It's been almost 170 years since Dr. Curtis G. Hussey founded Hussey Copper in 1848, beginning as a small medical instrument business set up on the rolling banks of Pennsylvania's Monongahela River.
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Today, the company still maintains the classic Hussey name brand, but has greatly evolved from the humble company it was, and into a trusted and widely-relied upon name across North America when it comes to copper-based products. In a conversation with Industry Today, Joseph Mallak, President and CEO of the company, talks about the history of Hussey, the current philosophy that’s energizing their business, and why the future is shining quite brightly for them. Steve Engelhardt reports.
While Hussey Copper took its roots in the construction of copper-based medical instruments, Mallak says that the late Dr. Hussey did so, “because it was really all he knew, given his profession and desire to start his own business.” However, he soon found that while copper was certainly in demand, it was much more popular in the form of sheet, strip, plate, and bar, rather than as medical instruments, to supplement a growing nation of makers and builders.
Years later, with the rise of telegraphs, telephones, and electricity in households, Hussey found themselves once again in high demand. Exploiting copper’s benefits with regards to electrical equipment, Hussey found their long term niche in the market and have used their success and reputation today to become a world leader in producing copper bus bar.
However, while a significant portion of their business rests upon their melting, casting, and finishing of electrical copper bars, another emerging part of their business is related to the medical benefits of copper, ironically. In the late 1920s, scientists found that copper was notably strong in fighting infections and bacteria-related health issues, and today, its widened applicability has demand for copper increasing at a fast rate. It appears Dr. Hussey got into the right business, after all.
Mallak says he laughs whenever he thinks about the history of his company, “It’s always fun looking at our history, as here you have this doctor who founded a copper company without knowing any better, found a different market for his products, but then almost a hundred years later it becomes known that copper actually fights bacteria and infections in a highly effective manner,” he says, adding, “so, in effect, through our company’s origins we found an additional business outlet as well.”
Cradle to the Grave
Mallak says that Hussey Copper’s vertical integration is what enables them to effectively attack multiple markets in a consistent manner, saying, “We are a ‘cradle to the grave’ kind of company.” With a 275,000 square foot facility in Leetsdale, Pa., as well as two additional plants in Eminence, Ky., spanning 125,000 and 50,000 feet respectively, and an employee workforce of 550 individuals, Hussey has both the manpower and facilities to handle its production process from top to bottom.
Their main mill is in Leetsdale, where a bulk of the metalworking processes are carried out. “It’s where our shop is, and here you can find rolling mills, hot mills, cold mills, and finishing slitters,” Mallak says, adding, “we have a cast house that does 535,000 pounds of copper, and furnaces that have the ability to produce base material and customer products such as strip, sheet and plate.”
In addition, they have CNC machines that do bending and punching, as well as full-scale fabrication processes for all of their products. These processes, along with the manufacturing of their bus bars, are all handled between their two Kentucky facilities.
Mallak says that when he took over the company in 2011, one of his initial goals was to establish a high functioning, lean culture within his company’s production processes. “Right after taking over, we implemented six sigma practices also (as well as having a lean culture). ”
Hoshin planning is a collective-based practice, designed to capture and solidify strategic goals while also shedding light on future trends that could come about. “Every department in the company has core projects being worked on that are going towards two or three main objectives that the entirecorporation is trying to achieve,” he says, adding, “working on a common goal brings more ideas to the table, and a greater overall understanding for executives and employees of wherethe company is headed.”
Mallak says that since Hussey is in the commodity business, employing strategic programs like hoshin, among others, is becoming more of a necessity than an option. “We have global competitors in South America, Mexico, Asia, and Europe, so we have to continue to drive growth and practice efficiencyin order to stay ahead.”
Traditional and Innovative
In terms of actual commodities, Hussey’s copper bus bar is by far their most popular product. “Our biggest product line here in North America, is our bus bar which goes into electrical applications,” he says, adding, “we have the largest range of sizes, from as thin as wire to up to a foot wide, and it’s really served as our flagship product over the years.”
On the antimicrobial side, Hussey offers ‘EPA registered’ copper touch surfaces with bacteria-destroying properties, a service born from their already extensive knowledge in working with copper, and boosted by their increased level of material flow in their production facilities. “Our vertical integration has really given us a big push with our capabilities in antimicrobial products,” he says, adding, “and consequently, we’re really finding a receptive market with regards to antimicrobial applications in commercial areas as well as inside peoples’ homes.”
Mallak says that his company’s extensive history in installing push and pull plates, light switch covers, and engineering services (covering existing surfaces with copper in institutions like hospitals and laboratories) provide a nice segue into future applications for their antimicrobial products.
Respecting the Past
Mallak attributes a large part of the company’s recent success and renewed identity to the company’s buyout in 2011 by American business magnate Lynn Tilton. “We had a lot of ideas in terms of how we wanted to reinvent the Hussey Copper name brand,” he says, adding, “but without her passion and open-mindedness towards our goals, I’m not sure we’d be where we are today.”
And yet, for as strong as Hussey’s leadership has been, Mallak believes it’s his workforce that really puts his company over the top. “Hussey went through some tough times during the recession of 2008, and it created a large number of employees who weren’t sure if they were going to lose their jobs or not,” he says, continuing, “but they didn’t let it affect their work, and came to the job every day with their sleeves rolled up and ready to go. You could tell they really cared about what they did.” Now, as the storm has cleared and Hussey appears to be steamrolling their way into the future, it appears their hard work and faith in their company has paid off.
With a flagship product established in their bus bar, and a fast-emerging antimicrobial market, Hussey Copper looks poised to continue their success in a variety of markets for quite some time.