Posted in: Industry News

A Career Well-Lived: Peter Gribble’s Induction into the PCI® Hall of Fame

Posted on Sunday, June 1, 2014

At The Powder Coating Institute’s Annual Meeting in May, I had the privilege to introduce one of this year’s inductees to the PCI® Hall of Fame. His story is quite interesting, and I thought I would share it with you.

Peter Gribble was born of modest beginnings in Worthing, Sussex County, UK, a small seaside town in the south of England. His first memories were peering out his window surveying the aftermath of Nazi bombs on the countryside. He dutifully pursued his studies as a young lad culminating with a chemistry major from the local technical college.

His formative years were spent in a somewhat unique era. Back then, Peter was able to enjoy performances of the Rolling Stones for half a crown as they were still a club band trying to break into the evolving British rock scene. As Peter emerged from adolescence, he witnessed the battles between the “Mods” and the “Rockers” and with it their unique styles of two-wheeled transportation. The Rockers preferred buzzing about on motorcycles whereas the Mods gravitated to the more practical Vespa and Lambretta scooters. This undoubtedly accounts for Peter’s lifelong passion for motor scooters.

Peter’s chemistry background thrust him into an entry-level position at ICI Paints in Slough, Buckinghamshire, a hamlet west of London. After a few years of formulating industrial primers, he transitioned to another position at Ault & Wiborg, a relatively small paint manufacturer.

The 1960s were winding down and Peter realized it was time for his next adventure. Uncertain of his professional path in the UK, he struck out for the New World for what he thought would be a temporary stint in the American coatings industry. He applied for and was accepted to work at Glidden- Durkee, then a division of SCM Corporation. He landed in Northeast Ohio on May 6, 1970, two days after the Ohio National Guard gunned down four Kent State University students during the tumultuous Vietnam War protests. The folks back home wondered how close their fortunate son had brushed with this chaos.

Gribble’s first assignment placed him in Glidden’s coatings research group working on a novel industrial coating technology based on dry particles. He partnered with a zany Ph.D. to explore the possibilities of this distinctive approach to coat industrial products. His scholarly colleague soon left for academia leaving Peter as the technical manager of Glidden’s fledgling powder coating group.

One thing led to another and Glidden’s youthful technical manager found himself spearheading the construction of a powder manufacturing plant and the supply of newly developed products for a number of emerging customers. One of the first accounts involved the finishing process for automatic voting machines.

The powder coating business grew rapidly and with it Peter’s technical group and its influence in the market. I climbed aboard in 1978 as just a kid and spent the next 15 years riding the technology wave with Mr. Gribble. We slayed a host of dragons back then. Through Peter’s diligence, determination and technical discipline, Glidden emerged as the dominant player in the burgeoning appliance and automotive market sectors. The industry experienced incredible growth in the 1980s through 1990s, and it was people like Peter who fostered the development of new technology to feed this surge.

As a colleague and partner in crime, Gribble taught me volumes on how to create new products for customers. He had the wisdom to take more than a chemistry and formulating approach. It was imperative that the products worked in the customer’s production scheme. So not only did the molecules in the coating have to behave appropriately, the powder had to handle and apply flawlessly—and all this at a cost that would allow the company to make a reasonable profit.

Peter’s style was unique. Regardless of the challenge, he always, always, always delivered the goods. In addition he would never let us rest on our laurels. As soon as we introduced a defining technology to a customer, efforts were refocused on developing the next generation product. This strategy kept our competition in a perpetual game of catch-up. As they found a way to copy our initial product, we were on the verge of introducing the next technology.

It’s not often we induct a technical person into our hallowed Hall of Fame. In fact, my last count shows 19 inductees with only four technical contributors represented. It makes me ponder the thought, if we don’t have any products (read: technical innovations), we have nothing to sell. This man dedicated his life to bringing new technology to the powder coating market.

So it was my privilege to introduce this year’s latest member of the PCI® Hall of Fame, Mr. Peter Gribble.

Peter delivered a most gracious acceptance speech upon receiving this honor. Instead of extolling the long list of his achievements, he chose to recognize the people who had shaped his career. He gave mention to his mentors who guided his development as a formulator and technical manager. He then recognized the achievements made by many of his hires as they progressed from lab rats to managers and icons in the powder industry today. He closed with the prescient advice not to rest on the laurels of existing technology but to continue pushing the bounds of innovation to foster the next generations of powder coatings.

Indeed, a career well-lived.