandchildren. Broomer grew up in the British Midlands, where his father worked for the railroad. After earning a mechanical engineering degree from Wolverhampton Polytechnic College in 1963, he went into technical sales, joining the British division of Chessco Industries, the parent company to Process Research, in 1967.
Based in Westport, Connecticut, Chessco acquired Process Research in 1970 from the founding partners, Philip Kaftol and Wilbur Duncan. It continues to be a family business; each of Chessco’s divisions has at least two employees with the same last name.
Broomer’s sons, Simon and John, work at Process Research. John has an engineering degree from Rutgers in Piscataway and Simon, a 1994 alumnus of Elmira College in New York, is scheduled to become President on January 1, 2009.
Broomer says he has been content to let the firm grow naturally and enjoy healthy profit margins. “It’s nice to be able to get your arm around the business. Being profitable is probably more important than growth.”
Process Research Products, 1013 Whitehead Road Extension, Ewing Business Park, Ewing 08638; 609-882-0400; fax, 609-882-9608. Simon Broomer, President.