General Carbide Corporation: Making the Grade

To many, corporations are faceless entities that in recent times get more press when they fail than when they succeed. But search more deeply and it's possible to find corporations that run correctly, functioning almost like small communities, where the good of each person affects the good of all, and relationships add to the bottom line. One of these types of business organizations is the General Carbide Corporation, operating out of Greensburg, Pa., with three manufacturing plants in the United States to service an international market.
 
Premo Pappafava, who founded the independently owned company in 1968, understood that people, not just numbers, allow a company such as this to succeed. Mona Pappafava-Ray, his daughter and current General Carbide company president, recounts, “My father really loved everyone in this company. He passed away in 2002, but a few weeks before he died, he walked the floor of all three of our plants and said good-bye and hugged many of the employees. He instilled that in me, the idea that we’re a family.”
 
These lessons did not go unlearned. This most recent recession has affected almost every industry to a degree, and some were hit much harder than others. General Carbide, which produces tungsten carbide blanks and forms that are used in cutting and metal-forming operations worldwide, counts the automobile and housing industries as two of the company’s biggest markets, which meant a double whammy effect on the company. Still, the Pappafava tradition of keeping company personnel a priority did not wane.
 
“Our fiscal year starts on 1 November, so our first quarter numbers are usually not that great considering that you have two big vacation months in there, but when we saw our numbers in January, we knew we had to make some changes and they had to be made fast. I set a personal goal for myself, though, that I wasn’t going to lay off anyone who worked on the production floor,” says Pappafava-Ray. “I went to the board and my family and just told them, ‘We’re all going to have to cut back to make sure we can keep everyone here.’ And My executive team really surprised me. They said, ‘Do what you need to do. If you need to lay us off so others can keep their job, then do it.’ Instead, we all took pay cuts. I cut my pay by 30 percent, my execs took a 20-percent cut, all the salaried personnel took pay cuts, and we discontinued all executive benefits immediately.”
 
It worked, as the company has emerged from the recession stronger than ever, and not a single floor worker lost his or her job. Some people believe in karma, that good and bad actions come back to either reward or haunt the original perpetrator, and karma definitely rewarded Pappafava-Ray for her dedication to General Carbide's workforce. “We’re so busy right now, it’s incredible. It just took off like a shot [in September 2009], our guys are working overtime to try and keep up. We’re a better company now, too, knowing that we were able to stick together when things were rough.”
 
In fact, the turnaround has been so dramatic that Pappafava-Ray convinced the General Carbide board of directors to vote in favor of paying back a portion of the salaries that the company reduced or eliminated when business conditions became difficult.
 

One-stop Shopping at Its Finest
The company has been seeing its business increase dramatically throughout its network. The firm has sales representatives across the globe, as it is an industry leader in carbide production. “We’re all over the world now. We quote in Euros, Pounds, you name it; we are truly international,” notes Pappafava-Ray.
 
The company’s strong growth is because General Carbide can produce close to 50 published grades, and 10 unpublished grades. Pappafava-Ray explains why that’s so incredible. “Think of grades as cakes. We buy elemental powders, like a baker buys his flour, spices, etc., and we produce grades, which are used in wear, cutting and metal-forming operations in a variety of industries. A baker will find it very difficult to bake 60 different cakes, side-by-side, and not have some of the chocolate cake ingredients slip over to the spice cake. That’s why what we can achieve is unheard of. We can produce almost 60 different types of grade formulations and keep them separate. Many of our competitors produce seven or eight grades. We also have the flexibility to be able to produce part sizes that range from a couple of grams each to 100 pounds or more.”
 
Indeed, General Carbide can deliver a wide range of binder concentrations and particle sizes to meet the most demanding industrial applications, offering products that are exceptional in metallurgical and dimensional specifications. When an application requires sharp edges, reduced galling or environmental resilience plus high-impact strength, the company will develop a grade or customize an existing grade. General Carbide’s CAD/CAM systems along with sinter-HIP furnaces, automated presses and advanced CNC machines, allow for all manner of complex custom products that can be produced through superior dimensional control. Rigorous quality controls and comprehensive recycling programs add to General Carbides' reputation. The company isn’t resting on its successes, however.
 
Pappafava-Ray notes General Carbide is constantly watching the industry and looking for new trends. “The philosophy of our organization is that we continue to strive to do better, and to better ourselves. That’s why every year we make a strategic plan, which includes significant capital investment to help continually ensure a wide range of capabilities, product quality and on-time delivery. We noticed the green trend years ago, and realized that a lot of fabricators use an oil-based lubricant, while a water-based lubricant is much greener. Water will attack our product, so we designed a line of corrosion-resistant grades that actually show a lifespan three-and-a-half to five times longer that our previous grades.”
 
Continually investing in its equipment and technology, General Carbide has proven its ability to meet customers' needs with unmatched efficiency and skill. And, by taking the measures necessary to safeguard its people, General Carbide Corporation has shown itself to be a company able to cement together not just products but also human resources, continually strengthening for a long future that does its founder proud.