Lee Hyde (left), Dan Stanglein (center) and Lee Williams improve plastic manufacturing process

Processing the Process, Lectro Engineering Improves Making Plastic

BY RICK DESLOGE

Lee Williams has been known by his partners to stretch sales trips by making cold calls, particularly if he sees a silo in a city. “That’s where they keep the plastic (pellets), which means they could be a customer,” said Williams, president and chief executive of Lectro Engineering Co.

The specialty engineering business invents and manufactures equipment that improves the manufacturing process for plastic companies. Lectro’s customers convert plastic pellets into everything from medical equipment to auto parts to the bottles that hold many of the liquids found in supermarkets.

Williams has closed deals on some of those cold calls, said Lee Hyde, Lectro’s chief operating officer —not an easy task, since Lectro’s specialty equipment sells for $35,000 and up and much of it remains in use for decades.

As Lectro has been expanding, it cannot get enough engineers, drafters and precision welders. “We’re growing at a rapid pace and it’s difficult to find the right people,” Williams said.

The company moved to north St. Louis County, off Page Avenue, two years ago into space that has an acre under roof. Lectro consolidated its operations at the site after acquiring two other companies—MTM Systems of Beaverton, Ore., which makes equipment that trims plastic bottles, and Automation Technology, which builds custom equipment to automate plastic production.
Lectro has a reputation of going to bat for customers, frequently on short notice.

“We were with them on one project where we got them the information at 6 p.m., and they worked until 3 a.m.,” said Kevin Deppermann, senior engineer and lab automation team leader for Monsanto Co.
Deppermann’s unit develops manufacturing prototypes, that it sends to Lectro to refine. He said he could turn to other companies, but has seen Lectro perform. “We’ve built a trust relationship with them. They’re our go-to guys.”

Lectro works from several designs it has refined over the years that it can customize for clients, Williams said. A more typical turnaround time on its major equipment is six to 10 weeks. About 70 percent of the company’s work comes from existing customers.

The company could have grown faster if Williams had been less fiscally conservative, he said. “I’m trying to improve on that. I would have hired more people to help me sooner.”

Business activity: Lectro and its two divisions make specialty machinery for the plastics industry, including equipment used in blow-molding bottles, trimming excess plastic and treating plastic so paint adheres to the surface. Lectro’s customers include bottle producers such as CKS Packaging Inc. of Atlanta and Graham Packaging Co. of York, Pa. Lectro also handles specialty engineering assignments from Monsanto and Briggs & Stratton of Milwaukee.

Key executives: Williams, 52, is president and chief executive. Hyde, 46, is vice president and chief operating officer. Dan Stanglein, 54, is vice president of engineering. Williams and his wife, Kimberly, own about 75 percent of the company. Stanglein owns 20 percent, and the balance is spread among a handful of individuals. The business has 32 employees, up from 25 last December.

History: The late Ralph Williams founded Lectro in 1968. His son, Lee Williams, joined him in the business in 1979, after returning from military service as a certified naval nuclear engineer. At the time, Lectro had revenue of about $200,000. Lee Williams purchased the business from his father in 1989, using profits generated by the company to pay for the operation.

Twelve years later Williams acquired two more companies and one more partner. Within months of each other, he bought the assets of MTM Systems, and Automation Technology, a business led by Stanglein, who now holds 20 percent of the operation.

Revenue: Lectro had revenue of $4 million in 2003. Williams said he expects revenue to reach $5 million this year.

Professional services: Robert Elkins at Southwest Bank handles Lectro’s banking. Scott Engelbrecht at Larson Allen oversees the company’s accounting. Greg Keller at Renaissance Financial develops investment plans and manages the company’s retirement accounts. Ben Keller, a principal with the Blumenfeld, Kaplan & Sandweiss law firm, oversees the company’s legal matters. Craig Workman at Snyder and Workman works with the company on marketing.

Charitable activities: Lectro is a regular contributor to The Salvation Army, a tradition started by Lee Williams’ father.

 

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