Hollingsworth & Vose: Focused on Technology and Lasting Relationships

Val Hollingsworth

By Edward C. Gregor, Editorial Advisory Board Chairman, International Filtration News

Few companies in the United States have been around as long as Hollingsworth & Vose (H&V), headquartered in East Walpole, Mass. Company history dates back to colonial times when its predecessor began producing hand-made writing and printing paper. The Hollingsworth family became involved in the 1790s. Over time, the focus shifted from traditional types of paper to specialty materials. H&V developed the first patent on Manila paper and became a leading producer of electrical insulating materials. Yet it wasn’t until 1940 when the company began to concentrate its efforts on filtration media. The Hollingsworth family is now in its seventh generation of ownership led by Val Hollingsworth, president & CEO. The company is largely recognized as a provider of a diverse range of excellent filtration media for use in air and liquid, as well as coalescing.

Examples of media diversity range in applications from cabin air to cleanrooms, from medical equipment and personal protection to home appliances, and from fuel filtration to HVAC systems. H&V technology is equally diverse: wet-laid cellulose and glass media, synthetic media along with composite constructions and advanced fiber technologies. In the liquid market, microfiberglass, synthetics, nanoweb technology, custom cellulose blends and the latest process technologies have provided distinct advantages. Customized constructions and composites enable proprietary filtration products for liquid separations and purity required in engines and process fluids, including fluid power, food & beverage and medical.

Ed Gregor: Hollingsworth & Vose makes many products for a wide variety of markets, yet I assume filtration still is the largest market for the company.

Val Hollingsworth: Yes, that’s true. Today, our activities are mainly focused on developing and supplying filtration and separation materials. We are active in most areas of filtration around the world. We focus on growing our applications expertise and manufacturing capabilities in wet laid and synthetic media technologies with the objective of providing a broad range of choices for our customers.

Ed Gregor: What are the most significant and key elements that foster long-term relationships with your customers?

Val Hollingsworth: We like to combine our technical expertise with a commitment to building long-term relationships with our customers. We work hard to earn their trust. Our focus is on understanding the applications and bringing filter media technology leadership to our customers’ own development programs. We have a low turnover of personnel, extensive training throughout the organization, and ultimately, a culture that understands the importance of protecting individual customer information. This all comes back to what I mentioned earlier about building trust. We assemble dedicated teams consisting of sales, technologists, application specialists and others as required; to work with customers with the goal of building differentiated products. As a result, we have created several thousand SKU’s over the years. This is not easy to manage, but helps give our customers what works best for them. Overall, we aim to provide the broadest range of expertise and solutions. We believe that our experienced professionals, technical expertise, product and production capabilities give us the breadth and depth our customers deeply value.

Ed Gregor: Are there any other areas you might like to mention, especially when it comes to your various filtration-manufacturing operations globally?

Val Hollingsworth: Yes, we believe that the rising expectations for environmental protection, energy efficiency and health are important drivers of ongoing changes in the filtration industry. However, we recognize that the new products and technologies that will be needed generally take many years to develop and gain acceptance. We often see very long-cycles of 10-20 years for this kind of change to play out. Persistence and a long-term view are essential. So, we try to do a good job of listening to our customers and offering a balance of fundamentally new technologies with ongoing incremental improvements on current technology platforms. Our objective is to be best in class and to continually work with customers to refine filtration media as their specific needs evolve.

Ed Gregor: Is there any filtration media H&V has developed on its own you would like to mention?

Val Hollingsworth: Yes, one that we are particularly excited about is our NanoWave synthetic nonwoven technology platform. This propriety media provides exceptional filtration performance. NanoWave media captures sub-micron particles and has high dirt holding capacity – while also achieving a step-change reduction in system pressure drop. This technology helps filter makers achieve significant total system cost reductions. Our technologists continue to find ways to make further improvements. This is one of the long-term material developments, I mentioned earlier.

Ed Gregor: H&V has been making regular strategic acquisitions in the last 25 to 30 years, adding a number of global production operations and have become an international filtration media company. Do you see future company growth coming largely from acquisitions or organic growth, and why?

Val Hollingsworth: We have combined organic growth with acquisitions over the years and we expect to continue doing this. Long-term growth is best achieved with innovation. Some capabilities and technologies are better developed and nurtured internally, like our NanoWave product. Not a lot of companies would have been prepared to invest 10+ years and many millions in completely new and unproven product and process technology. We had to do this ourselves. That and other significant platform technologies will be funded and grown organically over time. We have also seen opportunities for acquisitions that fit well within H&V’s distinctive family culture and really add to our long-term growth. In 2001, we bought another family business in Germany, J.C. Binzer. It has been a great fit, and is now a major hub for continued growth and investment for H&V. However, in China, we thought it would be best to go it alone to build our culture there. Our Suzhou plant was a greenfield startup that we keep expanding and is now our main hub serving the APAC region.

Ed Gregor: Hollingsworth & Vose has been in the filtration business since 1940. Is there anything you would care to comment on that has been behind company growth and success for so long – 80 years in 2020!

Val Hollingsworth: We’re committed to the filtration business and think it’s a good fit for a family business like ours that is willing to take a very long-term view. Filtration media product and process investments are often uncertain and slow to pay back. Capital needs are high and our family owners have been willing to continually re-invest heavily. The business is also highly specialized and fragmented. We often have to develop unique medias for individual customers, which can be a slow and difficult process. Also, I think that our customers like the stability of H&V. They know they can call any of us and that we will always try to do the right thing – and that we plan to be around for a long time.

Ed Gregor: Thank you for your insightful comments.

Val Hollingsworth: You’re welcome.