How One Company Has Made the World a Better Place

By Tony Tedeschi

In 1970, barely a year into Whitford Corporation’s existence, Dave Willis, the company’s co-founder, made a trip to Crest Coatings, a new client in southern California, to deal with a problem with a Whitford coating for crepe pans.  The coating was coming loose from the cooking surface and turning a chalk white. An analysis showed that the client’s engineer had under-estimated the heat on the surface of the pan by some 200° F, i.e. it was not a problem with the coating but the specification for the coating that was needed.  Armed with the new spec, Willis returned to his company headquarters, in Pennsylvania, where his chemist, Paul Field, reformulated the coating to meet the new spec. However, just solving the problem and shipping the new formula to the customer would not satisfy Willis’s sense of how a customer should be treated.

“Dave and one of his engineers flew here and spent a couple of days with us to figure out how to make this material work,” Mike Erickson, Crest’s CEO, told me in an interview during my work on a manuscript that would become “The Whitford Way,” published by Amazon.  

While the successful application of a nonstick coating onto a pan used to make crepes was never going to have a significant impact on how the world turns, the attention to solving the problem became fundamental to how Whitford does business, whether it was the six-person operation it was at the time or the worldwide company it is today.  Whitford’s coatings are on everything from frying pans to the nuts and bolts on oilrigs, pistons in motor vehicles and air conditioners, molds for giant wind turbine blades, even fabric for athletic socks.

“If it hadn’t been for Whitford, the scope of fluoropolymer coatings would be a lot less than it is today,” Erickson explained.  

As I began to transcribe Erickson’s words, I was suddenly stunned by what I was typing.  I’d been at this writing project for almost two years by then and only because of that could I fully appreciate the significance of what Erickson had said.  The super slippery goop that Willis had foreseen as something he could sell has, over the decades, contributed greatly to a smoother running world. If you just consider the positive impact Whitford coatings have made on the millions of pistons they have coated, minimizing untold tons of greenhouse gases spewing into the atmosphere, the world is indeed a demonstrably better place in which to live.  

In a global economy where today’s must-have is tomorrow’s e-waste, Whitford manufactures a product necessary on a foundational level, in effect for any system with moving parts. Any system where corrosion decreases lifespan, where ease of release is a major factor.  Even in a world of rapidly changing technologies, some basic requirements remain unchanged.

In the process, Whitford has managed to achieve what all companies which intend to be there for the long term seek to achieve but few manage to actually accomplish: a future-proof business model.  How did all this happen? Some answers in “Nonstick Coatings: The Future-Proof Business Model?” beginning on Page 26. (in printed magazine)

– Tony Tedeschi

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