Mine Safety Appliances Company
Mine Safety Appliances Company
Sales: $494 million (1998)
Stock Exchanges: NASDAQ
Ticker Symbol: MNES
NAIC: 339113 Helmets (Except Athletic), Safety, Manufacturing; 339115 Ophthalmic Goods Manufacturing; 33999 All Other Miscellaneous Manufacturing
Mine Safety Appliances Company (MSA) is one of the world’s largest designers and manufacturers of equipment that protects both the safety and the health of workers in a variety of hazardous occupations around the world, including such industries as general manufacturing, fire service, construction, power generation, transportation, aerospace, asbestos abatement, petroleum, hazardous materials and waste cleanup, and mining. Personal protective equipment includes such items as eye and face, head, and body protectors, and respiratory protective equipment such as air-supplied, air-purifying containers. The company also designs and makes a wide range of instruments that monitor and analyze industrial processes and workplace environments. From its beginnings in the early part of the 20th century to the turn of the new millennium, MSA has expanded from a small local firm into an organization that markets its products in over 140 countries around the world.
Mine Safety Appliances was founded in 1914 by the Deike Family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to provide helmets and other safety devices to the men who worked in the coal mines of Pennsylvania and beyond. The company remained quite small for nearly 20 years, and was built from nothing into a solid concern within a generation of the firm’s first day of business. As with most company histories, however, it is the person who takes the initial product or business idea and develops it into a worldwide success story that deserves the focus of attention. The person at Mine Safety who fits this description is John T. Ryan, Jr.
John T. Ryan, Jr., was born in 1912 in the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father, John T. Ryan, attended the School of Mines at Pennsylvania State University, concentrating in the Mining Engineering, Metallurgy, and Geology programs, one of the best programs in the entire area. When he was old enough, John, Jr., was sent to the same school where he studied the same subjects. While he was attending the School of Mines, however, John, Jr., had already become acquainted with the Mine Safety company since his father worked there for a number of years. After he graduated in 1934 with a degree in mining engineering, John, Jr., saved his money and then applied to and was accepted in the M.B.A. program at Harvard University.
After Ryan graduated from Harvard in 1936 with an M.B.A., he began to work as an employee at Mine Safety Appliances Company. Luckily, the Ryan family was not hard hit by the economic hardships of the Great Depression, which drove numerous individuals into bankruptcy, and signaled the collapse of what many people regarded as stable businesses and corporations. Throughout the latter half of the 1930s, John, Jr., found steady employment in the midst of economic insecurity, and was able to focus on learning all of the company’s operations, from the design and manufacture of protective mining helmets to the accounting methods used in the annual financial reports. As he became more familiar with the firm, he was promoted quickly, and proved himself an energetic and talented manager.
When he was promoted to General Manager of Mine Safety Appliances in 1940, the company was at a crossroads in its historical development. Many of the upper management executives at the firm remained committed to the product line that had brought Mine Safety to the secure and stable financial position it found itself in at the time. But some of the more influential individuals of the upper management at the company, and the founding members of the Deike family itself, clearly recognized the changing nature of the mining industry, and the potential effects that a war would have on the manufacturing industry in the United States. This view was shared by Ryan and many of his coworkers. Amid acrimonious and sometimes bitter disagreement, Ryan was promoted to general manager of the company with the imperative to expand its product line and its operations. Rather than focusing on the word “Mine” in the company name, Ryan focused on the word “Safety” and set a new course for the firm that would ultimately make it one of the most successful multinational corporations within the personal safety products industry.
World War II and the Postwar Era
During World War II, as General Manager Ryan directed the company into a broader product line. No longer an exclusive manufacturer of mining helmets, the company began to design and make firemen helmets, construction helmets, and a wide array of protective headgear for different manufacturing sectors in the U.S. economy, such as the steel and the paper and pulp industries. Orders from companies who had received government contracts for the production of tanks, aircraft, and battleships, and that needed protective helmets and eye wear for their employees, streamed into the firm. Revenues increased, more employees were hired, and the product line continued to expand. By the end of World War II in the summer of 1945, Mine Safety Appliances Company was looking forward to a very lucrative postwar era.
Ryan was made executive vice-president of the company in 1948, and from that time onward he virtually traveled the globe to expand his firm’s presence. Ryan was committed to an aggressive expansion strategy that included extensive personal travel to developing countries. Wherever his journey led him, he tried to position his organization not only as a supplier of high quality products, but of products that would enable men and women to work in safety whatever their chosen profession. Immediately before World War II, Ryan had personally directed and arranged for Mine Safety Appliances Company to expand into Canada, Australia, and South Africa. Although his plans to continue the firm’s strategic expansion program were delayed during the war, the first initiative he undertook after the war’s end was the establishment of Mine Safety Appliances Company (Britain) in Glasgow, Scotland. The formation of this operation in the United Kingdom gave the company its initial foothold in Europe, a move that would become enormously important in the future.
As Ryan’s leadership ability grew more evident to everyone associated with MSA, as the company came to be known, it was a foregone conclusion that when the position of president became available he would be the only man to fill the job. In 1953, Ryan was named president of the company, and continued his aggressive worldwide expansion program. The next destination on his travel itinerary included Mexico; by the mid-1950s MSA was operating a profitable enterprise just south of the Mexico-American border. With sales offices and manufacturing facilities established throughout North America, Ryan decided to use the remainder of the decade to consolidate the company’s gains, including the increasing share of a growing worldwide market for personal safety products. However, although this period was devoted to a thoroughgoing examination and improvement of the company’s administrative and organizational operations, Ryan did not lose sight of his overall expansion program. In fact, much of this time was used in planning for the next stage of the company’s expansion into mainland Europe.
In 1958, Ryan spearheaded the negotiations that led to purchasing Auergesellschaft Gmbh, an innovative firm first established in 1892 that invented the gas mantle which was used to light the streets of Berlin for many years. Ryan viewed the acquisition as the cornerstone of MSA’s future operations throughout Europe, in spite of the fact that many experts advised him not to acquire a company in Berlin, a city at the time surrounded by the communist regime of East Germany and isolated from the West. At the height of the Cold War in 1961, when the Berlin Wall was built by the Soviets and the city itself appeared to be the focalpoint if a war started, Ryan stood firm and refused to sell or move the company. His German employees never forgot the courage and steadfast resolve showed by Ryan during this time, and he was ever after honored as a hero in Berlin.
Continuing Growth and Expansion
After the Cold War had somewhat dissipated during the late 1960s, Ryan once again provided personal direction to the company’s operational development in France, Italy, Spain, and The Netherlands. By the end of the 1960s, Ryan had added strategic acquisitions in Sweden and Switzerland that would ultimately enhance MSA’s presence and market position across Europe. From the beginning of his career at the company, Ryan held the vision that men and women should be provided with equipment that protected their safety while they worked. Ryan’s genius as a businessman was to see that such protective products were not only supplied in traditional developed countries, but in nations that most business leaders had previously all but ignored. This vision led Ryan to promote the interests of MSA in such diverse and remote countries as India, Peru, Chile, and Zimbabwe. In addition, just as the company had also supplied U.S. industrial markets, Ryan pushed it toward “emerging markets” in Brazil, Japan, the Middle East, and Singapore. Fully cognizant of the logistical difficulties and the cultural problems surrounding startups in exotic and remote locations, Ryan thought it well worth the trade off to gain early access to markets where MSA could participate before the arrival of its competitors.
That men and women may work in safety and that they, their families and their communities may live in health throughout the world, our mission is to be the leading innovator and provider of quality safety and instrumental products, services and specialty chemicals that protect and improve health, safety and the environment.
By the beginning of the 1990s, MSA was a highly successful multinational company. As always, Ryan was at the head of his company’s forays into China, Eastern Europe, and post-communist Russia. He was a major influence in setting up subsidiary WUXI-MS A in China, and personally led the negotiations that established MSA in both Russia and Hungary. The impressive scope of Ryan’s international vision, and his personal commitment to forging international business ventures for the company cannot be underestimated. Throughout the second half of his career, from about 1960 onward, approximately one-third of the firm’s total sales came from overseas markets, a remarkable achievement made years before what most companies aspire to today. Although Ryan’s international vision was to provide personal safety equipment for people on the job throughout the world, the effect of his efforts was extremely practical, namely, that MSA’s international diversity protected it from unexpected swings in the economies and markets of specific geographical markets around the world. This resulted in a strong and stable company, one that was readily able to weather the vicissitudes of a changing global economy.
When John T. Ryan, Jr., died in 1996, he was widely mourned throughout the world by people from many diverse cultures and backgrounds. He was replaced by one of his own grandsons, John Ryan III. Although Ryan III was a relatively young man when he assumed control of the company, he had been well trained by his grandfather and senior executives in the company for a number of years. Wisely, Ryan III continued his grandfather’s policy of international development, and strongly supported the idea that each MSA affiliate, no matter where it operated, maintain close relations to the local community and act as a leading advocate of the safety product movement in its own country. By the end of the 1990s, MSA reported more than 30 principle operating facilities throughout the world, and the firm’s products were being sold in over 140 nations. MSA appeared well-positioned for continued growth and expansion into the next millennium. The firm’s organizational structure was decentralized so that regional managers could either act on their own initiative or react quickly to changes in the marketplace. In addition, the company’s research and development department was one of the best and most innovative in the industry, and would undoubtedly continue to introduce new personal safety equipment products in the years to come.
MSA International, Inc.; Better Breathing, Inc.; Rose Manufacturing Company; Gallery Chemical; Compañía MSA de Argentina S.A.; MSA Pty. Ltd. (Australia); MSA-Auer Sicherheitstechnik Vertriebs GmbH (Austria); MSA Belgium NV; MSA do Brasil Ltda. (Brazil); MSA Canada; MSA de Chile Ltda.; WUXI-MSA Safety Equipment Co., Ltd. (China); MSA de France; MSA-Auer Safety Technology (Hungary); MSA Italiana SpA (Italy); MSA Japan Ltd.; MSA de Mexico S.A. de C.V.; MSA Nederland B.B. (The Netherlands); MSA del Peru S.A.; MSA-Auer Polska Sp.z.o.o.; MSA (Britain) Ltd. (Scotland); MSA S.E. Asia Pte. Ltd. (Singapore); MSA Africa (Pty.) Ltd.; MSA Española S.A. (Spain); AB Tegma (Sweden); Aritron Instrument A.G. (Switzerland); Auergesellschaft GmbH (Germany); MSA Zimbabwe (Pvt.) Ltd.
Pfeiffer Vacuum Products, Inc.
- Mine Safety Appliances Company is founded by the Deike Family.
- MSA expands into Canada, Australia, and South Africa.
- Mine Safety Appliance Company (Britain) is established.
- John T. Ryan, Jr., becomes president of MSA.
- Ryan retires as chairman of the board.
- MSA expands into former communist Eastern Europe and Russia.
- John T. Ryan III becomes CEO.
Androshick, Julie, “Kaboom!,” Forbes, November 18, 1996, p. 18.
Hierbaum, John, “SCSRs-MSA Puts a Higher Level of Protection in a Smaller Package,” Coal Age, February 1997, p. 48.
Lott, Ethan, “Mine Safety Tackles Retail Market with NFL Hard Hats,” Pittsburgh Business Times, March 5, 1999, p. 14.
“Mine Safety Appliances Company,” Wall Street Journal, March 4, 1993, p. B7(E).
“Mine Safety Appliances Company,” Wall Street Journal, February 11, 1997, p. C16(E).
“SCSR Technology Can Help Save Lives Underground,” Engineering and Mining Journal, February 1996, p. WW55.