Shri Thanedar A chemist from modest origins creates a formidable analytical testing business
Source Cyanta Analytical Laboratories (http://www.cyanta.com)
Shri Thanedar's journey from a poor childhood in India to the helm of a group of chemistry-based companies is a classic American dream story. And with a recent custom synthesis acquisition and the formation of a new pharmaceutical services company, it's a continuing story as well.
Thanedar's flagship firm is Chemir Analytical Services, a suburban St. Louis provider of industrial problem-solving and analytical testing services. Combined, his companies are expected to have sales this year of $24 million; Thanedar is targeting $60 million in sales by 2009.
Growing up in Belgaum, India, some 300 miles south of what was then called Bombay, the idea of one day running a multi-million-dollar American enterprise was no doubt quite improbable to Thanedar. The oldest boy among nine siblings, his immediate concern was helping feed his family.
By 1974, at the surprisingly young age of 18, Thanedar had earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from a local college and was on his way to a full-time job at an atomic research center in Bombay. He earned an M.S. in chemistry while working as a health technician at the center and soon got to thinking about obtaining a Ph.D., and possibly working, outside the country.
He applied to the University of Akron, in Ohio, after learning about its strength in polymer chemistry and was admitted in 1979. "I was told it would be cold in Akron, so I brought along a sweater," Thanedar says. It was below zero when he landed in New York City that February.
By the fall of 1982, Thanedar had his Ph.D., but the U.S. was in recession and he couldn't find a job. At a regional American Chemical Society meeting, he met David Curtis, head of the University of Michigan's chemistry department, and took up Curtis' offer to come to Ann Arbor for a postdoc. In 1984, he completed the postdoc and was finally getting job offers.
As Thanedar recalls, he was tired of the cold, and his most southern job offer came from Petrolite in St. Louis. He moved there and began using his doctorate in Ziegler-Natta catalysis to synthesize long-chain aliphatics as additives for fuels, coatings, and other products.
Although Thanedar enjoyed the work, he says he became frustrated by his inability to make a real impact at the company. "A lot of the time, Ph.D. chemists get stereotyped into doing just technical work," he says.
With a newborn son and a wife finishing a medical school residency, it was a bad time for Thanedar to set out on his own. Instead, he decided to find a small company that he could join and perhaps someday own. "I opened the Yellow Pages," he says. "The manufacturing companies were all large, so I looked under analytical labs."
One of his calls was to St. Louis-based Industrial Testing Laboratories. Although owner Allen Siegal didn't have a spot for Thanedar, he recommended a nearby outfit, Chemir Laboratories, owned by Clara Craver, an expert in infrared spectroscopy. It turned out that Craver was looking to sell the business, but she had a problem. "Without her, the company was nothing," Thanedar says.
His solution was to apprentice himself at night and on weekends for $15 per hour. In October 1990, after a year as Craver's protégé, he bought the company for $75,000. Sales in his first year were $150,000. As Thanedar says, "We grew one customer, one chemist at a time."
He brought in other analytical equipment and expanded the range of problems that Chemir could solve. Typical customers came to include the contact lens solution maker whose product is causing an eye irritation, or the pen maker that wants to know how a competitor's ink dries so quickly, or the knee implant company faced with a product that is prematurely deteriorating.
In 1996, Thanedar bought a St. Paul, Minn., lab called Betec; three years later he acquired Siegal's
Credits for MR Shri Thanedar
winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year 2007 in the Central Midwest Region
national business award. The IndUS Business Journal 2006