In the air conditioning and air treatment industry, you could not get much bigger in this part of the world than Fedders. Based in New York, the company became one of the most well-known companies in its field, eventually buying what was the New York Times building off Exit 10 of the New Jersey Turnpike and operating out of Liberty Corners while shipping its manufacturing facilities overseas. In a six-year period beginning in 1999 Fedders bought nine companies in its quest to expand.
Then, by 2007, the company had stopped growing. Worse, it had already started selling off many of the companies it had just bought. By that autumn Fedders filed for bankruptcy. In August of that year France-based Airwell — owned by ELCO holdings of Tel Aviv and worth more than $500 million worldwide — showed its interest in buying Fedders. In March, 2008, Airwell Group bought Fedders in a $16 million deal that gives the European air treatment giant a strong toehold into the Americas.
Last month Airwell Fedders moved its American headquarters from Liberty Corners to Dayton. Dave Pearson, president and general manager of Airwell Fedders North America, says the move to the 4,000-square-foot facility puts the company in an ideal location to stay in contact with Fedders’ New England sales base (which made up 70 percent of that company’s business), the ports, and access to Latin America. The Fedders name will continue to be used on products here because of the name recognition.
Airwell expects to grow its brand here as well. Pearson says Airwell Fedders expects to double in 2009, then again in 2010, then see 50 percent growth over the ensuing three years. These calculations are drawn by projecting the introduction of Airwell products to North and Latin America — products that are established in Europe but unknown here. These products, such as air filters, air treatment systems, and air conditioning units, are not different than similar products used in the States, he says, they just have never been modified for American electrical outlets and thus never sold here.
But this is not just about air conditioning, nor about simply growing a market share. The move also provides Airwell room to grow on site. By spring Pearson says he expects Airwell Fedders to occupy an additional 4,500 square feet on Centre Drive that will be used as a corporate training center. Courses in marketing and business practices will be given monthly, and select clients will be granted access to the training programs via the Internet. The space also will be rented out to other companies looking to do corporate training sessions.
Pearson, who began his career in the 1970s with Trane, says Airwell is “a nice aggressive company” with a distinctly European touch.
“European companies think differently,” Pearson says. “They tend to value employees a little better; they invest in their own companies. Most of them take great pride in having employees work for them for 40 or 50 years.”
European companies, he adds, are better at handling volatility. Europe spent most of the 20th century either in a state of war or dealing with territorial conflicts. Market swings give European companies less stress than they give American companies.
Pearson lives in Baltimore. “It’s only a two-hour drive” and he travels around the world a lot anyway, so he isn’t moving here. He will, however, come to New Jersey regularly to run things at the Dayton plant, which will be used for distribution and sales, in addition to corporate training.
Pearson, whose father was “a lot of things,” including a real estate agent and a corporate vice president involved in giving and planning, earned a bachelor’s in business from the University of Virginia in 1981. He has been connected to Fedders for nearly 10 years. After leaving Trane, Pearson became director or purchasing at York, then a vice president at Trion. In 1999 he sold Trion to Fedders and was involved in the latter’s acquisitions from then until 2005. In that period Fedders bought nine companies and set up shop in China. When Fedders got into financial trouble Pearson sold off some of those companies, including Polenz, which was sold to Airwell in 2006. Since then he has been with Airwell.
Back in Baltimore, his wife acts as office manager, and Pearson keeps an eye on Airwell’s dealings on this side of the Atlantic. Those dealings include forays into real estate, such as in Palm Beach, Florida, where Airwell just purchased some residential land. While he did not say whether Airwell will expand westward (or southward) in the Americas, he did say that parent company ELCO already holds 800,000 square meters of commercial space in the United States.
Airwell’s dealings are smart business, Pearson says, as is the company’s push to develop a global training division in Dayton. “You can only reduce the cost of an air conditioner so much,” he says.
Airwell Fedders North America, 2 Centre Drive, Box 7222, Monroe 08831; 609-662-5300; fax, 609-662-5301. Dave Pearson, general manager. Home page: www.fedders.com.