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HWI CEO sees growth opportunities with pending acquisition


Dec. 19, 2022 - HarbisonWalker International’s pending acquisition by Platinum Equity comes at the right time and will help it continue on the growth path it’s been the last several years, HWI President Carol Jackson said.

Platinum Equity, the Los Angeles-based private equity firm, is set to buy the Coraopolis-based manufacturer sometime in the first half of 2023 for an undisclosed sum from the two asbestos trusts that own HWI. Jackson said the sale to Platinum Equity began nearly a year ago when the firm’s board and ownership decided it was the right time to talk about selling.

HWI is a major presence in North America with the manufacturing of high-temperature refractory bricks and other supplies for the steelmaking industry. It has 16 manufacturing facilities and sales all over the world, as well as a strong position in North America. Under Jackson’s leadership, HWI has invested in the business and opened new facilities over the last several years.

In an interview with the Business Times, Jackson said the company had looked at the opportunities both with other companies and private equity firms before settling upon Platinum Equity as the best way to move forward. HWI has been doing well as the domestic steel industry has. She said Platinum Equity will provide the resources to allow HWI to take the next steps.

“There are a lot of opportunities that we believe will emerge (in the industry in the future) … We knew that at some point in time it would make sense to transact with a buyer that would be interested in investing in the company for the long term and making significant investments and setting us up to potentially do transactions in our industry,” Jackson said.

A big step toward that will be taken soon with Platinum Equity’s pending acquisition of another refractory company, the High Temperature Solutions (HTS) business of Imerys SA. Platinum Equity plans to combine HTS and HWI, when that transaction closes in 2023, into a global business.

That makes sense to Jackson. HWI’s major products are the manufacturing of refractory bricks, which are built to withstand the high heat in metal manufacturing. HTS has a different, powder-based product.

“If you look at our companies, HWI and HTS, our businesses are very complementary,” she said. “Where they have strengths in Europe and other parts of the world, our strength is here in North America. We have a portfolio of products that when combined, really provide increased alternatives and options for customers across a variety of industries.”

Jackson said that the combined companies will be beneficial.

“It will bring in more options and technology, and the financial wherewithal of Platinum Equity to make even more investments in our company, to accelerate the work that we’ve done to continue to be a leader in the refractory industry,” Jackson said.

The details, however, are still to be worked out. Because neither company are yet owned by Platinum Equity, they can’t coordinate. Jackson said that the first order of business for HWI is to get the transaction approved with by regulators and then get to closing. After the transaction closes, the immediate strategy and how the companies will be combined, will be determined. Jackson said the companies don’t have a lot of overlap in their operations.

Jackson and the senior management team at HWI spent Wednesday and Thursday speaking to employees about the pending combination. She said that it’ll business as usual until then.

“Our customers can expect the same high-quality products, the same phenomenal service,” she said.

HarbisonWalker reported revenue of $525 million and is ranked among the top 25 in the List of Pittsburgh-area Private Companies published by the Business Times on June 24. HTS had 2021 revenue of about $850 million and employs about 2,800 in 36 sites in 16 countries.

Jackson will be in Alabama Friday to celebrate the opening of its $25 million AlabamaOne facility serving the steel industry. And it’s full speed ahead on the other growth initiatives the company has been undergoing, including expanding its services business, increasing digitalization and other efforts that have been funded by the current ownership group.

She’s planning to stay with the company after the transaction is completed.

“I love HWI. Throughout this whole process, it’s been my family. I don’t mean to sound corny, but I do believe it. We’ve been on a journey together and as CEO, I’ve just celebrated in July my fifth anniversary as CEO of the company,” she said. “There’s not a day when I’m not grateful for the opportunity to lead the folks.”

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