Business Q & A

A conversation with Bob Bunting

Through high school and college, Bob Bunting, 63, president of Bunting Magnetics in Newton, loved working in the business founded by his father.

He worked summers, weekends and holidays.

“I was that perfect generation,” Bunting said. “I loved working here.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in economics from Illinois State University, he went to work for Goodyear in Chicago as a retail store manager.

He joined Bunting full time in 1973 and became its president in 1993.

His son, Robert Bunting, 32, has followed his elders into the business.

Robert Bunting is a product specialist for the company’s metal detection product line at the company’s Chicago division.

Bunting Magnetics employs 190, including 135 people in two facilities in Newton.

It also operates sites in DuBois, Pa., and Berkhamsted, England.

Bunting Magnetics buys raw magnet material from various sources and fabricates magnet products for the food, pharmaceutical, print, chemical, plastics and tool and die industries.

Magnets are often used to pull metal fragments out of recycled plastics, and in die-cutting cylinders for labeling and magnet separators for the plastics industry.

Bunting also builds metal detectors, and it’s adding other magnet-related products.

“We bring the magnets in. Some come in complete. Some we have to cut to size,” Bunting said. “We form the metal. We have metal trucks coming in every day. We’re forming and bending. It’s basically a job shop.”

The company operates a machine shop, a weld shop, a paint area and an assembly area in Newton.

In 2011, the company was a finalist for the Governor’s Exporter of the Year award.

Exports are a key to its growth.

“We’re getting more global,” Bunting said.

Bunting’s wife, Barbara, is on the school board in Newton.

Your company is quite diversified in a variety of markets. How does that work for Bunting?

That’s good and bad. Sometimes you have a tendency not to focus in one area when you should be. In our industry we’re pretty much a No. 2 company. We’re well known, but because we’re so diversified, sometimes I think we miss out on being larger than we are.

What’s your biggest market?

Number one is the plastics industry. Recycling in the plastics industry is very big. There’s quite a bit of equipment in plastics recycling.

You want to give more attention to the food industry. Why is that?

The plastics industry could have a slowdown. Food is going to continue to be sold. Our goal … is to focus on something that is going to grow regardless of what the economy is.

How does the food industry use magnets?

All food starts at a farm field someplace. During the process you can pick up impurities. In packaging, you can pick up small slivers of stainless steel. We sell both magnetic separators and metal detectors so we can target ferrous as well as nonferrous material that could be in a product.

You also sell off-the-shelf magnets for consumers at your website, What are they?

(We have) magnets a person may want to use in crafts just to hold something, magnets for little science projects. Most are still being sold for industrial use. It could be used as a switch. It could be used as a latch. We’re in the process of redoing all of our catalogs. It’s a busy time of year for us.

What’s your biggest challenge?

I think it’s just keeping yourself attuned to how the industry may be changing (and) being able to find and retain high-quality people. We’ve been very lucky at that.

How do you keep your employees?

There’s nothing worse than a bored employee. It’s … trying to keep something in front of your employees that is fun. … I’m not going to tell you we’re playing ping-pong and stuff like that. It’s having people work on projects that get their juices going. We turn orders fairly fast here. We turn 300 to 350 orders a week.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I do not have a balanced life. … When I’m not at work, I’m at home. I don’t golf. … I travel a lot. I come to work on Saturdays.

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

I like to read. I like being alone. I’m with people all day. Sometimes I’m probably quieter than people realize.

In college they called you the “Magnet Man.” How many times has someone joked about you having a magnetic personality?

You ever hear the joke about the guy who says, “I will give you a dollar if you come up with a lawyer joke I haven’t heard?” I don’t even notice it. I do not have a magnetic personality. (But) I came from the sales side of the company. You have to be approachable. You have to be a person who can set another person at ease. … I’m just me. I think I’ve probably heard them all.

What’s your best management advice?

Communicate your goals and where you’re going. I meet with all the employees every month out in the shop. I review how we did the preceding month, any special projects we may be working on. … They turn in questions. I answer all questions. It’s getting in front of your employees … and getting their input.