Jim Westman was new to the plastics industry when he bought injection molder Octex LLC. He had a lot to learn but, being familiar with buying and selling companies, he knew a good investment when he saw one.
“Strangely enough, my first, and only, job in plastics is as the CEO of Octex, which I purchased in 2009. Prior to that, I was an investment banker specializing in mergers and acquisitions.
“I faced a steep learning curve when I arrived at Octex and still feel that I have a great deal to learn about this fascinating industry,” Westman said.
Westman started amassing his financial knowledge in college. Like many students, he worked during the summer. Unlike many students, he didn't work in his field of study, or do landscaping or sling hamburgers. He operated a grease truck in a shell pit at an aggregate excavation site. In Florida. In the summer.
“My job was to grease all the moving parts on drag lines, loaders and other heavy equipment,” he said. “Because the aggregate was primarily shell- and limestone-based, the entire 300-acre site was bone white, which magnified the Florida sun to the extent that we all took salt pills on a daily basis to avoid dehydration and sunstroke.”
Perhaps that experience helped motivate him to not only earn a bachelor's degree in accounting from the University of Florida, but to continue on to receive his MBA in 1990 from Emory University's Goizueta Business School in Atlanta.
After graduating, he took his know-how to Ernst & Young, working there six years. Then he co-founded his own company, Riverhawk Group LLC investment firm.
While he was helping others make deals at Atlanta-based Riverhawk, he found a few companies to invest in himself, including window and door profile extruder Vytron Corp. He still owns part of the company, which operates an 80,000-square-foot plant in Loudon, Tenn.
In 2009, banking on a resurgence in U.S. manufacturing and driven by his family's desire to live in Sarasota, Fla., Westman saw his opportunity, as the owner of Octex was looking to retire.
Sure enough, Westman's investment choice turned out to be solid. He began expanding the business significantly just two years later.
As part of a $7.6 million expansion in 2011, Octex bought the 33,000-square-foot building it had been leasing, along with 4 acres of adjacent land so it could add 26,000 square feet to the facility. The company bought new equipment, adding six presses to its stable of 22 at the time, added a clean room and still has 2 acres to spare.
“I know we're going to use [the acreage] but I'm not sure how, yet,” he said. There are options, including perhaps a standalone lab.
Octex also purchased a building across its parking lot, giving it 70,000 square feet between the two, he said.
Westman wouldn't disclose current Octex sales, but the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported the figure at $20 million in 2011.
Since then the company has added micromolding equipment to boost its presence in the ever-expanding medical market. Octex also serves the automotive and consumer/industrial markets. Its next target is the defense industry.
Octex employs “a little north of 100” people, having gained 19 in June when it bought Choice Tool & Mold Inc. of Largo, Fla., for undisclosed terms. Choice Tool is handling Octex's work while maintaining its own customer base as a standalone operation.
The Octex staff is still growing. Westman's advice to new workers? “Be ready for an adventure, think outside the box and continually push yourself. To be a successful member of our team, you need to embrace and perpetuate our cultural mission to engage, innovate and evolve. Talent and fresh perspectives are needed for our culture to continue to flourish.”