Three times an international conglomerate tried to buy George Ramirez’ company, Polibrid. And three times Ramirez had refused to sell his Brownsville-based industrial coatings business. Over a 30 year period, Ramirez had developed his ‘starter formula’ purchase into successful proprietary formula for solventless protective coatings and made Polibrid an industry leader.
“I’m an entrepreneur. If I was a real chemist, I wouldn’t have started Polibrid,” said Ramirez, describing his product as a grassroots approach to a problem. While crewing a yacht from Acapulco to his home in Los Angeles, he simultaneously got an immersion course in the business opportunities for protective coatings, the resins which complied with new EPA restrictions on solvents.
Formula in hand, Ramirez set up his low-profile company in Brownville where his cousin-investor lived. “Polibrid was regulatory driven. We were always most compliant of coating systems,” he said.
Little by little, Ramirez fine-tuned the product, producing small quantities of the unique coating which excelled in rugged and hazardous environments: lining water and wastewater treatment systems, on ships’ hulls, in brewery waste vats, on bridges. Don Crow of Delta Machine introduced Ramirez to Valley water systems engineers who gave Polibrid its first jobs. Ramirez recalled being so broke in the early days that he survived on food his employees brought him.
Within 10 years, Polibrid had customers in San Antonio and continued to grow.
“Everything is based on case histories, where have you applied it and how long it has lasted,” Ramirez said.
Polibrid was more expensive than other products, but it had proved to be cost effective because it lasted longer, was a flexible coating and had no shrinkage. Ramirez also had to overcome resistance to the expensive custom equipment required to spray Polibrid onto metal and concrete surfaces. But as buyers became convinced it was cost-effective technology, Polibrid earned a reputation as the top of the line product for water and wastewater systems in the U.S. In Australia and Africa, the demand for Polibrid came from mining applications, and in Brazil, breweries bought it to handle waste products.
“I remember the time when I knew every project going. Now it’s an accepted technology with record credibility in so many industries and environment,” said Ramirez.
Polibrid manufactured its coating for the U.S. market in Brownsville, cooking the resins in giant stainless steel vats and selling the product in 55 gallon drums that weigh almost 600 pounds. Licensees manufactured the product in Brazil, Thailand and Europe and established distribution networks. Polibrid sales had to be made at engineering level, during project specification which sometimes is years before the transaction actually takes place.
“My proudest accomplishment was when I could pay for 100 percent of my employees’ health insurance,” said Ramirez. A few years ago, he was drifting into semi-retirement, spoiled, he said by his 14 employees, who work without a time clock. He gives much credit to his right-hand man Klaus Meyer, general manager and head of international sales. “He’s one of those guys who, no matter what you give him to do, he does and he looks ahead,” Ramirez noted.
For more of this story by Eileen Mattei, pick up a copy of the July edition of Valley Business Report, on news stands now, or visit the “Current & Past Issues” tab on this Web site.