Brian Fitzpatrick '75 (top row, fourth from left) and Stillman students.
Shampoo, soaps and skin care – they all play a role in everyone's daily routine. Bathroom counters display an array of cleansers, soaps and gels. Bedroom dressers hold bottles, jars and tubes containing creams or cosmetics.
All those skin and hair care products have to start somewhere. Many of them originate right here in New Jersey, before they embark on their journeys to bathroom counters and bedroom dressers around the country and throughout the world.
Stillman School of Business graduate students from Entrepreneurship BMGT 7540 had a chance to learn about the conception of skin care and hair care formulas and view first-hand how they get into those bottles, jars and tubes behind the scenes at Bentley Laboratories, on Wednesday, September 19, in Edison, NJ. Bentley Labs is a formulating and outsource manufacturing firm for the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. Their clients are niche brand marketers many of whose products are available online and in retail stores everywhere, such as CVS, Whole Foods, Sephora, Walgreens, Ulta, Target, and more.
Stillman alumnus Brian Fitzpatrick ('75), who was inducted into the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame in 2009, is Bentley's owner and CEO. In lieu of an on-campus classroom experience that evening, the course instructors Pamela Adams, Ph.D. (Department of Management) and Susan Scherreik, M.B.A. (Director of Entrepreneurial Studies), accompanied students to Edison to meet Fitzpatrick, who opened the doors of his company's manufacturing facility for a private tour.
Scherreik, who has known Fitzpatrick for over a decade, said, "One of the biggest challenges that entrepreneurs face is to manage rapid growth. Brian is an astute entrepreneur who has adeptly managed growth by implementing processes and systems that have efficiently managed that growth."
Fitzpatrick's road to entrepreneurship began shortly after receiving his M.B.A. from Stillman in 1975. "I remember being where you are at Stillman," he told the students, "and listening to a professor talk about something I thought was valuable – passion comes from enjoying what you do for a living." Fitzpatrick went on to serve as an adjunct professor in the Stillman entrepreneurial program for several years.
After Fitzpatrick and Senior Vice President of Operations, John Kovacevich, greeted the group, Kovacevich began the tour through the chemistry lab, where he discussed some of the chemists' tasks and protocols, including preparing formulations, meeting specifications, batch-testing products, and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for cleaning and sanitizing raw materials. Next, Kovacevich instructed everyone to put on disposable polypropylene caps before entering the manufacturing facility in the 125,000-square-foot facility.
The tour continued through the plant—at once appearing orderly and sanitary—which was actively producing products, even at seven o'clock in the evening. Large oscillating fans whirred as Bentley employees skillfully filled boxes and containers with practiced speed and rhythm. Over the noises of busy forklifts, crating and stacking pallets, and the roar of finely tuned equipment mixing batches of products in 8,000-pound kettles (and even one immense 16,000-pound kettle), Kovacevich explained that Bentley grew 50 percent in 2016, and they have a goal to double the business in the next few years.
"We are sensitive to our customers' needs," he emphasized. "Our [best] resources include our people and our equipment. We are always working on our customer relationships and on-time delivery."
After an extensive tour of the lab, the plant and the warehouse facility, student Edgar Jurado (M.S.P.A.) remarked, "The state of the art facility in Edison is incredibly impressive. It was an amazing experience," he elaborated, "to see the chemists hard at work in the lab and the employees on the assembly line, who moved and worked with such precision and pace."
Following the tour, Fitzpatrick assembled the class in a conference room, where he presented a brief history explaining how he started the business of Bentley. Originally, Fitzpatrick bought the struggling company in 2002, then-named Mana Manufacturing and located in Mahwah, NJ, at which time he renamed it Bentley Laboratories. In 2006, when Bentley was in a growth mode, Fitzpatrick relocated the company from Mahwah to Edison.
"Shutting down a manufacturing operation and relocating it into a brand new facility of this size," Fitzpatrick reflected, "was a very risky move." The reality of this massive undertaking struck him one day during the move. "I was sitting in my office and I saw our big 16,000-pound kettle sitting on a flatbed truck going down the driveway. I thought are we really doing this?" He was quick to affirm that, "It ultimately paid off for us."
After the move, Fitzpatrick began reengineering the organization "around the kind of growth I felt was out there and we wanted to go after." Bentley recently purchased another 125,000 square-foot warehouse on the same street as the original one, allowing management to relocate the primary lab into the new facility and providing space for additional manufacturing capacity. "We have a lot of runway left for growth," he stated, referring to his plans to double revenues over the next three years.
"This is the kind of business where if you want to continue getting business your customers have to feel like you have plenty of capacity." Sharing this information with their customers, as well as potential customers, "assures them that we can meet their demands and get them the product they want." In order to streamline communications, Bentley's data management system provides an innovative application for the customers' smart phones that allows them to go through a secured portal and get up-to-date information about their R&D products or their production runs.
Bentley's technology team has formulated and developed unique products in the marketplace that appeal to the niche brand companies they serve, including several award-winning products attributed to some of those brands. According to Fitzpatrick, "We develop in the neighborhood of 400 to 600 products a year for our customers."
"We sell into every single distribution channel out there," Fitzpatrick responded when asked about Bentley's market share. "I can make a product for a very high-end spa, and turn around and make a product that’s mass-marketed at Walmart. That's a pretty unique spread."
Fitzpatrick's diligence and work ethic positively influenced many of the students who met him. One of them, John Conway (M.B.A.) enjoyed all aspects of the visit. "His [Fitzpatrick's] passion about his business has inspired me to find a way to start my own pilot plant," he said.
Jurado, professional accounting student, stated, "I have always had an entrepreneurial mindset, and as Brian [Fitzpatrick] put it, 'Entrepreneurs must find a business that they totally believe in.'"
Fitzpatrick totally believes in his company's philosophy, products and potential. His ability to jump start Bentley's growth over the past decade and maintain that growth keeps his passion fueled. He is indeed enjoying what he does for a living.