By Fran Eaton -
Victoria Van Bortel and Al Kasper of Ideal Carbide Die in Bolingbrook, function as a team at the 61 year old company.
Ideal Carbide, which was started in 1953, hired Victoria’s father, Jay Hartz, in 1973. With a background as a metallurgical engineer and an MBA from the University of Chicago, he was hired with an option to obtain the company when the founder retired. When Hartz assumed the role of company president in the 1980s, he focused on growing the business.
“My father sacrificed a lot for his work. When he did something, he really did it,” Victoria said.
Ideal’s excellent reputation that Hartz worked so hard to build continues as Hartz has retired and has passed on to Victoria and Al the company’s leadership.
Victoria and Al each have a unique background that works together well for the company’s customers and employees. Victoria has an accounting and business background, and Al’s expertise is in designing and tool-making.
Victoria started visiting Ideal Carbide with her dad when she was three or four, “mostly to raid the candy jar” at the receptionist’s desk, she says. When she was fourteen, Victoria started working part-time in the front office. She then moved to full-time in 1992 after getting her bachelor’s degree in accounting, later obtaining her MBA in 1998.
Al, on the other hand, started as a machinist at Ideal Carbide in 1983. After several years, he obtained his mechanical engineering degree and moved to the front office in 1995.
“It actually was a progression,” Al said. “I was interested in getting more knowledge, so I moved from machinist classes to engineering classes.”
Starting as a machinist has been an advantage for his career, Al says, because knowing how to make parts is helpful in designing them.
“When I’m designing something, I’m certain I’m keeping manufacturing requirements in mind,” he said. Along with that, his camaraderie with Ideal Carbide’s machinists opened a dialogue on how best to construct needed parts.
Al is married with two adult children – one that works at Ideal. Victoria is married and has three children, ages 10, 8 and 6 – who like to visit work with their mother.
Although other tool manufacturing CEOS are concerned that the younger generation of family-owned tool companies are not interested in carrying on the business, Al and Victoria say that’s not the case in their families.
“It used to be like that, but in the last five or six years, there’s been a huge push to get back to manufacturing,” Al said. “The work we do now is very different than it was 20 years ago. Now most of the equipment is computerized, the shops are significantly cleaner,” he said.
“Plus OSHA’s done a good job of making manufacturing safer,” Victoria added.
Ideal Carbide received the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) award from OSHA three years in a row, from 1997 to 1999. Al and Victoria continue to be cognizant of high safety standards.
“I think back in the 80s and 90s, there was more of a concern about surprise visits from OSHA,” Victoria said. “Ultimately, we want people that work here to be safe,” she said, because in small businesses, employers and employees are family. “We want them to be as comfortable being here as we are.”
For Victoria, the challenge is to always be anticipating the unexpected.
“It’s hard to put into words, but as with your family and home, you’re always looking around and trying to be aware of what you need and be prepared for the unexpected,” she said.
“Then there’s the desire to give your employees as much as you can and want, but still remain conservative.”
“Every decision is really not about fifteen employees out in the shop, it’s about 15 families,” Victoria said.
For Al, the biggest challenge is maintaining the best quality product for the lowest price.
“Somebody’s always trying to do the same thing for a lower price than you are,” he said.
Making aerosol can manufacturing parts is a company specialty, and longtime manufacturers are familiar with Ideal Carbide’s work, so the Bolingbrook company has yet to face stiff competition from foreign companies.
“The companies we work with are making 600 aerosol cans a minute,” Kasper said. “To have a part cause a machine to go down for an hour or two could cost someone his or her job.”
Most of the parts Ideal makes are of tungsten carbide, one of the strongest elements known. Tungsten carbide costs twice as much as steel, but it lasts three times as long – and that’s something Al wants his colleagues at TMA to know.
“I talk with people in small businesses that think they can’t afford to invest in carbide parts. We specialize in small quantities,” Kasper said. “We can provide the carbide parts reasonably and can do it for very small companies like those that are in the TMA.”
Ideal Carbide Die is located at 625 Woodcreek Drive in the far southwestern suburb of Bolingbrook, Illinois.