Almost two years ago Matheson Tri-Gas, as it was then known, acquired leading US distributor Valley National Gases (VNG) in a significant step forward for the Taiyo Nippon Sanso Corp. (TNSC) subsidiary.

Back then, VNG was the largest privately-held packager and distributor of industrial, medical and specialty gases, welding supplies and propane. The acquisition was described as creating a ‘tremendous opportunity’ for the Matheson Tri-Gas-TNSC business by adding distribution capacity throughout the Eastern and Midwest regions of the US.

Now, the newly re-branded MATHESON is already reaping the rewards of the smooth integration of VNG, as it strives to bring value to customers at all levels.

In an exclusive interview with gasworld magazine following news of the deal in 2009, Chairman and CEO William J. Kroll explained how the takeover of VNG gave the company distribution in areas of the US where it previously had no presence. He also described the advantages of many cross-selling opportunities going forward.

As we exclusively catch-up with Kroll again, almost two years after the deal was sealed, we’re assured that these opportunities are already being realised.

Asked if the integration of VNG had been as smooth and swift as first hoped, Kroll explained, “I am impressed with our team’s success here.”

“We embarked on our Nexus programme in January 2010. Nexus was an entire change of our organisation to tightly bond all of our operations around the world and in the US into a more effective customer-focused organisation that drives value at the customer though our Six Sigma Lean processes.”

“I am happy to say this (cross-selling) is a keystone of our efforts every day. We are augmenting this with more ‘solution selling’ driven by a large investment in commercial development areas in welding, food freezing, water treatment, helium recovery, burner applications – to name but a few.”

“We are striving to bring value to the customer at all levels of their businesses using our total product portfolio and technical expertise.”

With the VNG integration enabling MATHESON to bring added value to customers and reinforcing the company’s presence from coast to coast in the US, gasworld asked if MATHESON is now satisfied with its distributor network. Kroll gave a typically spirited response, “As a Lean Six Sigma company, we are all about continuous improvement.”

“We need to expand our independent distribution network while simultaneously looking for opportunities to grow our own distribution footprint. In short, we are working hard on all opportunities for growth.”

Reading between the lines of that response, one might suggest that there is more still to come from MATHESON as we enter a new year. The company, and Kroll in particular, maintains an optimistic outlook.

Riding that wave
Even during the thick of the global recession in 2009, Kroll spoke of the need to be riding the wave of recovery as it mounted.

That’s a philosophy our interviewee maintains, “This was paramount to our team then and is the focus of all we do each day. Through our reorganisation in our Nexus Project we have consolidated best practices in our business, reduced costs, and invested in new and improved manufacturing locations that improve both the service level while enacting product solutions that bring value to the customer that is measureable.”

“We all would have preferred more of a vigorous turnaround in all our markets since Electronics and Solar had a stellar recovery. However, we are pleased with our organic growth and believe we are riding the wave out.”

“I believe the answer here certainly lies in the numbers reported to shareholders,” Kroll continues, “The other signal is the confidence by our parent, which is signified by further investment in Matheson.”

“Since we last spoke you will note we have invested in India and are operating in Pune as Matheson K-Air. We purchased Western International in the US, who is a significant seller of acetylene gas ‘solutions’ along with propylene and other fuel gases. We have broken ground in Wyoming on a new helium plant as a JV with our partner Air Products. I believe actions speak more than any words I must say; I always use actions going forward as a measure in the confidence of the company and business model.”

Stay tuned
Kroll assures us he’s confident in MATHESON’s position on that wave as we all move into 2011, and emphasises that the aforementioned Six Sigma business strategy is at the heart of the company’s plans as it moves forward.

Describing the ongoing focus MATHESON adheres to, he explains, “Rob, I must say that through our focus on executing the strategy we put in place in early 2008, I firmly believe we are on track. I have listened to a friend that told me to have a 15-year plan, the right people on the bus and finally, have those right people in the right seats!”

“Are we 100%? We are a Lean Six Sigma group and perfection is difficult, however, we have learned this and that you cannot be a Six Sigma company with three Sigma people. We continue to improve and remain focused.”

“We treat our business in a manner that if we miss a product cycle or improvement we may not exist in the same way after this. For example, I can point to Polaroid and Kodak. We are investing more than we ever have in both application development and research. We also balance the investment in our ‘core’ business with experimenting at the edges.”

Concluding, Kroll suggests the company could soon be giving us even more to talk about in the near future and encourages, “Stay tuned for us to bring further change and adaptation to our business model in these rapidly changing times.”