ROSS Controls - Over 90 Years of Leadership
Clanging bells and roaring sirens pierced the evening air one night in 1919. The urgency of the passing fire carriages alerted neighbors to the blaze erupting on a nearby street corner. The smoke billowing skyward lead the firemen to the scene: the Detroit Seamless Steel Tube Company was losing its struggle with a fire. By the time they arrived, the factory had been swallowed by flames. Neither the firemen nor the desperate crowds of employees trying to save their jobs could recuse the building. That night, the spark that created such damage also led to a new opportunity.
The co-founder of ROSS Controls, Charles A. Ross, was employed by the Detroit seamless as a process engineer when this major fire occurred. He had been working on a new steel tube piercing process, which used air valves to complete several steps. Unfortunately, the raging fire melted the air valves he needed to continue this work. Mr. Ross needed to replace these valves but he was at a loss because they were made in Germany. World War I had hurt Germany’s manufacturing sector badly, so any attempts to obtain the needed replacements would have been hopeless. Mr. Ross, or “Charlie” as he was known, decided to design and make his own manually operated valves in order to get production moving again.
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When other companies became interested in this new piercing process and visited the mill, they noticed his air valves. Not satisfied to simply replicate the German valves, Charlie changed the design to make the valves more durable and suitable to Detroit Seamless’ needs. He made the new and improved valves out of cast iron, which could withstand high temperatures. Charlie’s design was a six-ported, poppet-style, hand-operated air valve. He made the patterns and core boxes, and cast his own bodies and handles. Charlie used tappets, springs, and retainers from 1919 Chevrolet engines as the internal components of his first models. A modernized version of this original valve is still being produced today.
Soon enough, visiting customers inquired about purchasing some of his new valves to use in their own factories. With the blessings of Detroit Seamless, Charlie organized the manpower and investments to form a new company and fill these requests. Along with Charlie Ross, the original investors of the “Ross Valve & Manufacturing Company” were C.C. Rosser, H.E. Jackson, C.L. Stafford, Moore Kelly and StClair Cameron, the former Secretary and Treasurer of Seamless and grandfather and great-grandfather of the current ROSS Controls shareholders.
On June 27, 1921, articles of incorporation were submitted to the Michigan State Department. By 2:00 pm on July 1921, the papers were on filed and a business was born. A water valve company in Troy, New York owned the rights to the name “Ross Valve Company.” So, one year later, Charlie’s young business was renamed as “Ross Operating Valve Company.”
The Roaring Twenties was a time of fresh ideas and rapid change. Men returned home from The Great War with a new optimism and confidence. “Talkie” movies revolutionized the silver screen, and the first radio programs entertained the public and provided them with timely access to worldwide news. Led by Susan B. Anthony, American women won the right to vote and were an influential factor in the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibited the manufacture, sale or transport of intoxicating liquor. It was in this lively environment that the Ross Operating Valve Company, simply referred to as ROSS, set up shop and hired its very first employee-a master mechanic named Roland “Rollie” Camp.
The newly formed company began production in the corner of a warehouse building. Charlie labored here to improve his original hand valve. His work paid off for, in 1924, he was granted a patent for his design. It included a single supply, two outlets and a single exhaust, i.e. a four-ported valve. The design was so cleverly engineered that the original patent states, “…it is practically impossible for a workman to carelessly retard the action of the valve.” The valve was designed to be mounted to another surface within which the piping was built. John Pippenger, the author of a textbook on fluid power, remarked that that valve was likely the first interface-mounting valve, and the origin for the practice of base-mounting air valves – a revolutionary design!
Sales soon increased and, after two years in business, ROSS required expanded facilities and erected a new building at 6488 Epworth Street in Detroit. ROSS paid the building contractor with shares of stock in the new company. Little did the contractor know that this one building would be the start of a multi-million dollar, world-wide company! This move to a larger building allowed ROSS to work on expanding its product line. For example, by the late 1920’s, ROSS was manufacturing hand-operated air valves from pipe sizes 3/8” through 1-1/4”.
Rollie Camp also had no idea of what the future held for the company when he joined ROSS as its first employee. According to Rollie, ROSS’ home on Epworth was pretty important: it served as ROSS’ headquarters for about 25 years and saw the design of the nation’s first direct operated solenoid valve.
During the latter portion of the 1920s, ROSS experienced roaring growth that heralded changes in the company’s ownership. There were now three owners of ROSS: Charlie Ross, StClair Cameron, and George Bowen. Four of the original investors had sold their shares by the time Mr. Bowen joined ROSS in 1927. George brought his marketing knowledge to ROSS while StClair handled financial matters.
In order to protect their growing organization, ROSS’ founders entered into an agreement stating that control of the company would revert to the remaining partners should any of them pass on. This buyout agreement would protect not only the interest of the remaining shareholders, but also the company itself. It proved to be a wise decision because the remaining founders took on this responsibility with great consideration. In the following years, when the market crash of 1929 crushed many other American companies, these wise leaders helped ROSS survive and thrice in the future years.
Stock Market Crashes! Investors Lose All! These were the headlines in November of 1929. The stock and bond markets collapsed, leading of the failure of many banks and businesses and ushering in the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Compounded by a severe drought driving thousands of farmers off their land, these dire events created a painful era in U.S. history. The government tried to help the public with massive programs to create jobs and assistance to those in need. People who still had jobs worked with a new determination to secure their future.
At the same time the mighty Boulder Dam was being built, ROSS was beginning to flex its might in engineering design and development arena. Though the four-ported (four-way) hand valve was well establishes, Charlie was constantly expanding upon this basic idea. He added a vertical handle (as an alternative to horizontal) and developed variations for non-locking types, a spring return, an even a 2” size. Charlie also developed a whole line of valves (2-, 3-, and 4-way) operated by solenoids at the end of a lever. These were single solenoid, double solenoid, and double solenoid momentary valves. In addition, he introduced roller cams, treadles, and other lever operators. As a result of Charlie’s efforts, ROSS air valves were becoming known across many industries for the ruggedness and reliability in hot and heavy applications. They could not accommodate wet, dirty air, high and low temperatures and hostile working environments. ROSS valves were the maintenance department’s friend!
Though ROSS’ early years played out during some economically unstable times, ROSS kept moving ahead and expanding its business. One example of this expansion was the choice to form relationships with outside distributors. George Bowen signed a contract with S.G. Morris Company on January 1, 1932. The Morris Company would now represent ROSS from Cleveland. Shortly after this, he added distributor George Pearse to cover, as author John Pippenger noted, “…everything in the U.S. east of what Bill Morris could get to!”
Not content with only a domestic presence, George Bowen met Charles Pugh of Wellman Smith Owen Engineering Co. of England. In the resulting agreement Wellman became ROSS’ licensee for the world outside of North America. ROSS has become an international enterprise! Wellman’s interest in ROSS likely stemmed from the need for ROSS valves on Wellman’s own steel mill equipment. Wellman did sell ROSS valves though its few overseas steel mill equipment distributors, but mainly for maintenance requirements only.
Despite the fallout from the Great Depression, ROSS continued building its market throughout the U.S. and internationally. ROSS grew in size as well as product line. In fact, the product line had grown so much that model numbers had to be established. ROSS began using three digits with prefixes and suffices for numbering the products. For instance, the 3/8, four-ported valve was named the “101 handed valve” and the 3/8, four-way master valve was the “3/8 MV101.” Times were simple!
Mrs. Lillian Ross (Charlie’s wife) knew that the family name, Ross, was Germany for “horse.” Mrs. Ross suggested the company slogan, “The bridle for air horsepower”, which ROSS used for many years. Sadly, Charlie Ross passed away on April 11, 1939. At that time George Bowen was named President.
Families gathered around radios to hear news of the fighting. Almost everyone had a friend or relative in the military. There were frequent air raid drills and neighborhood blackouts and the most popular songs had lyrics like “Don’t sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me, till I come marking home.” Only 20 years after its first major global conflict, the world was once again at war.
In the 1940’s, ROSS valves were primarily used in welding, steel mill and press applications – all essential for the WWII effort. During that time, the product line expanded to include direct war applications, like operating bulkhead doors on some U.S. warships. ROSS was also indispensable to the many factories working to build up the United States’ arsenal. The U.S. Navy controlled ROSS’ wartime activities and arranged the company’s priorities to ensure the production of needed materials. Employees were only allowed to fill priority orders. ROSS received and “E” flag because 100% of the employees participated in the “Series E” bond purchase program designed to help raise funds to fight the war.
George Bowen, the new company President, was dynamic and customer-minded. He provided a fresh vitality to the company and helped to spread an attitude of warm friendliness to employees and customers alike. John Sainsbury joined ROSS about this time as General Manager. He was a production-oriented engineer who improves tooling, gauges, and drawings, and helped ROSS become a more formally organized company.
However, after only four years as president, George Bowen died unexpectedly on March 8, 1944. At that time StClair Cameron became the new head of ROSS.
Russ Cameron recalled, “When I returned home from service in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1945 at the end of the war, I was looking for a job, I was a 1941 graduate of the Carnegie Institute of Technology and was told I could either start my working life as an Industrial Designer at General Motors or I could join ROSS. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work for a company where my father was the boss…” He opted to join ROSS – a decision he never regretted.
Through John Sainsbury’s thrust, ROSS introduced its first pilot-operated valve into the market at the 1946 A.S.T.M.E show (American Society of Tool and Manufacturing Engineers) in Cleveland. These “pilot” valves actuated larger master valves. Though competitors introduced their versions at the same trade show, only the ROSS valves worked the wet, dirty, compressed air at the convention center. These 711 series valves greatly increased the demand for ROSS products and became a new world standard. In order to meet the new demand, the company rented extra factory space to produce its new pilot-operated series valves.
1946 also marked another important event – ROSS’ 25th year in business. “In honor of this anniversary, each employee received 25 silver dollars – one for each year!” recalls Lori Blomgren, who was working at ROSS’ accounting department at the time. “I can remember bringing all those silver dollars back from the bank, dividing them up, and handing them out to the surprised employees at the anniversary celebration.”
After only a brief three years as president, Ross’ father, StClair Cameron suddenly passed away on July 6,1947. John Sainsbury, who had previously been General Manager, was then elected President. He was the first president of ROSS who had not been one of the original investors or owners.
In the years following the end of WWII, sales jumped to over $1,000,000. Business was blooming, but ROSS was also gaining more competitors. Many of these post-WWII pneumatic valve entrepreneurs had received their basic training at ROSS. In fact, according to author John Pippenger, ROSS was known as “granddaddy of the American pneumatic valve business.”
In 1948, ROSS had outgrown its home and was again require to more to larger facilities. That year, ROSS moved from Epworth to a 12,800 square foot building on East Goldengate Avenue in Detroit.
The 1950s were a transitional decade for the U.S. A major war was over; new families were building new neighborhoods; businesses expanded, and the emergence of a controversial new kind of music called “Rock & Roll” strained the parent-child relationship. The television became a standard item in every home. The future seemed full of promise. However, it would take some wrangling with the U.S. tax authorities to bring this promise to ROSS. Lori Blomgren recalled, “The wartime tax practices left little in the way of prodits for [ROSS] to invest in expansion in the new decade. During the war there was a 90% tax rate on profits above a specified base year that was before the war. The year that was specified as [ROSS’] base year had been prior to some major new products and significant growth. By comparison, it was nearly profitless.” Lori made an appeal to the government on the company’s behalf and, after much work, finally succeeded in moderating these taxes by the early 50s.
Upon Mr. Sainsbury’s retirement in 1951, Russell J. Cameron, son of StClair Cameron, was named President. He took immediate action by announcing a three-pronged business expansion program:
- Expand the range of products offered
- Expand ROSS’ marketing geographically, both in North America and globally,
- Expand ROSS’ established industry markets beyond welding, presses, and steel mills.
Like many business during this postwar time, ROSS was growing rapidly.
To illustrate the expansion, ROSS went from a 70-page product catalog in 1950 to a 194-page catalog in 1960.
In 1953, ROSS again expanded its offices. The number of outside sales offices also doubled in this ten-year period. Contributing to its product range growth, ROSS introduced the monitored double valve in 1954 and developed the PACER® pilot in 1959.
To help encourage greater and more varied industry coverage, Russ developed the Enginair, an industrial pneumatics magazine, which was produced from 1955 through 1963. The Enginair served to better inform its readers of the many uses for pneumatic systems, as well as to help expand the market and applications for air controls. Russ was aided by distributors in the field who contributed application ideas and articles. The magazine was unique because there were no other industrial publications addressing applications for pneumatic power at the time. In fact, Enginair influenced one contemporary magazine to change its name from Applied Hydraulics to Hydraulics and Pneumatics, which is still in print today.
Also in the 1950s, the U.S. Navy needed help developing valves for their first atomic-powered submarine. ROSS has worked closely with eh Navy during the war years, so it asked ROSS for confidential assistance. ROSS collaborated with the Navy and, in 1954, the Nautilus was launched, equipped with ROSS valves.
The 50s brought about high-speed in-line valves, oil immersed solenoids, and the first parallel double valve with monitor in the world. With the latter product, ROSS emerged as a truly ground-breaking innovator of valves, but it was many year before this design was accepted as a “must” for press safety. Today, ROSS continues to be a leader in this field.
Jack Rowe was the Chief Operating Officer when the millionth valve was produced on September 12, 1956. The achievement of this milestone was cause for celebration. ROSS treated employees to a “Mystery Night” where they were asked to show up at the office with their spouses or dates, but were not told what their evening would entail. They were taken on chartered buses to a surprise destination (the Dearborn Inn) for a fine dinner. Following their meal, there was dancing to the music of a full orchestra. The millionth valve celebration was an evening remembered fondly by many employees for years afterward. The millionth valve was a popular 711 style, which had been gold plated. It is still proudly displayed at the corporate headquarters in Troy, Michigan.
Turbulence seemed to be the central theme of the 60s. The Berlin wall was erected. John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated. The first heart transplant was performed. For the first time, men walked on the moon. Free speech, “free love”, and campus protests were hailed by students around the world. It was a time of tremendous changes, and ROSS was changing too.
While the music of the 1960s “British Invasion” was becoming wildly successful in the U.S., ROSS was seeking its own success throughout Europe. The company’s product distribution did not penetrate the European market as thoroughly as had been expectd. ROSS refocused Wellman’s distribution efforts in 1958 to the British Isles only. ROSS set its sights on developing a subsidiary in Europe to produce and market ROSS products.
ROSS’ examination of the European market began with Germany. In this heavily-industrialized nation, Egon Gleich was hired as the European Management and Sales Consultatnt at the end of 1958. The following year he and Russ appointed ROSS representatives throughout Europe. Egon was appointed in June of 1960 as “Geschftsfuhrer,” or General Manager, of the newly formed “ROSS Europa.”
Ross Europa started out in the ground floor and basement of a building on Strassmann Alle in Frankfurt, Germany. Russ Cameron went over to help develop the fledgling business. Noted Russ, “With Egon, there was a sales manager, a financial manager, and a warehouse workman.’ After only six months Egon burst into my office and said “Excelsior, excelsior, Russ! Our sales exceed our payroll!” Within another year, ROSS has established representatives in most of the countries of Europe. Some of them still present ROSS in those countries today.
The decade of the 60s was a busy time for ROSS. The 2500 version of the L-G monitored double valve was introduced globally at the Milan, Italy industrial fair in October 1963. The HSR valve was introduced in 1964 and the L-O-X® (Lockout and Exhaust) valve was developed in 1963. There were also many special projects, such as the development of in-line valves for Packard Motor Company for use as “starter valves” in their diesel engines and “non-magnetic” versions for use on mine sweeper engines. ROSS also developed a complete line of in-line mounting air valves – 2-ways, 30ways, and 4-ways solenoid and air-operated. In addition, a whole serious of air-controlling elements was developed. Called the “wafer” or the “layer between” units, these valves were strategically located between the operator and the valve body. The wafer valves could perform various actuating functions and a whole air system/circuit could be developed. Wafer valves were used in the design of a tic-tac-toe machine for demonstration at the 1963 A.S.T.M.E trade show in Chicago. Players could try to out-guess the machine by operating a button at a time for an “X”. The machine would then respond with an “O”. During an exhibition, a chimpanzee operated the machine; this drew so much attention that ROSS even received television coverage.
In 1967, ROSS opened a 65,000 square foot Madison Heights facility. Administration and engineering operations remained at Goldengate, while manufacturing was now done at Madison Heights. A facility open house was held in the spring of 1968, showcasing the newest addition.
In 1969, ROSS purchased land in Langen, Germany (just outside Frankfurt) for construction of 32,800 square feet of offices and manufacturing facilities to later house ROSS Europa. Later, in 1972, ROSS Europa became a wholly-owned, limited liability subsidiary company, or “GmbH.”
Conflicts in the “emerging nations” seemed to increase during the 70s. As of 1972, you could count the conflicts (or the dollars spend on foreign aid) using something called a pocket calculator. 1973 will be remembered for the Watergate incident and the subsequent resignation of the US President, Richard Nixon. In the late seventies, the world was first introduced to the “personal computer”, but few people could think of any reason why they would want one. Then in 1979, there was another technological breakthrough: the invention of the compact disc. During the same years, there were also new innovations at ROSS…
During the first few years of the 70s, ROSS introduced the three-on-one series of base-mounted valves. There was the Series 70 with metal spools, the Series 71 with resilient seal spools and the Series 74 with poppets – all to interchangeably mount on the same base. No one had ever done this before!
AAn important patent to ROSS was the second version of the double valve with L-G monitor (Dominic DiTirro and Russ Cameron were co-inventors). Though ROSS received a patent for this innovative design in 1962, the product matured and became more widely accepted years late. The biggest boost came about after OSHA (Williams-Sieger Occupational Safety and Health Act) came into effect on August 1, 1971. This law incorporated clutch and brake standards for mechanical power presses previously established by ANSI (American National Standards Institute). As author John Pippenger noted, “(at the time this law evolved) ROSS double valves with self-monitoring features were already available to help users comply with these new safety regulations. ROSS had introduced many valves which provided safety far beyond that mandated by law.”
To further reinforce ROSS’ leading role in the press safety field the company developed and introduced its tandem flow SERPAR® double valves. ROSS received the prestigious Gold Medal Award for innovative design for this product at the 1977 Leipzig Trade Fair in Germany. ROSS was the only American exhibitor to win a gold medal for a product that year.
As part of the plans for global business expansion, Russ Cameron considered entering the market in Asia. By 1963, he arranged a contract with Sunny Ltd. to distribute ROSS products. On December 13, 1973, he established a wholly-owned subsidiary in Japan, ROSS Asia K.K. Isao Iwashito headed ROSS Asia from its inception until 1979 when Kaoru Nagayoshi took over. Revered as the central base for the Pacific Rim, offices were opened in the J.W. Thompson building in Tokyo with separate warehousing in nearby suburb.
In Japan, ROSS mainly served the press industry with in-line and double valves. Once ROSS Asia established itself in Japan, they discovered that, ironically, Sunny Ltd. had become a competitor. This is not surprising, as ROSS has historically inspired the birth of many, many competitors. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!
ROSS products were well known in the marketplace for their quality. Their physical appearance, however, was not always as distinguishable. Once when Russ Cameron called on a customer, his guide had trouble pointing out the ROSS products. So, hw went to work on the company’s visual image and developed a common style for shapes, and larger, more recognizable name plates. At the same time, ROSS began painting its product in what has become known as “ROSS gold” and in 1972, started using the simpler, more recognizable “double R” logo.
In 1970, some representatives for the largest and oldest North American distributors and associates from overseas met with ROSS personnel for a “Global Summit Meeting.” John Weldon respresented Weldon Engineering, ROSS’ largest distributor, located in Chicago, and Charlie Hallett represented S.G. Morris, ROSS’ oldest distributor. They met to exchange ideas and make plans for marketing ROSS products globally. By the end of the decade, ROSS had distributors and representatives in many countries outside North America.
The decade of the 80s posed challenges for many around the world. In 1981, scientists identitfied the deadly disease AIDS. In 1985, Mihail Gorbachev became the new leader of the Sovet Union, proposing glasnost (openness) and perestoika (economic reform). Toward the end of the decade, the environmental damage from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska shocked the world. Throughout this period, ROSS continued to move forward.
After operating in the United Kingdom as a division of Wellman Smith Owen, then later as an arm of ROSS Europa, ROSS decided to establish a wholly-owned independent subsidiary, ROSS U.K. Ltd. ROSS Europa covered product distribution in continental Europe only, making the U.K. a separate market. ROSS Valve U.K., as it was originally named, opened in Milton Keynes in 1984 with Ernie Johnson at the helm.
Back in the U.S., ROSS’ Engineering department had been developing its personnel throughout the years. But, many good people were lost in the early 80s to a strong recruiting drive by the automotive companies. At this time ROSS decided to expand its U.S. operations beyond the Detroit, Michigan area. The southern states offered a good, supportive business environment. ROSS assigned Joe Foster the task of screening and recommending to ROSS’ Board of Directors the best sites for a new ROSS location. After many trips for extensive study and review, property in Lavonia (in Northeastern Georgia) was chosen as the new site for ROSS’ Engineering and warehousing facility. ROSS later added manufacturing capabilities to the Lavonia facility. In this fresh new environment, the made-to-stock components came together nicely alongside new product development, and ROSS began to investigate computer aided design and manufacturing technologies (CAD/CAM).
At this time, the ROSS Asia operation had outgrown its separate office and warehousing locations. In 1982, ROSS merged these locations into a new facility in Sagamihara, Japan. ROSS leaders encouraged the use of supplied to begin some manufacturing along with expanded assembly and testing to better serve customers in the Pacific Rim. ROSS’ relationships with Asian customers and representatives grew.
ROSS has always been a leader when it comes to forming or conforming to standard base mounting interfaces. For example, the 700 series evolved into a French standard. ROSS was among the first to embrace the European development of the ISO 5599-1 standard and develop a whole series around it (1981). With the acceptance of S.A.E. for the U.S. Automotive industry-developed interface ROSS had products. ROSS has been proud to invite comparison with others on any standard interface.
During this decade, the fluid power industry went through many changed. Large multinational companies absorbed small companies. As a result, smaller, more common products were being produced in a commodity-like fashion, sales people became oriented to off-the-shelves salves, and production shifted overseas for cheap labor, so prices began to drop.
ROSS, a family-owned and directed company, had built a reputation on quality American-made products and was concerned about these trends. Henry Duignan, who came in as Chief Operating Officer in 1986, helped develop a strategy for ROSS to successfully face these challenges. Mr. Duignan helped introduce the benefits of “subjective-value manufacturing” to ROSS. In using this practice, one can produce products in “quantities as low as one for a customer and offer that customer an additional subjective value-added content not available in a mass-produced product.”
ROSS chose to pursue this direction by building on its close customer relationships and depth of technical expertise. ROSS invited the customers’ challenging applications– those, which required special technical attention. This became the basis for what is now known at the ROSS/FLEX® service. ROSS is still happily and successfully pursuing this direction today.
Life in the early 90s seemed to be a mixing bowl of sweet and sour. Germany, so long divided, was whole again.
Nelson Mandela was freed, followed by open election in South Africa. 1991 saw a short but substantial Persian Gulf War. Violent terrorism had become all too common. We witnessed the breakup of the Soviet Union, Middle East peace talks, and the opening of the “Chunnel,” a tunnel under the English Channel that connects the UK and continental Europe. Closer to home, ROSS felt the loss of its longtime leader and friend, Russell J. Cameron. But, as he would wish, ROSS took a deep breath and held steady on its course.
ROSS continued to bring many innovative, creative, and market-focused new products into the marketplace. In the mid-90s, ROSS introduced five new standard products: Double XX Systems, ISO 5599/II valves, Series 3200 hand valves, small Double Valves, and Bus Systems.
Along with changed in business, ROSS changed its name in 1995. Formerly known in North America as ROSS Operating Valve Company, it became ROSS Controls. This name reflects the company’s commitment to move beyond its historical position of a component supplier to the position of providing custom pneumatic and electro-pneumatic control systems as well as its outstanding pneumatic components.
Of course, any discussion of ROSS’ solid growth must include the business that the ROSS/FLEX® service inspired. With this revolutionary process, ROSS built trust and confidence with its customers by going beyond conventional roles. ROSS’ engineers worked closely with customers, designing solutions to meet their application needs. Prototypes that are designed and built can then be continuously improved to customers’ changing specifications at any time.
This unique process of partnering with customers was highly successful. Not only have ROSS’ customers been intrigued, but so has the media. As a result of the continued success of the ROSS/FLEX® process, business journals such as the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Industry Week, Enterprise, and Business Week published articles detailing the process and its benefits.
Tom Peters, a highly respected business consultant/speaker, was also impressed by this process. In “He Wants Your Job!” Peters points out that “[ROSS’]” answer to high volume, good quality, low cost challengers from the likes of China, is revolutionary approaches to applying workers’ imaginations to customer problems–– creating so much productivity improvement for customers, so fast, that even an $18 difference in hourly labor costs becomes immaterial.” This process improved ROSS’ competitive position in a strictly mass production based business. The rules were suddenly rewritten in ROSS’ favor. Noted Lewis J. Perelman in Forbes, “By integrating manufacturing, engineering, and marketing in one seamless function and solving problems in simulation before any physical material are cast, cut or shipped, ROSS can deliver such virtual products to its customers in 10% of the time…” What ROSS could now provide for customers was far beyond the reach of its domestic and international competitors – a problem-solving product that could be furnished virtually overnight.
One example of successful applictions of the ROSS/FLEX® process was for the mechanical power press industry. ROSS dominated the power press industry in the mid ‘90s. GM rebuilt major stamping plants, redoing the line after line with products developed with the ROSS/FLEX® process. GN also purchased entirely new press lines, always specifying ROSS products. During this period GM began sourcing from IHI in Japan, and ROSS Asia became intimately involved. Chrysler, and to a much smaller extent, Ford were also active with ROSS on these press projects.
Another key area for ROSS/FLEX® was the glass bottle blowing industry. In the nineties, this industry included half a dozen major equipment manufacturers such as Emhart, Maul, Yamamura, Owens-Brockway and others. ROSS Europe, ROSS Asia, and ROSS NAO (USA) all competed hard for this business against such world-class players as Mac, Festo, Parker and Numatics. It was a chaotic market during this period, but ROSS established an edge in this industry, which would lead to dominance in later years.
In addition, CNBC, the United States Department of Defense, and PBS have all done video features on ROSS. Word Sure gets around! Not unlike the visitors who marveled at Charlie Ross’ innovative hand valves in 1920, customers catching wind of this great new process have inquires, “Where do I place my order?” As you can see, ROSS/FLEX® has proven to be a valuable addition to both the customers’ resources and to ROSS’ business.
The ROSS/FLEX® process has continued to grow and contribute to the business both in the U.S. and at the international subsidiaries. As the Internet and other computing technologies became a necessity, ROSS continued to harness computer-based tools for increasingly sophisticated product design and business processes.
Since ROSS’ first overseas distribution agreement in the 1930s, the company had come a long way by the late 90s. In addition to the three foreign operations, there were now over fifty overseas distributors. ROSS developed strong relations and established a solid reputation in the European and Asian markets, thus strengthening its position in the fast-emerging global economy.
In 1992, Mamoru Tsuji came aboard as the new head of ROSS Asia. ROSS Asia moved into a newly constructed and larger building in 1995. It added manufacturing and is now developing ROSS/FLEX® service capabilities. It expects to rapidly grow and expand into the next century through the emerging Pacific Rim countries.
As for the U.S. operations, the Lavonia facility in Georgia added more space and equipment in 1995 to nearly match the capacity of its sister plant in Madison Heights, Michigan. Madison Heights has added sophisticated, newer computer based equipment and developed a long-term plan to fine tune its cell manufacturing process. The facility has also been modernized to create a more pleasant environment for employees and visitors.
In early 1966, Russ Cameron stepped down as Chairman of the Board. It was at that time that Dr. Joseph Champagne, a long time board member, was elected Chairman. Additionally, Mr. Cameron passed on his title as company President to Steve Demster, who has joined ROSS in 1994 as Chief Operating Officer. Mr. Cameron remained Chief Executive Officer until his death in June of 1996 at age 77.
Throughout his fifty years at ROSS, Russ guided the company through many different industry eras. Always looking forward, he made certain that ROSS would be secure for the future in order to carry on its role as a leader in the industry. “Russ was truly a man of vision, innovation, and creativity who carefully prepared this company for the 21st century,” said Dr. Champagne.
Mr. Cameron’s innovation and creativity were not limited to his business life. He was also known for his artistic passion : sculpture. Perhaps Ed Hart, his closest friend, offered the clearest understanding of Mr. Cameron, the artists. “Art was his second voice; he could say things he believed were important and people enjoyed hearing the message. He loved it,” explained Hart.
Russ Cameron, over the last decade of his life, had succeeded in his planned transfer stock ownership of ROSS into the capable hands of his children and grandchildren. StClair, Diane and Keith, his three children, have all been longtime members of the Board of Directors.
The ROSS Controls Shareholders and Board of Directors Rise to the Occasion
With over fifty years of employment with ROSS Controls, most of that time as President and CEO, Russ could be formidable in pushing the Board in the direction he wanted to go. Following Russ’ death there were nine members of the Board, Joe Champagne (Chair), StClair Cameron, Keith Cameron, Diane Cameron Swanson, George Seifert, Ed Hart, Marylin Brooks, Fran Engelhardt, and Steve Demster. The years immediately preceding Russ’ death (1995 and 1996) had been boom years for ROSS North American Operations. This was in large part driven by very heavy capital spending in the big three automotive press shops, particularly General Motors. In the late 90s, ROSS struggled to overcome the double hit of the loss of RUSs and the declining North American business base. Joe Champagne’s greatest challenge was to transform the Board into an active Board directly involved with the senior management team and the strategic issues the company faced.
The Board in 1997 decided to update the corporation’s strategic plan. This effort was inspired by consulting work George Seifert was doing with other companies at the time and his highly structures approach to a strategic plan. During the five years following Russ’ passing, the shareholders and Board worked increasingly well together and emerged from the 1996-2001 “difficult years” as effective and insightful forces for change and improvement at ROSS. During these transitional years, George Seifert, Fran Engelhardt, and Marylin Brooks left the Board. Dennis Pawley, formerly head of Chrysler’s Manufacturing Group joined the Board in 2001. He brought a wealth of manufacturing and HR experience to the Board and was the passionate advocate of ROSS adopting lean techniques globally.
For the fluid power industry, this period was far more than a mild recession. This economics downturn hit fluid power with a vengeance. In a short period in 2001, ROSS’ net sales to customers fell by more than 25%. Over ROSS’ 2002 business year, it suffered the largest single year financial loss in its history. While taking the actions necessary to stabilize the company, the management cut North American Operations personnel by roughly 25%, affecting every department.
At this time, ROSS was in the process of starting ROSS South America and ROSS Controls India, which required large amounts of investment. The Board of Directors debated heavily whether the company should stem the losses and stop the expansion into India and Brazil. Much to the Board’s credit, and to ROSS’ later benefit, the Board elected to continue with the ambitious expansion plan.
A key factor in ROSS weathering the brutal economic situation was the fact that the company, despite the losses, was able to continue generating cash throughout the recession. This was the result of a number of factors, one of which included adopting lean principles throughout the organization. Nonetheless, the downturn was largely a North American issue; ROSS’ subsidiaries continued to be a net positive for the corporation.
Rethinking Strategy – Getting Real About “Industry Focus”
Toward the end of the recession another significant change took place at ROSS. For years, ROSS had pursued a strategy of avoiding the commodity brawl in the fluid power industry with the giants like SMC, FESTO, Parker-Hannifin, and IMI/Norgren. The Board and management rightly believed that the human and capital required to pursue a competitive global commodity strategy was beyond the reach of a mid-size company like ROSS. As a result, ROSS focused its efforts into being a niche supplier to key industries, which has used its products over the years. Commodity valves were getting smaller. ROSS products were big, but very durable.
During the ‘belt tightening’ of the early 2000s, ROSS management conducted a strategic planning meeting. The outcome of this meeting was the formalization of a new strategy, based on the company’s historical strengths. One of the elements of this new strategy included identifying a reduced number of industries on which to focus new product development and marketing efforts.
Over the next five years, this philosophy brought much success.
The New Subsidiaries
By 2000, it was obvious that a major world-wide restructuring of manufacturing was underway. For various economic and political reasons, many industries, such as steel production and processing, foundries, aluminum reductions (from alumina to ingot), and metal stamping, physically relocated from traditional areas such as North America, Europe, and Japan to locales including Brazil, India, and China. Because these industries comprise a large segment of ROSS’ customer base, ROSS has to adjust its strategy to meet the needs of customers operating in these new locations. The BIC Project was born. Management and the Board decided to create new subsidiary companies in Brazil, India, and China. It was decided to tackle Brazil and India first as a management believed that creating operations in China would prove a more formidable challenge.
The Brazilian Project
Bob Winsand, a former member of the corporate Planning Group under Russ Cameron, led ROSS’ efforts in Brazil. Bob made a series of trips to Brazil to investigate the market, the economic environment, the competition, the labor market, and the myriad of legal and tax challenges ROSS would face in this new venture. ROSS had for years held a commanding position worldwide in the field of mechanical power press safety devices and systems – everywhere but in Brazil. Bob found that the press industry was alive and well in Brazil, so there would be room for ROSS to enter the market. Furthermore, the Brazilian government was in the process of enacting regulations similar to those in the US and Europe, which would require User companies to retrofit the 30,000 presses in Brazil with double safety valves. The enactment of these new regulations would create growth opportunities for manufacturers who could supply products meeting the new regulatory requirements.
An analysis of the market potential and an ROI study showed that ROSS should be able to do very well in Brazil. Management decided to make the press industry the focus of ROSS’ initial efforts in that country. One of ROSS’ greatest challenges in establishing a sales office included securing a staff with broad-based knowledge of the local fluid power market and a focused knowledge of the press industry. ROSS has always operated overseas with the philosophy, “think globally, act locally”, and was keen to hire local talent. We were fortunate to hire Jose Carlos Bento as General Manager of ROSS’ new subsidiary ROSS South America. Jose had 16 years of fluid power experience with a specific focus in the press industry. In a short periods of time an experiences team of press specialist has joined RSA. With many years of accumulated fluid power experience, ROSS South America was poised to successfully enter the market.
Jose and Bob chose Sao Bernardo, a suburb of Sao Paulo, to locate the RSA office. At that time, the state of Sao Paulo generated over 30% of the total GDP of Brazil and nearly 50% of the manufacturing output. It was the automotive center of Brazil and contained most of the 30,000 presses. In addition, virtually all the Brazilian press manufactures were located there.
On March 16, 2001, ROSS South America opened its doors with a celebration attended by Brazilian customers, supplies, and ROSS partners from all over the world. With the outstanding nucleus of personnel, RSA was like a rising sun in Brazil. ROSS soon captures a major portion of the OEM business and became the company to be with in the press industry. Within a very short period thereafter, RSA successfully created strong positions in several other industries and was operating on a profitable footing. The staff at ROSS South America also established themselves as one of the most innovative groups of people in the company, including several strategic patents to their credit.
The India Project
The establishment of a ROSS subsidiary in India ran parallel with the Brazilian project. Neil Stanford, the General Manager of ROSS United Kingdom, led this effort. In many respects, Neil’s task was similar to that of Bob Windsand’s in Brazil, but the market situation in India proved more complex. Indian culture was not nearly as homogeneous as that of Brazil. As opposed to Brazil’s one language, one religion society, Indian society consists of at least twenty-eight different languages, hundreds od distinct ethnic identities, and a half-dozen major religions. India’s economy grew at a prodigious rate, and the market segment opportunities for ROSS, through numerous, would require a more complex strategy.
of establishing a company. Banerjee and Stanford began to call on customers in key ROSS industries throughout the country. They told the ROSS story over and over again to companies dealing in presses, steel processing, aluminum processing, and glass bottle making. One of the unpleasant discoveries early on was that the Indian press industry was more depressed than expected. Another challenge in the press industry was that Indian press companies did not yet appreciate the need to acquire products having the quality and capability levels that ROSS press safety devices brought to their machines. This lack of appreciation was reflected in the rather low level of safety in mechanical power presses dictated by Indian safety standards.
As a result, ROSS entered India initially with a focus on glass bottle making as the lead industry. Banerjee had known the Somany family for years. The Somanys owned Hindusthan National Glass (HNG), the largest producer of glass bottles in India with plants throughout the country. The gamily also owned a Glass Equipment Company, a company near Delhi re-known for producing glass bottle blowing machines.
At that time, the president of HNG was Sanjay Somany, a member of the second generation of the gamily to operate the business. Sanjay was a man very knowledgeable about American having traveled extensively in the USA and having received his engineering degree from General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) near Detroit.
While an adept salesman in the glass bottle marketplace, Sanjay’s talents also included technical expertise. As a trained engineer, he demanded constant change and improvement in the bottle blowing machines manufactured at Glass Equipment Company. Sanjay was very familiar with the capabilities of ROSS Europa in the design and manufacture of pneumatic glass blowing devices. He was also impressed with the ROSS/FLEX® process for rapid new product development.
Sanjay made a deal with Stanford and Banerjee. He promised them that is ROSS opened a company in India, he would move his business to ROSS and give them a try. On the strength of this commitment, Banerjee and Stanford began the steps to open ROSS Controls India, and ROSS Europa began the task of designing the new family of ROSS/FLEX® glass valves for HNG. The ROSS – HNG relationship proved beneficial for both companies, as HNG would provide the ROSS startup with immediate stability, and ROSS satisfied Sanjay’s desire for continuing innovation in his glass bottle blowing machines.
The process for opening a company in India proves complex and challenging, but in August of 1999 the Indian government issued RCI a license to operate. The decision was made to base ROSS Controls India in Chennai, in the southern province of Tamil-Nadu on the Bay of Bengal. RCI opened its doors in April of 2000 and was officially dedicated with a colorful ceremony in June of 2000. RCI’s fortunes have been constantly growing from the day its doors first opened. The company has diversified its product and industry profile and has become a consistent profit center for ROSS.
The China Project
The story of ROSS in China starts with the steel industry. In 1985, Carl Nagayoshi, then General Manager of ROSS Asia, made a trip to China to generate new business. He brought with him several ROSS technical personnel and made a call on BaoShan Iron and Steel Group (later Baosteel) in Shanghai. Baosteel was the largest steel company in China and the sixth largest in the world. The event was planned and organizes for Baosteel by a young Bao employee, Yang Jia Yi, who almost 20 years later would become the General Manager of ROSS Controls (China). In 1993, Russ Cameron visited China to investigate expansion opportunities into that country’s fluid power market. Mamoru Tsuji, the recently appointment President of ROSS Asia, and Yang Jia Yi escorted Russ on his trip. When Tsuji decided in 1996 to establish a liaison office in Shanghai to reap the opportunities Russ discovered, the individual Tsuji hired to run the liaison office was Yang Jia Yi.
In an era when many commodity-based American manufacturers moved their plants to China to reduce costs, ROSS’ need to a facility in China rested on a different foundation. ROSS’ strategy was not a commodity based one. A commodity strategy usually dictates that the successful competitors have a very low cost process for procuring the materials and putting the product together. This is because the typical discrimination point for commodities is price. ROSS had long before decided that its strategy was to be one of adding value for the customer through flexible engineering and manufacturing. ROSS was not the least expensive pneumatic product, but for the customer who needed durability and a product, which fit his needs perfectly, ROSS was the one. With these ideas in mind, ROSS drafted John Smith as the project lead on building the ROSS subsidiary, which came to be known legally as ROSS Controls (China).
On May 25, 2002, John Smith and Don Jamison, the plant manager at ROSS’ Georgia facility, visited China to learn about the capabilities and depth of components suppliers and to probe into ways of establishing RCC. This trip served as the inaugural visit for the purpose of setting up RCC Over the next several years, John Smith, Mamoru Tsuji, Don Jamison, and Jimmy Hunter, ROSS’ Materials Management and Customer Service Manager, made a number of trips to China to learn about the business culture and to test the validity of ROSS’ proposed strategy. These visits included visits to numerous local pneumatic suppliers. In additions, Marci Jobe, ROSS’ Corporate Counsel, completed the legal research and foundation to create the legal entity ROSS Controls (China). ROSS chose to locate RCC in the Jiading section of Shanghai, an area teeming with many foreign manufacturers. On February 24, 2006, RCC was formally established. Many ROSS family members from around the world and nearly 70 other guests, including the Chair of the Chinese Pneumatics Association, attended this grand ceremony.
RE, RA, and RUK–A Time of Reinvigoration ROSS EUROPA
During this exciting time of the birth of three new ROSS subsidiaries, things were not standing still in the established subsidiaries at ROSS Europa, ROSS United Kingdom, and ROSS Asia. In 1980, Achatz von der Schulenberg had become the new General Manager of ROSS Europa, replacing retiring Egon Gleich. RE expanded its manufacturing plant in 1988, and significantly increased the sophistication of the operation through added CNC machining capabilities, added CAD/CAM equipment and the introduction of the ROSS/FLEX® process to their market. The addition of state-of-the-art CNC equipment has also helped it to increase and expand its production capabilities.
In 1996, Ernst Voss joined the company and eventually became General Manager of RE. Under leadership of Ernst Voss, ROSS Europa made major changes in how it operated. These changes in how it operated. These changes left to major successes in the marketplace. RE emphasized making the ROSS/FLEX® process work in its market. Despite a depressed German national market, RE’s formalized group of five ROSS/FLEX® personnel created several very innovative products and marketed them successfully. In addition, RE’s technical talent proved essential to ROSS’ success in India. Most of the new design work for ROSS Controls India and HNG was done in Langen over a two-year period.
During this same period, ROSS’ longtime distributor in France, Aymard de Jourdan, expressed a desire to retire and sell his company, Dimafluid. Aymard has been one of the early pioneers for ROSS in Europe, opening his distributor shop in the 1950s. Over the years Dimafluid created a major position for ROSS in the French automotive industry and other industries utilizing metal stamping machinery. Within a few months of Aymard’s decision to retire, ROSS negotiated a deal with him to purchase Dimafluid. In 2007 Alain Benoit retired as the first General Manager of the ROSS owned Dimafluid. He was succeeded by Alain Genter, a French national with fluency in four languages and an outstanding business background. ROSS Europa began developing its own electro-pneumatic products during the mid-2000s. RE contracted with a local engineering company to co-develop a highly successful electro-pneumatic proportional valve family. In addition, the new ROSS/FLEX® projects and standard products developed by ROSS Europa during the early to mid-2000s led to outstanding sales and profit growth in RE during a period when European manufacturing was quite depressed.
ROSS Asia K.K.
In the 90s, at the urging of ROSS Asia, the decision was made to introduce ROSS/FLEX® into its business and to expand the manufacturing base in Sagamihara from light assembly and test to full machining. This led to the 1994 decision to build a new plant capable of handling the expanded manufacturing concept, In one oif the last overseas trips in his life, Russ Cameron traveled to the 1995 RA dedication and planted two Michigan apple trees to commemorate the event.
During the late 90s and early 200s, ROSS Asia became focused on providing solutions to customers rather than simply providing components. RA established the CrossFlow 2 double valve as the standard double valve for small presses throughout Asia. RA almost single handedly made the CF-2 the largest selling double valve in the world. RA built up a remarkable relationship with SEYI of Taiwan and china. One of the largest press markers in the world, SEYI adopted ROSS as its sole supplier of clutch and brake control valves.
RA has also produced many ROSS/FLEX® successes from its engineering department. In addition, RA has developed several excellent new standard products and won a substantial grant from the Kanagawa Prefecture to build a sophisticated and innovative test facility for one of those products. RA has also been a source of unique engineering innovation, including being the corporation’s center of expertise for computer simulation of flow conditions (Computational Fluid Dynamics) as well as the lead expert in Finite Element Modeling.
Another of RA’s major contributions to the ROSS world has been the drive to create ROSS business in China. Under RA leadership, ROSS went from relatively minor sales in China to over $1,000,000 per year in a short period of time. It was also RA’s persistence, which led to the RCC project and ROSS’ direct presence in China. Mamoru Tsuji and his team were vital to the establishment of that company in Shanghai.
ROSS UK Ltd.
In 1992, ROSS U.K. moved into larger quarters in Brackley, Northamptonshire. During this time of change, the RUK Manager Ernie Johnson died suddenly. Ernie was replaces briefly by “Mik” Timmons. In June of 1994, Neil Stanford was hired as General Manager of ROSS U.K.
During the early 2000s, RUK moved to its third location since inception. It had first been located in Milton Keynes, then Brackley. Due to fundamental changes in the ROSS’ marketplace in the U.K. it moved to Birmingham, in the heart of a major segment of ROSS’ business. It was after his move that RUK entered one of its most sustained periods of profitability.
Major changes impacted RUK’s customer base. Foreign companies including Ford and BMW bought up the automotive business in the U.K. Also foreign car penetration of the U.K. market strained domestic manufacturers. Plants closings hurt the small press shops, which comprised a large part of RUK’s business. Steel was depressed in England, as signified by the sale of British Steel to Corus. Despite these challenges RUK continued to adapt and survive. It restructured its distribution base and became committed to ROSS’ global industry focused strategy.
Changing ROSS from a Pneumatic Company to an Electro-Pneumatic Company
Before 2000, a trip through the monthly Hydraulics and Pneumatics magazine or the Fluid Power Society’s Fluid Power Journal used to result in virtually no encounters with that black art called electronics. Now, issues of these popular fluid power trade journals frequently contain articles on improving the effectiveness of pneumatics or hydraulics by integrating electronics into fluid power systems.
There was a time when the big concern in the corner offices of fluid power manufacturers was that pneumatic and hydraulic skills and products would be made obsolete by “electro-motion.” While the threat certainly remains, pneumatic and hydraulic companies have not been standing still. Through innovation, they have overcome some of the major advantages of the purely electro/electronic solutions.
ROSS foresaw the need to become an electro-pneumatic company early in the 90s; however, the path to actually becoming an electro-pneumatic company was far from straight. One of the biggest challenges to making this transition was the culture of the company. ROSS prided itself on its abilities in the field of custom mechanical design, and did not actively pursue technology partnerships.
The prevailing culture at ROSS was one of “we can do it better in-house,” largely due to ROSS’ incredible ability to find a mechanical solution for every pneumatic problem. So, the initial electronic effort was to grow the electrical talent in-house. ROSS developed its own serial data bus, and the transition to becoming an electro-pneumatic company began.
Early in the 2000s, ROSS formed a strategic alliance with a company re-known for its proportional technology. Management believed that this alliance would become another avenue to further ROSS’ efforts in this vital emerging technology area. ROSS developed a number of different systems for its industry customers based on proportional technology. Spurred by this alliance, ROSS developed a relationship with ABB of Bryne, Norway to develop an extremely sophisticated paint control system. The resulting product turned out to be the most electronically complex product ever developed by ROSS with an enormous potential in the emerging new world of precision controlled pneumatics. As of the 2007 publication date, ROSS and its subsidiaries have five major electro-pneumatic projects either in the marketplace or nearing production. The know-how within ROSS in these vital technologies continues to grow.
In 2005, ROSS moved its headquarters for the fourth time in its history to a new building in Troy, Michigan. Numerous ROSS staff members participated in the major project to design and renovate this building. These ROSS people did a wonderful job of giving ROSS Controls a beautiful headquarters facility. Team members included: Jeff Hand, Rose Brown, Sue Osborn, Dan Henman, Deanna Acre, Kirk Bolton, and Mike Kaczander.