A Team Member Perspective - Meeting Jim West changed my life forever
The idea of establishing a rubber manufacturing company was born during a visit by the purchasing manager of the penicillin factory, Chemie Grunenthal in Stolberg. He asked whether I could produce rubber stoppers for penicillin bottles. I did some research and realized rubber stoppers were needed for lots of different types of medicine and there wasn’t currently a company specializing in this field.
In 1960, I founded Pharma-Gummi. We were all obsessed with the vision of becoming the number 1 in our field as a supplier and partner to the pharmaceutical industry. In the first few years, I supplied Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The demand increased so much, I could hardly keep up with the orders coming in. I didn’t have a vacation in 20 years! The first premises I had in Vicht quickly became too small. After about five years we had no more space to store our finished goods, so we had to use the pavement as a dispatch warehouse!
It was an old building that wasn‘t ideal. In the 60s, the production of rubber products was extremely dusty and unclean. I was glad to have found a plot of land in Eschweiler. I built a modern plant that was 10 times bigger and a research building. In 1966 we were in. We kept Vicht as an experimental workshop for new production processes and products. We hadn’t been there for long when James A. West visited me at the beginning of 1967. After a brief greeting, Mr. West took a plastic bag out of his briefcase and poured the contents on the table. To my surprise, I saw almost the same items I had developed and launched through my company in Germany.
James had visited almost all my competitors in Europe at the time to find a partner on behalf of his father. I had some negative experiences with partners in the past. I had sworn to myself never to accept a partner again. When he asked me if I would be willing to partner with the West Company I replied "No, never!" He tried hard to convince me to change my mind. Following the meeting, I spoke to my best friend, Walter Meyer-Kahlen, about the offer. Walter was a lawyer and to my amazement, he also tried to convince me I should take this chance. He said an inflow of capital and know-how would give my young company better stability. He could also see it might lead to international growth. I therefore agreed on an initial exploratory meeting with Jim West. We had another four meetings before we finally agreed a deal, and I can honestly say I never looked back.
The cooperation between West and Pharma Gummi was not always easy, in fact it could be extremely difficult because we were operating in different markets, with different product and customs requirements. We started using a lot of West’s technology, and West benefited from our fantastic recipes and formulas and patents. And Jim, as I came to call him, became one of my best friends over the years.
In the early 80s I was thinking about my exit. I had hoped my eldest daughter would take over. After a year of working for me, she knocked on my office door and said “Daddy, I need to talk to you. I want to quit. I never imagined such a life. Since I've been working for you, we haven't seen our little sailing boat on the Ijsselmeer anymore. We hardly have Saturdays, Sundays. This is not life. I want to quit." That's when my world collapsed.
I had to accept none of my children had any interest in continuing my company. I had employed many people, not only in Germany but also in our European branches. I wanted to make sure these people had a secure future. West was already a 45% shareholder of my business, it made sense to transfer the rest of the shares to them when I retired in 1994, on my 65th birthday.
In that moment I felt sad. It was the first time in my life that I could not hold back my tears! I was proud to have founded the company and created so many jobs. We achieved many firsts over the years. When I hear the name West today, I always think of pharmaceutical rubber first, of course, but also of my late friend Jim West and his brothers Bill & Frank.
I’d like to finish my story by giving a message to West’s team members. I hope you feel proud to work in such a company. If you never lose sight of quality improvements and research and development opportunities, West will continue to be a market leader for the next 100 years.
For more stories and information on our 100th anniversary click here.