New Pig’s co-founder to receive chamber lifetime achievement award

Ben Stapelfeld tells it like it is.

He said there is no secret why he will receive the Blair County Chamber of Commerce’s 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award for Business Excellence tomorrow at the Business Excellence Dinner at The Casino at Lakemont Park.

“Why I am getting the award is because New Pig has been successful. If not for New Pig, I wouldn’t be getting an award. I have played my part and hope I have played my part well,” said Stapelfeld, co-founder of New Pig Corp. and chairman of the board.

Stapelfeld, who co-founded the company in 1985 with Donny Beaver, refuses to take the credit for the company, which has grown from about a dozen employees to 530 today, with 350 of those working at the Tipton plant.

“When you look at the elements that made the company I was just a part, I was just a player and a lot of the times just a role player,” Stapelfeld said.

Chamber president and CEO Joe Hurd called Stapelfeld a professional and a worthy recipient of the award.

“New Pig is certainly an example of a company that has done everything right in becoming an industry leader. Ben Stapelfeld is the heart and soul of the company’s growth and development,” Hurd said. “When you think about people who made their mark on the local business community it is guys like Ben Stapelfeld that come to the forefront.”

Stapelfeld, born in Altoona and raised in Duncansville, said he was like many other kids and didn’t know what he wanted to do.

“I grew up in a construction family, none of them had a college degree, they said I should be an engineer. They were all builders and had great respect for engineers,” Stapelfeld said.

After graduating from West Virginia University in 1972 with a degree in civil engineering, Stapelfeld was ready to accept a job at an engineering firm in Atlanta, Ga.

Then his father, B.F. Stapelfeld asked him what they were going to pay him and said he would pay him more to join the family business.

“I told him I didn’t want to work for him. He sold me a couple of shares, I bought into the business and became a partner so I was not just working for my dad,” Stapelfeld said.

Stapelfeld worked for the family construction business into the mid-1980s.

In the meantime, he also established and operated several successful small businesses in central Pennsylvania and was instrumental in the development of several small industrial and service companies in the area.

In 1983, Stapelfeld and Beaver were looking for a way to make things easier for Sermac Industries, their industrial cleaning business. They knew there had to be a better way than using clay pellets to soak up leaking and dripping oil from machinery.

After numerous trials – and with the help of a research team – they developed a successful product.

In 1985, the Pig absorbent sock – the prototype was a nylon sock about 30 inches long and 3 inches in diameter, filled with ground corncobs – and the New Pig Corp. were born.

“The need was far greater than the demand. An absorbent sock was a new way of doing a job. We thought we had a better way. Most people in the beginning would see the product and say I don’t need that,” Stapelfeld recalled.

Stapelfeld said that is not the real story of New Pig.

“The story of New Pig is the years of building a real business, building an organization and what it took. The story is the people that came together, entered a business that was anything but sexy selling maintenance supplies to industry,” Stapelfeld said. “We entered a market that was totally uninteresting and makes up less than one percent of most companies budgets. We entered that market with one product and sold direct and built the organization to where it is today.”

Now, New Pig sells more than 4,400 products; they manufacture more than 1,100 of them. The company has offices in Glasgow, Scotland; Breda, Holland; and Shanghai, China; and besides Tipton, has production facilities in Mobile, Ala., and Mentor, Ohio.

Stapelfeld said he didn’t give any thought to how large the company could grow.

“We never really worried or thought much about how big we would become,” he said. “We always felt if we took good care of our customers and allowed our employees the freedom to develop and share in the success, growth would take care of itself.”

Stapelfeld, who received a United States Chamber of Commerce Award from President Ronald Reagan, said the local award is more significant to him.

“For me, personally, this is without a doubt the highest honor I have ever received.

“Remember this award is for business excellence. Business excellence is a team sport. If business excellence was an individual sport and New Pig was dependent upon Ben Stapelfeld, it would be nowhere near as big and certainly not as successful,” Stapelfeld said. “The dedication, commitment, loyalty and talents of dozens upon dozens of people are what make New Pig what it is today.”

Stapelfeld said his key to success has been to “surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are and get out of the way.”

He said four people have played an important role in his success – including his father.

“My father was my first business teacher. He was a very salt of the earth good man and very basic in his business philosophy. His motto was ‘cash, have it; debt, don’t have it.’ He lived by that mantra,” Stapelfeld said. “If he saw my balance sheet he would be spinning in his grave.”

He also credits New Pig President and CEO Nino Vella and his friend Mark Barnhart, CEO of NPC Inc.

“[Vella] is without a doubt the smartest and best businessman I have ever been around. Also the hardest worker I have ever met,” Stapelfeld said. “Mark Barnhart is the most unique and external thinker I have ever met. He challenges me and makes me a better businessman.”

And last but not least he credits his wife Cathy.

“She is innately a very good businesswoman and inspires me. She just gets it and never shies away from a risk,” Stapelfeld said.

Stapelfeld has served on numerous boards and supports many charitable organizations. He and his wife recently founded the Giorgio Foundation to support research for Neurofibromatosis.

“We have a grandson that has NF. Cathy and I will raise as much as we can,” Stapelfeld said.

Stapelfeld, 63, said he is in the office every day he is in town and continues to travel all over the world for the business. He has no immediate plans to retire but hopes to have more time to spend with his family.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-07467.

Previous winners of the Lifetime Achievement Award include:

2002 – Ernie Wissinger

2003 – G. William Ward

2004 – Stephen Sheetz

2005 – Donald Devorris

2006 – Willard Campbell

2007 – John Wolf

2008 – Lee Hite

2009 – Donald Detwiler

2010 – Michael McLanahan

2011 – Barry Smith

2012 – Fred Imler