A Conversation With…Bill Rosenberg Jr., Columbia Chemical

We caught up with Bill as he was tuning his numerous guitars that he plays in a band with friends.

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Bill Rosenberg Jr. is the chairman of Columbia Chemical by day, and a rock guitarist by night. The company his father, Bill Sr., and partner, Herb Geduld, founded in 1975 is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. We caught up with Bill as he was tuning his numerous guitars that he plays in a band with friends.

PF: How have things changed at Columbia since 1975?

BR: When we began to export around the world, it wasn’t as difficult for us to meet the regulations required to do that. Then came ELV and now REACH. It takes a team of people to ensure that we’re in compliance with all these federal regulatory agencies. We even now have to deal with the DEA because apparently one of our raw materials can be used in the production of illicit drugs; thank you very much Breaking Bad! The bar is also much higher these days on the business side as well. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to start a manufacturing company, let alone a chemical company.

 

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Bill Rosenberg Jr.

 

PF: What was it like working alongside your father?

BR: Those were exciting times. We were still quite small then, and we all had to wear many hats. Besides my dad, I and my uncle, Rick Holland, were the key guys back then, which is kind of crazy to contemplate because I was only 24 and Rick was 29. My dad trained and mentored us for a couple of years and just sort of set us loose. Rick gravitated to the technical and manufacturing side and I focused on the business side.

PF: How was your management style different from Bill Sr.’s?

BR: My dad was coming from the R&D side of things, and he had three kids, so he was primarily focused on making a living to support his young family, and less focused on growing the company. He handled the technical and operations side of thing, and for the first 12 years of the company’s existence, his partner Herb handled the bulk of the business side. When I took over ownership, I was trying to move away from the small family business model to something more growth oriented. I think that caused me to take a much more hands on approach. Some of the employees would probably tell you that I micromanaged too much.

PF: How has the ESOP worked out for the company?

BR: I started the ESOP in 2004 with 30 percent of the company, primarily as a way to reward and incentivize the employees. It also provided a possible succession/transition scenario. It worked out so well, that I decided to “pull the trigger” and go 100 percent ESOP in 2011. I believe that the employees are even more engaged with the ESOP, and that reflects on the health of the company.

PF: What’s the best piece of advice you were given?

BR: I’ve sought and received a lot of advice from friends, family, priests, business experts and so on. But nothing sticks out in my mind. Mostly, I try to not make the same mistake twice.

PF: What did you want to be when you grew up?

BR: A rock guitar god.

PF: What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

BR: I had paper routes when I was a kid. I learned that if you didn’t keep the customer happy, you were not going to make money and you were both going to be miserable.

PF: Which charity would you give $100,000?

BR: My wife and I are partial to charities that help people to do for themselves. I think that it would be pretty well spent by Oxfam America.

PF: What was your first car and what is your dream car?

BR: My first car was a 1974 Cutlass Salon, which I bought in 1980. My dad paid half of the $1,500 cost. These days, I can afford to drive just about any car I’d want. I’ve always liked Corvettes, but I don’t have one … yet. I drive a Kia Sorrento, assembled in the USA of course. It has racks on top for my canoe, and I can fit a lot of gear in the back.

 

About Bill Rosenberg Jr.

Family: Wife Jennifer of nearly 27 years; daughter Rachel, 25; son Billy, 22.

Favorite hobby: Still learning to play the guitar better, since age 10.

Favorite movie: “The Jerk”

Favorite book: I just finished Keith Richard’s book, “Life.” I really enjoyed it and have a whole new respect for Keef and The Stones.

What’s playing in your car CD/radio: I recently saw blues/rock guitarist Chris Duarte at a small club in Cleveland and bought his latest CD, “Lucky 13.” The dude rocks.

Originally published in the October 2015 issue.

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