The Prouds’ point of pride

The Prouds’ point of pride

 

There are manufacturers and then there are manufacturers of manufacturers — companies that build the things that build more things. Proud Co. is one such high-tech manufacturer of industrial automated services — think assembly-line robotics, motion controllers, industrial hardware and specialized software drivers.

There are manufacturers and then there are manufacturers of manufacturers — companies that build the things that build more things. Proud Co. is one such high-tech manufacturer of industrial automated services — think assembly-line robotics, motion controllers, industrial hardware and specialized software drivers.

The company’s name isn’t a boast. Like Huntington Bank, Proud Co. is named for its founder and next-generation leader, the father-and-son team of Mark Proud Sr. and Jr.

The elder Proud has worked in automation since the mid-1970s. He had jobs at several companies before joining with two associates to start Grant Industrial Controls in 1980.

“They’re still in business, doing quite well without me, which is hard to believe,” Mark Sr. joked.

Proud Co., founded in April 1993, is considerably more centered on high-tech and engineering than Proud’s first business; the company started as an industrial parts distributor. But within the first 10 years Proud Co. realized its customers wanted more —they wanted to know how to “increase productivity and efficiency by solving increasingly complex automation challenges.”1

So Proud Co. did what most great companies do. It evolved.

Mark Jr. likens his modern business to living inside the Science Channel television series “How It’s Made.”

“We get to travel to every kind of manufacturing facility there is and help them develop technologies that will automate how they make the parts on their plant floor,” he said. “So a lot of the technologies that we sell go into control or go into the machines that make the stuff that we use every day. From the industries of food and beverage to plastic injection molding to more heavy industry like energy and metals and mining. So it’s a really interesting, cool business to be in because you kind of get to see the guts of all of these facilities and understand how all of the stuff that we come in contact with on a day-in, day-out basis, we get to see how it’s actually made.”2

Proud Co.’s earliest banking relationship was with Cliff Barton and Vince Locher at Three Rivers Bank and Trust Co. — originally Lincoln Bank and Trust Co., which was established in 1964, bought by Sky Bank in 2002 and acquired by Huntington in 2007.3

Mark Sr. said, “Anybody that knows Vince Locher I think would agree with me, he’s salt of the earth, good as it gets, just a terrific guy.”

Locher served as regional president of Huntington’s Pittsburgh office from 2002 through 2009.4

The Prouds’ relationship transitioned to Huntington’s Greg DiGioia.

Proud Sr. said, “We’ve probably seen Greg more in the last year than we’ve seen — or needed to see — anybody in the last 10 years, just because of all the things that we have going on.”

These developments included purchasing majority ownership in Miller Process Coating Co., a former customer. Proud Jr. said, “Huntington was a key piece in helping us pull that together.”5

Three years after buying Miller Process Coating, the Prouds have doubled the size of the business. Trouble is, Miller’s offices are on the opposite side of Pittsburgh from the Proud headquarters, an hour drive away. So the Prouds in 2013 began looking to buy a property with enough room to combine the businesses and expand into over the coming years.

“We found one that was a bit of a fixer-upper,” Mark Jr. said. “And by ‘a bit,’ I mean ‘a massive undertaking.’”

The west-end real estate deal finally closed in August 2015.

Mark Jr. said, “Greg (DiGioia) and Adam Huber played a huge role in that for us. It was about as much of a rollercoaster ride as any process I’ve been on in a long time. And I really appreciate how those guys stuck it out.…We were able to get some funding from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to do a lot of the renovation work.

“And anytime you get involved with a government organization like that, you can expect that there’s going to be a few more hoops to jump through and a lot more red tape. And it certainly was the case here as well. But in the end, the URA really went to bat for us. Huntington really went to bat for us. And we were able to pull this thing together.”

The city loves that Proud Co. is bringing high-tech, high-paying jobs into a historically distressed neighborhood.

One of those high-tech jobs was the one Mark Jr. began at his father’s company in 2001. The stint grew to cover more than 14 years.

“I know a lot of people that are in family businesses,” the younger Proud said. “I’ve seen a bunch where the family members kind of coexist, but they hate each other, but everyone feels trapped and they just kind of go through live and go through business with a ton of animosity and frustration and drama. And that really has never been the case here, so it really has worked out pretty well for us.”

“I guess I kind of wore him down,” Proud Sr. joked. “We’re father and son. We probably have more similarities than either one of us would admit to, but there are enough differences in our personalities and our temperaments and the way we deal with people that it’s been interesting and good because a lot of the things that I would consider myself not too good at, he actually is quite good at. We’ve been able to divide up those tasks and work pretty seamlessly.”

As the company nears 25 years in business, Proud Sr. is preparing to retire and pass the torch to his son. Huntington understands these sorts of leadership transitions intimately.

DiGioia said, “Going from senior to junior, father to son, we know that. We’ve been through it before.”6

Proud Company continues to build the machines that build our world, and Huntington will continue helping the Proud family build its business. It’s another kind of evolution.

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The Proud Company renovated a building in Pittsburgh’s West End district as their new headquarters. Credit: The Proud Co.