Advantages of public ownership outweigh those of a private operation, according to the actions of four plastics-related firms listed on the stock ex-changes. Chief executive officers comply with the Securities and Exchange Commission's sometimes-burdensome rules on disclosure, recognize the need to be responsive to shareholders and enjoy access to capital. In contrast, their private counterparts can ignore disclosure, report to ownership as needed and, often, must scramble to raise money for operations, inventory or expansion.
Clinton G. Gerlach has traveled the road of initial public offering, exchange listing, acquisition, leveraged buyout and divestiture. At age 70, he is in his ninth year of building another business.
``A publicly traded company has greater opportunities for acquisition'' through payment in cash or preferred, convertible preferred or common stock, said Gerlach, chairman of Calnetics Corp. in Chatsworth, Calif. ``You can tailor [an offer] to meet the seller's desire.''
He attributes a major part of the company's success to its thorough evaluation of acquisition candidates before a transaction occurs.
``I see some companies making an acquisition and finding misstated receivables or inventories two months later,'' Gerlach said.
Interest in Calnetics' common stock has jumped since its June 20 move to the Nasdaq National Market from the SmallCap Mar-ket. The stock price increased 58 percent to $9.50 per share in the first week of trading.
Calnetics makes molded plastic bobbins, components, filters and fittings, and sheet and tubing for industrial, construction and agricultural applications. The company continues to seek diversification.
Calnetics reported profit of $1 million on sales of $25.5 million for the nine months ended March 31, compared with profit of $629,000 on sales of $20.1 million for the year-earlier period.
Gerlach bought into the firm in 1988 and, through a holding company, owns 40 percent of Calnet-ics' stock. In eight years, sales and income per share both have grown at compounded rates of 35 percent, and income has risen 43 percent.
Medical product manufacturing executive Dale H. Ballard enlarges his business by acquiring companies. Ideas cross his desk daily.
``Nine of 10 entrepreneurs de-velop one very clever product, but you can't go public [in the 1990s] with one product,'' Ballard said. ``It's a world of consolidation, and size is everything.
``There are a lot of obligations in going public,'' he said. ``You work for the stockholders and the government reports and the brokers. [It is] a never-ending chore, but worth it.''
Ballard said hospital conglomerates ``almost dictate price to us today.''
Ballard Medical Products em-ploys 980 and recorded profit of $22.8 million on sales of $91.5 million for the four quarters ended March 31. Prior-year sales were $69.5 million.
The company, which was formed in 1983 and uses plastics injection molding and assembly techniques extensively, has its headquarters and a 276,000-square-foot plant in Draper, Utah.
The company is completing construction of a $7 million, 104,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Pocatello, Idaho, and will consolidate its California operations in Milpitas and Ven-tura on a 61/2acre Fremont site that was acquired in March with $2.2 million from cash reserves.
Ballard, 73, chairman, president and chief executive officer, controls 6.9 percent of the company's New York Stock Exchange-listed common stock.
Another traded company pre-fers privacy.
Liqui-Box Corp. meets disclosure requirements but is loath to advertise or talk much about its accomplishments with industry analysts, shareholders or the media.
``Our primary competitors are private,'' said controller Jim Holloway, referring to Scholle Corp. and Reid Plastics Inc.
Liqui-Box and Northlake, Ill.-based Scholle compete to be the largest bag-in-a-box manufacturer in the country. Liqui-Box has acquired the capability to blow mold bottles and water-cooler jugs, competing with Reid of Arcadia, Calif.
Holloway declined further comment, but publicly available sources tell the story.
Liqui-Box has begun to market condiment dispensers to fast-food restaurants. The firm must sell the concept both to the ketchup maker, such as Hunt's, and the food server, such as McDonald's, to replace single-serving foil and plastic packets.
In addition, Liqui-Box, which employs 807, markets Alaskan Falls-brand waters in central Ohio.
The late Samuel S. Davis and partners formed the Worthington, Ohio, company in 1961. His son Samuel B. Davis, 54, now chairman, president and chief executive officer, controls more than 16 percent of the company's Nasdaq National Market-listed shares.
Sensing value, Liqui-Box repurchased shares worth $1.3 million during 1996's first quarter, when the company reported profit of $3.1 million on sales of $34.2 million. The corresponding 1995 quarter had profit of $2.4 million on sales of $33.6 million.
Paul W. Pendorf, 56, president and chief executive officer of American Materials & Technolo-gies Corp. in Los Angeles, has held positions with publicly traded and private companies including XXsys Tech-nologies Inc., ICI Fiberite, Beatrice Chemicals Group, American Cyana-mid Co. and Pfizer Inc.
``I come down on the public side,'' he said. ``The ability to have public in-vestment outweighs everything else.''
Recently, AMTC netted $9.7 million from its initial public offering of 2 million shares of common stock. Trading began July 1 on the SmallCap Market and the Pacific Stock Exchange. AMTC employs 83, makes advanced composite materials and had 1995 sales of $15.9 million.
``The discipline of being a public company with corporate governance and outside directors is beneficial to running a company,'' with one downside, Pendorf said: ``some fairly esoteric discussions with the law firm on what to disclose.''