Gasworld caught-up with Matheson's Chairman and CEO Bill Kroll for an exclusive interview at the current GAWDA conference in Maui, Hawaii, where the company was celebrating 100 years of business for Japanese parent company Taiyo Nippon Sanso (TNSC), along with its family of distributors at an evening reception.

A previous incarnation of the parent company, Nippon Sanso, was formed 100 years ago, and Matheson (until recently Matheson Tri-Gas) has itself been in business over 80 years.

$quot;The significance is that we have a dedication to the industrial gas business, and also to the distribution business, both here in the US, in Japan and worldwide,$quot; Kroll explains.

The unique relationship between Matheson and TNSC has brought strength to the business, which is the world's fifth-largest industrial gas business, says Kroll.

In addition to its air separation plants, Matheson carries out research into welding gases, cutting gases, medical and specialty gases. $quot;So we have a very broad base to bring to our customers and to our distributors to bring to the marketplace and create value.$quot;

Keeping it in the family
Despite a certain amount of consolidation, the US market is notable for its numerous independent distributors, many of which are family owned and run.

Kroll explained that, while Matheson is happy to take distributors under its wing should they choose to sell, the company is also a big supporter of independents.

$quot;We think there is a role for the independent distributor, and we enable them in what we do,$quot; Kroll explained. $quot;We are also growing outside the US in distribution and we will continue to do that as well.$quot;

$quot;I think we've done a very good job, perhaps even compared to some of our competition, in how to strike an even balance in this area. We understand the importance of the family in family business and we will keep that going forward.$quot;

He cited Matheson's forthcoming helium plant in Wyoming and hinted at other announcements about expanding the company's capabilities around the world, which he said will offer distributors new growth and product opportunities.

In terms of the economic recovery, Kroll said that to some extent the company was safeguarded because it supplies so many different sectors with gases - some of which have been affected more than others. For instance, the welding sector, dependent on fabrication which has slumped - for example in the automotive sector - has taken one of the deepest hits (although Kroll is optimistic that welding has finally turned the corner).

$quot;However, it didn't take as deep a hit as the electronics business, which took about a 30-35% dip. $quot;Even so, electronics has now rebounded some 40% in terms of sales, and so is this year's biggest winner.$quot;

Emerging markets - such as electronics - as well as regions such as the Middle East and India are key to growth going forward. In some cases, businesses are operating more successfully even than two years ago. $quot;So I'm still pretty upbeat,$quot; Kroll concludes.