Brush Engineered Materials plans to change its name to Materion Corp. in March

January 18, 2011

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Nearly 80 years after it was formed, Brush Engineered Materials Inc. plans to change its name to Materion Corp.

Brush has changed its name several times since its 1921 founding as Brush Laboratories. But this will be the first incarnation of the company to drop the name that came from Charles F. Brush, the inventor the electric arc light and several other devices that were key in the early days of electric power.

Brush Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Hipple said the company has a proud heritage but the Brush name doesn’t reflect who they have become as they have developed new technologies.

“As we’ve grown, this is how the customer sees us. Ten different companies, 10 different names, 10 different brands. There was too much confusion over who we are,” Hipple said of the Mayfield Heights company.

Historians may see the Brush name and remember company that developed the first generators for hydro-electric dams and windmills.

Hipple said most of his customers see the Brush name as a company that grew quickly in the 1950s by selling beryllium, an element that’s lighter than aluminum that played key roles in the Mercury-era space capsules and the development of nuclear power plants. Beryllium is also highly toxic and several former employees have sued Brush over the years complaining of lung ailments. Those suits have dropped off sharply since 2001.

Companies still use beryllium in numerous ways from consumer electronics to medical devices, but Hipple said Brush continued to grow in different ways.

In the past decade, it has added divisions that make films used for solar panels and companies that coat steel with protective alloys. After conducting surveys with its customers, the company’s management decided that the Brush name was not helping it sell its diverse product lineup to its customers.

“Attached to that great Brush legacy and heritage was the thought that we are an integrated metals business” that mines, processes and sells beryllium, Hipple said. He added that such the company gets less than 30 percent of its sales from such activities.

Starting in March, he said the Materion name should help inform his customers about the diverse products and services the company can offer.

“We want to reach out to our existing clients and let them know about everything we can do,” Hipple said. “We do that today, but it’s more random than something that’s integrated into the whole organization.”

On March 8, the company’s name will change and its ticker symbol on the New York Stock Exchange will change to MTRN from BW. Hipple said the company had been preparing to change its name in 2008, but when markets collapsed that year, the Brush decided to put off the change.

Branding experts differ on whether or not a name change is a good idea for the company.

Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University near Chicago, said few companies change their names after 80 years in business, but such a change could make sense.

“With an old brand name, there’s often a great deal of history, but people aren’t always aware of that history. And that history may not have any bearing on what they’re doing today,” Calkins said.

He added that changing the company’s name will only be the first step. Materion’s marketing department will have to spread the word about the new name. If customers continue to see the same old company with a new logo, they won’t change how they deal with Materion, Calkins added.

Rob Frankel, a branding consultant who has consulted with Disney, Sony and others said that Brush could gain more in the long run by re-investing in its old name.

“One would think that they could leverage the company’s history and more efficiently transition that history into modern-day relevance,” Frankel said. “There is inherent interest, but the story has been neglected and the heritage has been neglected.”

Charles F. Brush may not be as famous as Thomas Edison, Frankel said, but that doesn’t mean the company couldn’t generate that interest in the name.

Electric car company Tesla Motors, for example, named itself for Nikola Tesla, another Edison contemporary who pioneered the early days of electricity.

“Tesla is being rediscovered, 100 years after his death, thanks to that car company,” Frankel said. He added that Brush could do the same, highlighting Charles Brush’s 1888 power-generating windmill to green-energy customers or his electric lights to consumer electronics companies.

Hipple said the company considered doing that, but executives decided that it would take more effort to rehabilitate the company’s historic image than it would take to generate an entirely new one.

“The complexity from the customer standpoint is only going to increase as we continue to grow,” Hipple said. “We had to do this now to address that.”

After the name change, Materion will continue to use the Brush name in some divisions, such as Materion Brush Beryllium and Composites. And the Brush name will remain at Charles F. Brush High School in Lynhdurst where sports teams still use an electric-bolt logo on their uniforms and call themselves the Arcs.

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