INVESTING IN CERAMICS: Continuing a Fine Tradition
A lot of people in the ceramic industry knew Allan Ramming. As owner and president of Electro Abrasives Corp., Buffalo, N.Y., he helped numerous ceramic and refractory manufacturers improve their products and solve technical challenges. But he was more than just a materials supplier-most people who knew him also considered him a friend. When he passed away on June 25, 2003, after a brief illness, many in the industry mourned the loss.
For Al's family, his passing was particularly difficult. But his daughter, Kristine Ramming, who is now the president of Electro Abrasives, is determined to continue the tradition of high quality and superior customer service that Al began when he started Electro Abrasives in 1987.
"Al was an outstanding leader. He always valued his relationships with customers and wanted to provide them with the best possible product. He was very ethical and moral in everything that he did. We want to continue that legacy," Kristine says.
Investing in SuccessPrior to 1987, Electro Abrasives was the Abrasives Division of first Electro Refractories and Alloys Corp., founded in 1919, and then Ferro Corp. starting in 1968. When Al Ramming joined the division in 1971, he was assigned the task of expanding its product lines beyond Ferro's internal applications. Ramming recognized the enormous potential of the Abrasives Division-but as happens in many large companies, the division gradually became less of a priority for Ferro. When Ferro decided to sell the division in 1987, Ramming and other Abrasives Division managers stepped up to the plate, buying the division and hiring some of the existing personnel.
"Before working at Ferro, Al had worked at what was then Carborundum for a number of years, so he had a lot of experience in the silicon carbide industry. He had quite a vision for what the company could achieve," says Kristine.
Within a year, Al had expanded the company to incorporate equipment for the wet processing of silicon carbide powders, which vastly improved quality, and he also implemented improvements to the crushing plant. By 1990, a new custom-designed quality control software system was installed to better document and control the granular materials being produced by the plant, and in 1992 and 1993, the company revised its quality system to integrate statistical process control.
But Al recognized that simply improving the quality of existing product lines wasn't enough; with the help of Kristine, who was then at Alfred University studying marketing and business administration, he began to investigate the potential for boron carbide powders. In 1994, the company opened a new boron carbide plant, and also expanded its silicon carbide powders plant to double its capacity. One year later, Electro Abrasives added a green silicon carbide wet classification powder plant, and in 1996 and 1997, it expanded its boron carbide powder plant to meet increasing demand.
"Under my dad's leadership, the company achieved far more than anyone had ever anticipated," says Kristine. "He was always putting money back into the company and trying to improve our operations. He was never out to make a quick profit-he had a lot of good relationships with customers, and he was continually trying to help them improve their operations. His vision helped him anticipate demands."
A Smooth TransitionFor Kristine, learning the abrasives business was initially challenging. After graduating from Alfred University in 1993, she briefly pursued several other careers before joining Electro Abrasives as product manager in 1997.
"It took me a couple of years to really learn enough from my dad so that I could take charge of that job," Kristine remembers. "Al adopted a 'hands-off' training method, and I was often on my own while he traveled, which accelerated the transition process. I learned a lot more when he wasn't here, because I didn't have that 'crutch' to lean on. After awhile, it became second nature for me to run the company while he was gone. I just kept getting more and more involved."
By the time Kristine learned of her dad's illness in early 2003, she had already earned the respect of her colleagues and numerous Electro Abrasives customers. Taking on the leadership of the company after her father passed away was a natural progression.
"My dad had always planned that I would take over the company eventually. Of course, we didn't think it would be this soon. But he was continually training me, and I was constantly learning, so my taking over as president in September of last year was a smooth transition," she says.
Ensuring Continued GrowthLike her father, Kristine is not content to allow Electro Abrasives to rest on its laurels. She has already overseen the installation of new inventory and accounting software, which has helped the company streamline its operations and increase its service capabilities. The company has also begun expanding into new applications, such as armor, and Kristine is pursuing woman-owned small business status to help some of Electro Abrasives' customers garner contracts through the U.S. government.* The company is also planning another expansion in the near future that will increase its ability to produce finer-sized powders while also increasing capacity for its boron carbide powders.
Custom products continue to be Electro Abrasives' specialty. But, says Kristine, the company doesn't just wait for customers to approach them with a problem. "We try to be proactive and do research that we think will benefit our existing customers, then approach them with potential solutions. For instance, if we see that a company is buying a product that is more expensive than it needs to be, or maybe it's buying a product from overseas, we can help them select alternative materials that can potentially add dollars to their bottom line and give their customers a better commercial product. We're constantly looking for new ways to help our customers, and developing solutions that they might not even have considered," she says.
As for the company's legacy, Kristine is well on her way to creating one of her own.
"It's not enough to simply meet customer's needs-we strive every day to treat our customers better than they expect to be treated, and give them better quality and faster deliveries than they anticipate," she says. "Electro Abrasives continues to be a very strong company, and we are committed to remaining very quality- and service-oriented."
*To foster an equitable federal procurement policy, the U.S. government has established small business goals, in terms of a percentage of annual expenditure. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) negotiates the goals annually with each federal agency on an individual basis. Currently, the overall small business goal is 23%, which includes a specific goal of 5% to women-owned small businesses (WOSB). For more information about this and other small-business programs, visit http://www.sba.gov .
For more information about Electro Abrasives and its products, contact the company at 701 Willet Rd., Buffalo, NY 14218; (800) 284-4748 or (716) 822-2500; fax (716) 822-2858; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org ; or visit http://www.electroabrasives.com .
Electro Abrasives' Products at a Glance
- Black silicon carbide
- Green silicon carbide
- Wire sawing abrasives
- Boron carbide
- Brown fused aluminum oxide
- White fused aluminum oxide
- White calcined aluminum oxide
- Synthetic cryolite
- Tin oxides
- Cerium oxides