By Eric Peterson / CompanyWeek | Oct 26, 2015
Owned by Pelican Holdings Group (Naples, Florida); employee-owned
Edwin Rubadue worked for a wire company in the 1970s, then decided to strike out on his own. He sold the house and moved his family of 12 into a rental to finance the company's startup in California.
He learned a lesson right away, says Welsh, Edwin's daughter.
"The first order was from National Semi-Conductor for the cord that went from the TV to the wall for the Pong video games," she says. "That one almost killed us as after my dad had used most of his resources on material for the game, the shipments were put on hold."
But Edwin persevered, working long hours while the last two of his 10 children -- including Welsh -- finished school.
His second big order was for a small wire sheathed in a thin layer of PVC. "We were the first company to have UL approval with that thin of insulation," says Welsh. The product was used into a ribbon cable that was used in IBM computers and helped propel Rubadue to success.
Welsh joined the company in 1987 and worked with her father and other siblings to foster Rubadue's growth.
In 1996, the company -- then 16 employees -- relocated to Greeley. "We were looking to expand," says Welsh. "California just wasn't business-friendly. We were looking for quality of life, cost of living, and friendliness to doing business."
Greeley, she says, had all three.
Today most of Rubadue's Greeley-made wires go to manufacturers in Europe and Asia and end up returning to the U.S. in consumer electronics like cell-phone chargers and power supplies for laptops, as well as high-end cars, both gas-powered and electric. While she can't publicly identify customers, Welsh says the list includes "many household names."
"Our products are in helicopters to golf carts, defibrillators in the U.S.A. to baby bracelets in Czech Republic, from engineers in their garage to multi-national Fortune 500 companies," she offers.
The company's reputation stems from ultra-thin insulation and high frequency, safety extra-low voltage (SELV) products.
Rubadue developed the world's first triple-insulated wire in the late 1980s. "That ended up revolutionizing how power supplies and transformers were made," says Welsh.
The company's most recent innovation, CoilBond, hit the market in 2014. Welsh says the self-bonding Teflon derivative is a great fit for Rubadue's three primary markets: consumer electronics, automotive, and medical.
"We're known as problem solvers," says Welsh. "We try to position ourselves in places where failure is not an option."
In 2014, Pelican Wire acquired Rubadue. The companies are employee-owned. "The president of Pelican Wire, his father was very good friends with my father," says Welsh. "The families go back a long time."
She says Pelican and Rubadue enjoy a "sibling rivalry," but "we have our own identities and our own brands."
Growth has averaged 10 percent since 2009, Welsh says. It's slowed in 2015, and she's anxious for a spark -- flat is unacceptable. "My father's philosophy was that if a product was good enough, it would sell itself," she explains. "It worked for a time, but my ambitions were bigger than that."
Welsh sees the best of both worlds by pairing her drive and vision with her late father's unshakable focus on quality. "I am proud to be a woman in manufacturing, proud to continue my father's legacy of pride in workmanship and ingenuity," she says. "These have become part of the legacy of the company and our people."
Challenges: A strong dollar coupled with economic instability in foreign markets. "We export a large part of what we make to China," says Welsh, noting that about two-thirds of Rubadue's products leave the U.S., then often return in a finished product. "I want to grow," she says, "but it's stagnant."
Rubadue has released new products for the oil and gas market. "That's also taken a hit," says Welsh.
It's a competitive and cost-sensitive market, she adds, and counterfeit wires can be a problem. "We fight against global competition on a regular basis."
Opportunities: Long-term growth. "We don't see [the current slowdown in China] as a long-term trend," says Welsh, pointing to potential in security and renewable energy, primarily solar and electric vehicles. "That's helped us pick up the slack for some of the markets that aren't doing so well."
A second: giving back. "Our first step that direction was doing the Alzheimer's Walk in Larimer County in September in honor of our founder who died from complications of this disease," says Welsh. "We have formed a committee now to investigate opportunities for us to give back to the community."
Needs: "We've been looking for some inorganic growth," says Welsh, citing opportunities to consolidate Rubadue's supply chain and expand its catalog.
Another need: labor. "Sometimes finding qualified employees is hard for us," she says.