For two years, Joseph Prischak has been grooming his five sons to take over his injection molding and toolmaking business, Plastek Industries Inc.
Now, with the time near to transfer authority, Prischak has made one more move that has helped define the growth of his Erie, Pa.-based company: He is opening a tooling plant in Venezuela.
The move is just another example of how Prischak pushes the boundaries of where a midsize processor should go.
``It wouldn't surprise me to see us in Mexico, China or other parts of Europe over the next few years,'' Prischak said in a June 27 telephone interview. ``The beauty of it is that a lot of global work brings a lot of work into Erie, too.''
Prischak, 71, has widened Plastek's reach in recent years while winding down his own company involvement. The firm opened a molding plant in Mansfield, England, three years ago, in Indaiatuba, Brazil, two years ago and in Caracas, Venezuela, last year.
Now, a companion tooling facility will open in Caracas later this year, making Plastek one of the few U.S.-based toolmakers in that South American country. Plastek also is one of the few U.S. companies with a tool shop in Brazil, a $7 million investment that launched last year.
Prischak, who handed over control of Plastek on July 1, said the company had to work hard to get the 8,000-square-foot plant started in Venezuela.
The Venezuelan state of Miranda gave Plastek a loan of $5.5 million over two years to construct the building and buy equipment. While five to seven toolmakers will begin in the plant, Plastek wants to boost employment there quickly to about 35, Prischak said.
Prischak will not run Plastek as it takes its next international steps. His son, Dennis, will replace him as president and chief executive officer, and his four other sons will help manage the firm.
Retirement might be too strong a word. Prischak just opened an oval auto-racing track, Lake Erie Speedway, on June 21, and had race driver Bobby Allison at the opening. He also owns publishing company Communication Technologies Inc. and will spend more time with that company.
Prischak and a partner, Henry Smith, founded Triangle Tool Co. in 1956, took on two more partners and started Plastek Industries in 1971.
In 1983, Prischak bought out his partners and turned Plastek into a family business. With foreign operations accounting for an increasing volume, Plastek will record sales of close to $250 million in 2002, Prischak said.
While he said sales continue to rise and Plastek is gaining more business, it does so with lower profit margins. Global competition and online bidding have played a part, he said.
``It's just like running on a treadmill. You keep moving but end up still standing in the same place.''
Plastek now operates by two guiding principles. One is a major push to automation, both in tooling and molding, that has been ongoing for close to a decade.
``A lot of people didn't realize what was going to happen in five to 10 years,'' he said. ``While they were buying airplanes, boats, fine art, they should have put their money into automation. If you don't have it today, you're not going to succeed.''
The second tenet is global expansion. In Latin America, the need for such items as deodorant sticks, cosmetics and other consumer products has emerged. ``You're starting to see more interest from the lower and middle classes,'' he said.
The firm now has 45 presses in both Brazil and Venezuela and room for more, he said.
The company also expects to see wages worldwide rise, according to Prischak. While China now makes low-cost products and molds by paying bottom-dollar wages, that will not last, he said.
That makes Prischak optimistic about the future of his processing company, now that his sons are poised to take over operations.
``I don't think it will operate any differently than it is today,'' he said. ``But it's been 53 years since I first got into plastics. It's surprising how quickly it goes."