How We Got Started
Past, Present, & Future
J.C. Whitlam Manufacturing has a proud history of over 100 years in business, always under the ownership and management of the same family, with operating responsibility now in the hands of its third and fourth generations. Established in 1900, J.C. Whitlam Manufacturing Company is one of those classic independent family businesses of the coatings industry, a breed whose numbers, alas, have sorely decreased over the past thirty years, especially among the manufacturers. Whitlam's past history, present health and dynamic condition well illustrates that it doesn't necessarily have to be that way. The company has enjoyed over 45 consecutive years of increased sales and over 50 consecutive years without a drop of red ink.
In the beginning
The history of J.C. Whitlam Manufacturing Company began in 1894, when an eighteen year old Canadian farm boy, John C. Whitlam II, with only 14 cents in his pocket, immigrated to the United States to seek his fortune. He arrived in Cleveland, Ohio where he worked for several paint companies over the next six years. While there, he became quite knowledgeable about paints and their formulations. At the time, painters used white or red lead paste as a pigment for their paints. Plumbers and pipe fitters also used lead paste as a thread sealant and lubricant in joining pipe and their fittings. This method was not very satisfactory, since this lead mixture was both poisonous and expensive.
In the great American tradition, seeing a need for a better way, Mr. Whitlam developed the first "lead-free" thread sealing compound he called Tyte-Unyte (pronounced "tite unite"). The product had three times the bulk value of lead, which made it more efficient and economical. It was also safe for human consumption (To demonstrate to plumbers and wholesalers that it was not poisonous, Mr. Whitlam would open a can of Tyte-Unyte and actually eat some of it - to their dismay, but also to their conviction.).
The company started in Cleveland manufacturing both paint coatings and his unique thread sealant. Then in 1912, Mr. Whitlam moved the business to Wadsworth, Ohio, where it is still located. (Wadsworth is a town of 16,500, located 35 miles south of Cleveland and 12 miles west of Akron.)
With the collapse of the construction industry in the late 1920's, the company's fortunes started to deteriorate. The Great Depression was starting to take its toll. The company was falling into dire straits, being heavily in debt to the bank. The situation was so bad it could hardly get worse. But it did! Mr. Whitlam died in 1931 at the absolute bottom of the depression, with nobody to carry on but his sixteen year old son, J.C. Whitlam III. And carry on he did, making him one of the youngest presidents there ever was in this industry.
"Those were grim times," recalls J.C. "We were down to three employees, including myself. No money, no business, no nothing, and worst of all, no control of our destiny. "The bank was the administrator of the estate as well as a past due creditor. And with a sixteen year old kid as president, they exercised total and very negative control. "If we wanted to buy something, we would have to make out the purchase order, take it to the bank, tell them why we needed it and implore their signature," says Whitlam. "Often we didn't get it, even when the need for the material was desperate. It was the same way with payables. They had to sign all checks."
The bank wanted to liquidate the company and salvage anything they could from the wreck. The young president had many bitter, humiliating battles with them just to keep his father's lifetime of work alive. To force him into agreeing to liquidation, they kept cutting his salary. Finally, it got down to $10.80 a week, "and this was all - I mean the absolute all - which my mother and I had to live on for two years."
Then, woe on woe, in 1932 came the banking moratorium and the state banking commission took over the bank; which meant that all purchases, payments and actions now had to be approved by a bureaucracy. This desperate period was a traumatic experience to the young businessman. It influenced his business philosophy throughout his tenure. "By 1937, we had the bank paid off and I was my own man at last. I swore that I would never again allow this business to get under the thumb of any outsider, particularly a bank."
"Independent" was a fervent word to J.C., because what it meant was the very basis of his character and values. One has the feeling he would sooner starve as an independent than earn a million dollars a year as any man's subordinate. With the passing of J.C. in 1993, J.C. Whitlam Manufacturing Company continues as a family business through the leadership of J.C.'s two sons and two grandsons.
Jack C. Whitlam IV has been with the company since 1962. He attended Miami University and the University of Akron before coming into the business and is now President. He spends about one third of his time on the road, primarily working with the Manufacturer's Representatives, making joint calls on wholesalers. In recent years, he has often appeared in the company's advertising to symbolize the company's close contact with its distributors and its responsiveness to their needs.
Mark A. Whitlam, the fourth generation of the business, has been with the company since 1988. He graduated from the University of Akron with a business degree in marketing. He is currently following in his father's footsteps as Vice President of Sales.
Douglas A. Whitlam is a graduate of Ohio University and holds a masters degree in business administration from the University of Akron. He has been with the company since 1965 and is now Senior Vice President and Chief Executive Officer. His principal responsibilities are in administration and finance.
Sean Whitlam, is also a graduate of Ohio University, and holds a degree in business administration. He is currently serving as assistant to the Vice President of Operations and has been with the company since 2000.
The fifth member of the operating management team is Stephen G. Carey. He is also a graduate of the University of Akron with a degree in Industrial Marketing. He became Vice President of Operations in 1995 and has been with the company since 1990.