Salvador Vassallo, the affable, charismatic figurehead of Vassallo Industries Inc. in Ponce, Puerto Rico, died Jan. 20 at his Puerto Rican home from a heart attack.
He was 64.
Vassallo, known to all as ``Chiry,'' joined with his brothers and his father, Vincente Vassallo, in 1962 to start the company in PVC pipe extrusion. From 1962 through 2007, Chiry Vassallo led the company into every process except vaccuum forming. The company now manufactures pipe and fittings, kayaks, blow molded containers for Pepsi-Cola and products for the pharmaceutical market. In 2004, Vassallo Industries acquired struggling housewares firm Syroco Inc. of Baldinwsville, N.Y.
``In my mind, Chiry saved Syroco by purchasing when he did,'' Syroco President Ray Carrock said in a Jan. 25 telephone interview. ``If he didn't purchase Syroco at that time, there was a good chance the then-owners would have closed it down. Vassallo has invested in excess of $10 million. They provided the energy, passion and enthusiasm to take this over,'' Carrock said.
Now, Syroco owns more than 1,000 houseware molds.
Vassallo has 2.4 million square feet of plant space in the United States as it has worked to move beyond building and construction end markets.
Chiry Vassallo was a featured speaker at Plastics News' 2006 Executive Forum, where he talked about issues like the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement, for which he lobbied aggressively.
``I think the industry should know more about CAFTA because those things in the long run will help our industry go to those countries,'' he said at the time.
Though he grew his business aggressively into the U.S., Vassallo and his family were based in Ponce, where Vassallo Industries is headquartered. There, Chiry Vassallo and his wife, Olguie, worked to establish the Salvador Vassallo Foundation, a not-for-profit fund that raises scholarship money for needy children.
``My father and mother believed that the way a society grows is through education,'' Rafael Vassallo, who is president of Vassallo Industries and vice chairman of Syroco, said in a Jan. 28 telephone interview.
``That's why they organized this,'' he said. ``Last year, my father and this is on his personal character, donated 6 acres of land to establish a community to become the Center of Education for Children with Autism for the Caribbean. It would be the first center established for the Caribbean,'' Rafael Vassallo said.
At Syroco and throughout other Vassallo plants, the loss will be felt, Carrock said. Chiry Vassallo spent the week before his death at the factory in New York, greeting employees on the factory floor and in the office.
``He was a true friend of Syroco,'' Carrock said. ``His energy was unending in stabilizing the growth of Syroco. For that we will forever be grateful.''
Vassallo returned to Puerto Rico and spent Saturday morning in meetings with Rafael. The succession planning will name Rafael Vassallo chairman.
``Obviously, it's a vacancy that will be very hard to fill due to the fact that my father had so much knowledge of the industry,'' Rafael Vassallo said. ``Basically, his thoughts and ideas were, that when he brought me to work for him here in Puerto Rico, to show me the business. His idea was to be my master and teacher, to learn the business. He was my best friend, my mentor. He was the guy that I would look up to.''
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Salvador Vassallo Foundation.