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TITANS OF INDUSTRY Top brass


Faucets and fittings manufacturer T&S Brass and Bronze Works, Inc has come a long way since it was founded in 1947. Siblings and second-generation owners Claude Theisen and Eva-Marie Fox tell Michael Jones about the global, family-run business


H


umility,” says T&S Brass’s CEO Claude Theisen, “is a good thing. A family business keeps


you humble, because [otherwise] you get surrounded with people who just tell you what you want to hear. When you’ve got siblings or spouses in the business, you keep a bit of humility.”


That humility has been hard earned over the company’s 68-year history. Manufacturing quality faucets and fittings may sound like a straightforward enterprise, but the Theisen family business has experienced huge changes in just two generations of ownership, including a faltering start, a game- changing relocation, rapid growth and international expansion, near bankruptcy, a troubled leadership succession programme and the acquisition of a new company. To Claude Theisen’s younger


sister, Eva-Marie Fox, VP of marketing, staying informed and on the cutting edge of the industry has been as crucial to the company’s resilience as retaining that sense of humility. “We’ve always tried to make sure we play as industry leaders and that we’re educated,


so we can bring better education to our customers,” says Fox.


The family way Today, the company is recognised as a world leader in the design, manufacture, sale and distribution of quality faucets, fittings and speciality accessories. The firm serves the industrial, commercial plumbing, foodservice and laboratory markets. They have manufacturing plants in South Carolina and California in the US as well as China. But the road to success hasn’t always been smooth. Almost 50 years ago, the company’s founders stumbled onto a gap in the market that fundamentally changed their business model. T&S Brass & Bronze Works,


Inc. was born, with what co-founder George Theisen, Claude and Eva- Marie’s father, described as “little more than a $600 surplus turret lathe, a drill press from the Theisen family garage, a few hand tools and a beat-up typewriter.” Returning from the Second World War, Theisen founded the company in December 1947 with his brother-in-law, Carl Spatt, their initials creating the firm’s name. Theisen, who passed away


in 2004, had joined Murray and Sorenson, his grandfather’s business, which had been making plumbing products in Manhattan since the turn of the century. Claude Theisen, the CEO since 1992, says: “The business was in a lot of trouble. My father took one of their products and he modified it into the new ‘beauty polish spray’ under the new company, T&S Brass, to sell to beauty parlours in New York. Basically my father sold a product my uncle made but they were terribly unsuccessful. After about a year, they weren’t going anywhere.”


A change in New Jersey law, stipulating foodservice operators had to wash food waste off dishes before they went into a dishwasher, saw a turnaround in their fortunes. The beauty polish spray was adapted into the first pre-rinse unit in the food sector. “It proved to be popular, and they started selling a lot,” says Theisen.


Changing fortunes


It took three years of hard graft before Theisen and Spatt could afford to pay themselves, a princely $50 a week. Eventually they moved to a new facility in Westbury,


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