A psychological thriller Featured

9:56am EDT July 22, 2002

Walter Greenleaf prepared for a career in psychology when he attended Allegheny College in the late 1940s. Ironically, psychology prepared him for a quite different career.

Ultimately, while he chose instead to enter the family business his father started in a garage in 1945, Greenleaf says his education has come in handy in his career with the family-owned business.

James Greenleaf, his son and the company’s president since 1996, says his father’s honesty, forthright manner in dealing with customers and employees and his willingness to provide a stable work environment for his workers have been key reasons for his success.

Greenleaf Corp. manufactures carbide industrial cutting tools and ceramic cutting tools, a field that the company pioneered in the mid-1980s and which allowed it to enter the computer field. It has since developed processes to manufacture ceramic substrate material used throughout the computer disk drive industry.

The company has grown steadily and employs approximately 500 people, a majority of whom work at the company’s headquarters in Saegertown, Pa., north of Pittsburgh. Sales exceeded $65 million last year.

Greenleaf’s ability to put together alliances with business partners appears to have been no minor skill. In 1968, a supplier of carbide material ended its contract with the company, forcing Greenleaf to search out another partner. He searched the globe and landed a joint venture agreement with Sandvik Corp. in 1969, a relationship that lasted 15 years, until Greenleaf purchased the Swedish company’s interest in 1984.

While Greenleaf’s college study would seem to indicate that he harbored different aspirations, he nonetheless found his father’s business had an allure.

“It was very interesting because I seemed to have a lot of mechanical ability,” Greenleaf says.

His father, the 53-year-old company’s founder, was also responsible to some degree for his son’s decision to join the company. “He encouraged me to go on with the business,” he says.. “He thought I had a lot of aptitude for it.”

For Greenleaf, it seems, the secret to entrepreneurial success is to pursue an idea with dogged determination.

“The best advice I can give is to stick with it,” says Greenleaf. “It’s a matter of timing. You’ve got to be first with the best.”