Depending on whom you ask, the state of manufacturing in New Jersey is doomed. Or stalled. Or steady.
For Jeff Brinker, the answer is a lot more straightforward. His company, Distek, is doing great. And not just because he’s the president and he says so. Between some recent acquisitions, expanded facilities, new hires, and $100,000 in grants from a state that believes in the company, Distek is proving that the words “manufacturing” and “offshore” don’t necessarily have to go together.
From its 23,000-square-foot facility in North Brunswick, Distek remains one of two domestic companies to make and distribute equipment for solid-state drug dissolution testing. In other words, the equipment Distek manufactures allows pharmaceutical companies large, extra-large, and small to test how efficiently pills dissolve in the body and distribute their medicines.
The process of dissolution testing is an FDA-mandated step in the making and selling of drugs. Brinker is happy to know this because it means that every new company that makes pills has to at least consider the kind of equipment Distek has to offer. And the major players in the pharma game — GSK, Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb — are already longstanding Distek clients. “We sell to all the big names,” Brinker says. “Multinationals, global companies, generic manufacturers. They’re all potential customers.”
Part of what helps Distek is the fact that it operates in a small specialty field. Competitors are few. Still, Brinker is aware of them. “We have one in the United States, one that used to be in the United States, two or three in Europe, and two in India,” he says. To stay ahead, Brinker says, requires a lot of attention to fine-tuning the product and the efficiency of the manufacturing process.
One of the company’s aces for staying ahead is training, and this is where the state’s $100,000 token of faith comes in. In 2012 the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development gave Distek $49,600 to help the company train workers in lean manufacturing techniques, which are designed to improve efficiencies. In August the state gave Distek an additional $50,400 to expand that training. Distek is using the recent round of money to focus on training programs for supply chain management, business process analysis, and strategies that help manufacturers minimize defects.
Neither grant went toward the company’s physical expansion, Brinker says, even though Distek recently built an additional 5,000 square feet onto its facility on North Center Drive. The company decided that becoming a hub of industry training for its workers, clients, and pharma professionals has the dual advantage of extra income from training programs and of positioning Distek as an expert in its field. Distek’s first paid training program for industry professionals begins the last week in September.
The company employs about 70 and is looking to hire as many as eight new employees soon, Brinker says. “We’ve grown quite a bit.”
This is a definite understatement, considering how the company began. About 50 years ago, Brinker’s father, Gerry, was a chemical engineer who sold laboratory equipment. At the time, the machine used to test the release and timing of drug pills was good, but not great. “Dad looked at it and thought, ‘I could design a better one.’”
In 1976 the senior Brinker founded Distek. “He was pretty much selling out of the basement of our house,” Brinker says. “I grew up with this stuff all around me.” Even so, the younger Brinker did not start out directly in his father’s footsteps. Brinker earned his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from Boston University in 1996 and spent the first five years or so after college working in that field. He worked for a tech company named PTC before coming to Distek in 2001 as part of its mechanical engineering team. He eventually managed the engineering department and took over for his father last year.
Not even a month after the junior Brinker took the reins, Distek acquired the fiber optic UV line from its longtime client LEAP Technologies. The deal, however, was not so much a bold move by the new company president as an opportunity that had been in the offing for a while, Brinker says. LEAP, based in North Carolina, had suffered from the Great Recession and the idea of Distek buying out a product line that it already had been distributing just timed out well.
Gerry Brinker, incidentally, is still involved with the company. “I call him somewhat semi-retired,” Brinker says. The founder works a couple days a week, scheduling meetings and other light tasks. Brinker’s mother, Pearl, who has been working for the company for 20 years or so, also is still involved. She does accounting and administrative work.
Brinker has two children he would like to see get involved in the company if they so desire, but he will have to wait a couple years to see how that pans out. “I have one daughter who’s four and another who’s one,” Brinker says. “It’s a little early to tell.” He does say that if either or both of his girls want to join the family business some day, he’s fine with it, but if they want to do something else, he’s fine with that too. “I was never forced into the business or anything,” he says. “It really just fit more for me.”
While the future of family involvement may have to wait, Brinker says the next five years for Distek are already shaping up. First and foremost is the company’s need to stay innovative and stay on top of the field. “We try to innovate as much as we can,” he says. “We’re not a ‘me too’ company. We own several patents. We’re a technologically advanced company. Not the least expensive out there, but we try to give a high level of service.”
Expanding and fine-tuning its training programs are also under consideration, depending on how the experiment goes. The company also wants to bring on more sales and administrative personnel as it grows.
“Over the next five years we’d like to maintain a controllable growth,” Brinker says. The company is looking to grow organically by expanding its product portfolio and possibly through acquisitions, but its aggressiveness in the field will be tempered by reason, he says. The company doesn’t want to grow too fast for its own good — which makes sense, given that Distek’s burgeoning forte is efficiency and not rapid expansion. “We want to grow, but we want to keep that small-company agility,” he says.
Distek Inc., 121 North Center Drive, North Brunswick 08902-4246; 732-422-7585; fax, 732-422-7310. Gerry Brinker, president and owner. www.distekinc.com.