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NH's Top Public Companies Profile: Standex Flying High in Clean Energy and Space Sectors

Published Thursday Jan 18, 2024

Author Dave Solomon

NH's Top Public Companies Profile: Standex Flying High in Clean Energy and Space Sectors

Standex International in Salem has seen its net income rocket up 282% between 2020 and 2022, placing Standex in second place among the top-performing NH-based publicly traded companies. The Salem-based holding company in recent years has followed a strategy of shedding underperforming assets, focusing on growth markets and building partnerships with customers rather than purely transactional relationships.

CEO David Dunbar attributes much of the recent growth to the 2020 sale of the underperforming commercial refrigeration business. “It was a large business generating about $160 million but with no profits, so selling that allowed us to improve our rate of return,” he says. “It also enabled us to spend all of our time managing our better businesses.”

The sale of the refrigeration business continued a trend that began when Dunbar joined Standex in 2014. At that time, the company owned 14 businesses, which has since been reduced to six. The divestitures allowed Standex to streamline its operations and focus on the remaining core businesses that were not only profitable but also aligned with fast-growing sectors, like electric vehicles, airlines, renewable energy and space exploration.

“It’s easier to grow if you’re selling into markets and to customers that are already growing,” says Dunbar.

Many of those growth markets are driven by a response to climate change. The company’s electronic businesses sell many components and switches used in electric vehicles, intelligent electric grids and to generate renewable energy.

Standex has also ventured into the commercialization of space, with a business in Billerica manufacturing domes for rocket fuel tanks. The company is collaborating with aviation giant Airbus on developing hydrogen-fueled aircraft.

“Their plan is to put a plane in the air in 2025 that is fueled by hydrogen, and we are the first partner they’ve named to work with them on the development of that aircraft,” says Dunbar. Airbus is relying on Standex for fuel tanks strong enough to store hydrogen but light enough to use on passenger planes.

Relationships like that link Standex to its customers as a partner, not just a vendor. “Most of our businesses compete in a way we call customer intimacy,” he says. “We work with our customers on their next generation product. We design subassemblies for them, and that creates a long-term sticky relationship with the customer. It minimizes the sensitivity to price.”

Dunbar says the company’s agility and adaptability are rooted in its history as a holding and operating company started in 1955 by German immigrant John Bolton in Lawrence, Mass. Standex was at first a plastics company but soon began to acquire other enterprises, from financial services to consumer goods. When Standex went public in 1965, there were 2,800 companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange. “Of those 2,800 companies, only 240 are still listed, and that includes Standex,” Dunbar points out. “There’s an agility and an adaptability at this company. We’ve been through a lot of cycles.” 

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