Published November 20, 2000 in "The Business Press"

Satori Seal Co. Inc.

Taking Charge after husband's death, president makes gasket company a ringing success

 

COMPANY PROFILE

 

KENT MILLER

Business Press Staff Reporter

 

   Anne Acebo-Houlihan has had to make a lot of tough decisions in the last seven years, but none would be as crucial for her future and the future of Satori Seal Co. Inc. as the choice she made in 1993 when her husband — and the company’s founder — Alex Acebo, died suddenly at age 44 on a Friday.

   “I was devastated,” Acebo-Houlihan said. 

   The following Monday, her long brown hair uncombed since the death of her husband, she went to the company’s employees and told them their jobs were safe. The company would continue to operate, she said. 

    Since then, Satori Seal has grown in sales, even while discontinuing its manufacturing operations. The company is now strictly a supplier and distributor of O-rings, seals and custom-molded rubber products.

    It carries 356 standard sizes of O-rings in stock and deals with 2,000 different types of O-rings in four different materials, said Dale T. McGrosky, Satori vice president.

    Some of the rings are small enough that fisherman fit them over the ends of fishing hooks to keep the barbs from snagging on weeds, while others are big enough one can jump rope with them, McGrosky said.

 

FIRM'S FUTURE SEALED

    Alex Acebo founded Satori Seal in 1973 with an initial investment of $300, creating a garage operation that imported O-rings and gaskets from

Japan.

    In 1979, Satori started manufacturing gaskets for the automotive after-market because they couldn’t find a good source, said Acebo-Houlihan, who married Jesse Houlihan last month.

    

 

Company: Satori Seal Co. Inc.

President: Anne Acebo-Houlihan

Headquarters: Rancho Cucamonga

Employees: 7

Year founded: 197

 

    “Alex worked closely with the Japanese, and ‘satori’ means ‘enlightenment,’” she said. The company was based in Alhambra before moving in 1982 to its present location on Utica Avenue in Rancho Cucamonga.

    Acebo-Houlihan grew up in Scotland and went to work in sales at age 18 for a Swiss fasteners company. Although one year in college had given her some basic training in marketing, sales and accounting, Acebo-Houlihan said she gained most of her expertise on the job. 

 

 

    She came to the United States in late 1979 at age 22 to visit a friend in Pasadena and met Acebo. She decided to give up her job in Europe and they were married the next year. 

    “Alex asked me to come into the company a while after we were married. It was very small; there was just Alex and one other person,” she said. “I came in to help out for a few months, to try working together. In one year, sales tripled.”

     She became vice president and started running the day-to-day operations of the company, feeding what she called her “passions for sales and marketing,” while Acebo handled manufacturing. By 1993, Satori had 20 employees.

    When Alex Acebo died of a heart attack, she had to decide whether  to continue to operate the company or to walk away. She took over as president.

    “It is a male-dominated industry,” she said. “I was kind of like a fish out of water.” 

    But today, “I can smell an O-ring and tell you what it’s made of. The different materials have different smells.”

    A year after Acebo’s death, she faced another major decision.

    “I made a major cost analysis on the manufacturing part of the business,” Acebo-Houlihan said. “It was not profitable.”

    “He (Acebo) would have liked to have gotten out of manufacturing. … We had discussed it. But he couldn’t let go, emotionally and financially,

mostly financially.”

    But the cost analysis made up her mind. 

    “Like a tree, certain branches were dying, and if I didn’t get rid of the branches (manufacturing), the tree would die,” Acebo-Houlihan said. “It was a big decision, a big gamble. The sad part was, I had to lay off about 12 people.”

    Satori ended its manufacturing operations and went back to just distribution, opting to have its products manufactured more inexpensively in Europe and Asia. The company reinvested the revenue from the sale of equipment into developing its distribution system, she said.

 

REVENUE JUMPS

    The strategy paid off. In 1994, the company’s overall revenue grew by 71%, Acebo-Houlihan said. 

    In 1995, Satori continue to grow, this time by more than 19%. She also looked for new markets, checking with existing customers to learn what other needs they had for O-rings and seals. In 1996, the company’s revenue climbed again by more than 17%, she said.

    “In three years after closing manufacturing, we had a 140% growth in revenue,” Acebo-Houlihan said. She wouldn’t disclose raw figures. 

    Then came another major decision. She ended a business relationship with a major customer — which she declined to identify — because it was engaging in questionable business practices. •

 

 

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