Analysis: Teknor Apex connects with other family-owned businesses

Pawtucket, Rhode Island – The specialness of working for his family’s Teknor Apex Co. revealed itself to Jonathan Fain shortly after he graduated from college in 1972.

“I wanted to take a year off and my dad wanted me to start the very next day,” Fain said. “So we compromised and I got two weeks. I went and helped a friend build a log cabin in Vermont.”

Today, Fain is chairman and CEO of the company his grandfather Alfred Fain started as a tire recapper in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1924. Teknor now is based in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and employs more than 2,000 worldwide.

cropTeknor Apex Co. Jonathan Fain, left, and Michael Roberts of Teknor Apex Co.

Teknor Apex Co. Jonathan Fain, left, and Michael Roberts of Teknor Apex Co.

Teknor is a major producer of plastic compounds based on engineering resins, thermoplastic elastomers and PVC and has annual sales of more than $600 million. The firm ranks as one of North America’s 30 largest compounders and concentrate makers.

Fain’s father, Norman Fain, joined Teknor in 1936 and became chairman in 1968. The firm — founded as Apex Tire & Rubber Co. — had diversified out of the tire market, adding rubber mixing in 1945 and PVC compounding in 1949. Teknor actually used rubber equipment when it started making plastic materials.

Norman Fain died at age 89 in 2003. He went into the office almost daily until just a few months before his death.

With the exception of four years in the 1960s when it was owned by Continental Oil, Teknor has been majority-owned by the Fain family for its entire history. The family now is the firm’s sole owner.

The next generation at Teknor is represented by Michael Roberts, 37, who serves as nylon division business manager. He’s the son of Martha Roberts — Jonathan Fain’s sister — which makes him the great-grandson of Teknor’s founder.

Wendy Feldman — Jonathan’s and Martha’s sister — is the third Fain sibling in the third generation. There are seven members of the family’s fourth generation, including Michael Roberts.

Maintaining a family firm has its own set of challenges, according to Jonathan Fain, who has led Teknor since the early 1990s.

“You need to work at it,” he said. “That’s a real part of my job. One is to run the company and another is to keep family members informed. They’re kind of like shareholders.”

To help keep communication open, the Fain family meets as a group twice a year to review issues important to both Teknor as a company and to the family. As a family business, Fain said that Teknor likes doing business with other family businesses, such as M. Holland Co., a U.S.-based resin distributor that handles Teknor’s nylon compounds.

“With another family business, you have different connections,” he said. “We have a different way of operating.”

These connections with other family-owned firms helped Teknor in 2015 when Plastic Technologie Service — a German compounder owned by the Stenglin family — came to Teknor’s aid after Teknor’s plant in Oldbury, England, was severely damaged in a fire.

PTS began producing Teknor materials on a tolling basis to help the firm meet orders to European customers. The firms already had worked together for 15 years, with PTS licensing some Teknor products. Teknor ended up buying PTS earlier this year after deciding not to rebuild the English plant.

Fain added that family firms “can take a long-term perspective.

“We can make different decisions, as opposed to an equity company where numbers make decisions,” he explained. “For us, it’s about customers and what we want to do with company.”