Cyrus Gipoor closes his eyes tightly and leans back in his office chair, contemplating how he visualized the turnaround his company, Morrell's Aerospace, has undergone in the past 10 years.
“I’ve always pictured it like a movie,” says Gipoor, eyes still shut, then opening suddenly to stare at the ceiling. “I feel like I’m the director of this movie. It doesn’t start out well, but it has a great ending.”
It’s an appropriate vision for Gipoor, whose shop, which specializes in aerospace finishes, sits just a few miles from the Hollywood lights in suburban Los Angeles.
What was once a shuttered plating shop with no customers is now vibrant and growing, adding $2 million in new facilities and equipment in 2014.
That wasn’t the case in 2002 when he heard that the original owner of Morrell's had passed away. He had left behind severe problems with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, and the plating shop was in the hands of the feds, who were looking to unload it and help settle debts owed by the previous owners.
Gipoor has an interest in two other nearby plating companies: Fine Quality Metal Finishing and Bowman Plating, the former he founded with John Esfandi and is still in operation today in Long Beach.
Out of Receivership
Esfandi and Gipoor worked a deal to acquire Morrell's, and started the process of turning around the shop, which is located in Compton near Bowman.
Because the shop was in receivership with the IRS, the facility and equipment had fallen into disrepair by the time Gipoor stepped through the door.
“It was a disaster,” he says. “Nothing was working. There were no customers, virtually no employees, except five who stuck around. It wasn’t a good start.”
But that’s where the Hollywood script comes in for Gipoor, a native of Iran who graduated from Oklahoma State with degrees in civil engineering.
He walked through the nearly empty buildings and saw equipment not being used and warehouse space completely empty. To Gipoor, it was inspiring, even though nearly all his competitors had a chance to buy the plant, and all passed.
“I saw the vision,” he says. “I just looked around and saw what needed to be in here and how it was going to run. My experiences with the other plating companies made me believe that, with a little hard work, we could make this happen. I was willing to do whatever it takes.”
Morrell's Aerospace, known as Morrell's Electro Plating back then, was once a vibrant aerospace shop, but when its owner fell ill and the IRS took over, the facility lost all its approvals because it had been closed and nearly inactive for almost three months.
Clean and Repair
Gipoor went through some of the company’s paperwork and called back five former employees to help him restart the operations, but that was only after he had cleaned up the place and repaired all the broken equipment and tanks he now owned.
The hoist system didn’t function, tanks were leaking and other mechanical issues were so prevalent that it often seemed the day would never come when Morrell's would open its doors.
But Cathy Gipoor, Cy’s wife and business partner, knew otherwise. She had been married to Gipoor long enough to know that the more challenges Cy ran into, the more determined he became.
“Cy has this way about him of being very optimistic, and of getting the people around him to see the same vision he sees,” she says. “He knew this shop would open its doors again. He wasn’t going to be deterred, and he made those few employees believe it could happen, too.”
It turns out that Gipoor was on the right track. Morrell's rebounded, earned back its approvals and then some—they are now Nadcap and AS 9100 certified—and are busting at the seams to the point of additional expansion.
Currently sitting on four acres across several buildings, the facility boasts new paint booths, 60-foot-long ovens, tanks that are 60 feet long and 10 feet deep, a unique non-destructive testing area, as well as testing and wet labs to meet stringent customer requirements.
Included on the campus is a 20-foot sand blasting build, a sophisticated waste treatment center to meet California state requirements and an in-house maintenance crew constantly working on keeping equipment humming and building new tanks and equipment if needed.
The approvals—from Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, Gulfstream and Northrop Grumman—have helped Morrell's get its fair share of work in anodizing, chemical conversion coatings, organic coatings, chemical cleaning, blasting and non-destructive testing in the aerospace field.
But it wasn’t Gipoor alone who resurrected Morrell's. About two years after he purchased the shop and finally got things in line, Gipoor asked Hector Montes to move over from Bowman Plating and take on the general manager’s position with the company.
Montes, a seasoned veteran in the plating industry, had to think some about leaving the established Bowman plant and starting almost from scratch with Morrell's, with few employees and even fewer customers.
“I wasn’t 27 years old anymore,” Montes says. “I had to give it some thought. But I’ve known Cy since 1996, and he actually hired me to come work at Bowman. I felt I owed it to him to see what I could do for him.”
Obviously, Job 1 for Montes was getting back the approvals from the aerospace biggies such as Lockheed-Martin, Boeing and Airbus. That meant getting tanks and chemicals properly balanced and implementing a tracking system throughout the several buildings to keep tabs on parts, their progress and processes.
Gipoor and Montes reached out to Lockheed, which has a headquarters nearby in Los Angeles, and worked to get back in their good graces. Officials from the aerospace company paid a visit and were pleased with what they saw, and assured Gipoor that they could work again together.
“That was our first break,” he says. “Getting them back on board was important, even though we weren’t Nadcap certified yet. But we were back on our way.”
Six months later, they hired a consultant and went after and received AS9100 certification, the quality management system for the aerospace industry administered by the Society of Automotive Engineers.
Then came the Nadcap certification process, which can make or break a business. But Gipoor and Montes knew that they could not go further in the aerospace industry—especially with a prospect like Boeing—until they had that Nadcap plaque on the wall.
With the help of Cathy Gipoor managing the office and paperwork flow, Morrell's Aerospace received its Nadcap certification and—much like the way dominos fall in order—work from Boeing began to trickle in.
“We all wore a lot of different hats back then,” says Montes, who hired more employees as the workload grew. His hardest working employee may have been Gipoor, who worked anodizing lines and ran the hoists so that work could proceed efficiently in and out the doors. “I was a jack-of-all-trades,” he says. “Whatever needed to be done, I would do it. Forklifts, shipping, receiving, whatever it took.”
Montes also began working setting up the Morrell's test labs to meet the certification and customer requirements, which also meant bringing on more staff.
But Gipoor, who has a master’s degree in engineering and is partway through his doctorate in construction management, says that even though it may seem daunting with all the hoops needed to jump through to get certifications—as well as the mounds of paperwork that must follow each part and project—it isn’t necessarily a difficult process.
“There are really a few things that you must follow closely to do what needs to be done to get to where we wanted to be,” he says. “You first must have the proper chemicals in place and monitor them. It has to be high grade and the equipment has to be right. If you follow the procedures, then you will be fine, and that is what we did.”
But what Morrell's Aerospace couldn’t prepare for was a major fire in 2009 that tore through one of its main buildings. An electrical short sparked a small blaze in a corner of one of his buildings just as Gipoor was heading home for the day.
“I’ll never forget that day, the way the fire just started burning and grew and grew,” he says. “The whole roof burned off in two hours. It went that quick.”
Montes quickly brought in generators and moved some equipment around, and within two days the lines were back up and running.
“You cannot wait around in this business,” Gipoor says. “If people hear about a fire, customers will find someone else.”
The roof is still gone today, but Gipoor is in the process of spending more than $2 million over the next two years in improvements to get the building and the facility back into shape.
He is converting the former painting area destroyed by fire into what Gipoor says will be one of the largest anodizing lines in the U.S., at 65 feet long and 10 feet deep.
Currently, Morrell's Aerospace offers anodizing in chromic BAC 5019, chromic Type 1 non-dyed, sulfuric Type II non dyed and boric sulfuric. Their chemical film coatings are Henkel’s Alodine clear and gold, MacDermid’s Iridite clear and gold, and Dow 7 magnesium.
On the paint side, Morrell's offers enamels, lacquers, primer coatings, epoxy top coatings and primers, and fuel tank coatings. The company also provides chemical cleaning, blasting and inspections.
The biggest challenge for Montes was bringing in quality workers and training them on the craftsmenship of plating and anodizing. He currently has about 150 employees working for Morrell's, and nearly all he brought on and trained.
“It’s been a big roller coaster for us, from getting the certifications back, to the fire, to even now building and expanding our capabilities,” he says.
It’s also been a tremendous help that Gipoor and Montes brought on Bob Sazgari to work with all the aerospace customers as Morrell’s process engineers. It’s up to Sazgari to weave the shop through the myriad of certs and qualifications, diagrams and paperwork that come from the sophisticated parts that Boeing, Airbus and NASA are using.
In addition, Sazgari works with SpaceX, a space transport company owned by Tesla founder Elon Musk, and Lockheed on the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, NASA’s first spacecraft designed for long-duration, human-rated deep space exploration.
“The problem most shops have is that the quality and production people often cannot merge their goals,” says Sazgari, who worked at Gipoor’s other two shops before joining Morrell's Aerospace in 2010.
“That is our goal: good, quality parts,” he says.
He can now look at customer specs and see quickly what he needs to do to get the part efficiently through the plant, while also maintaining the highest quality.
“The biggest issue was getting our customers to trust Bob, Cy and me on their parts, because we know what we can do for them,” Montes says. “We get judged every day, but we know that going in. That’s been the reason for a lot of the success; our customers do trust us.”
Also a major component of Morrell’s success is Lin Riddle, the company’s original quality director, charged with obtaining and maintaining aerospace approvals and compliance with the myriad local, state and federal regulators.
“We have a strong management foundation thanks to people like Lin,” says Gipoor, who spends a lot of time walking between buildings in the bright Southern California sun, visiting employees, checking on parts and seeing his dream turn into a reality.
“I don’t know how the movie ends,” Gipoor says with a laugh. “But so far, it’s been just liked I pictured it.”
For information on Morrell's Aerospace, please call 310-639-1024, or visit morrellsplating.com