At Brazil's Borrachas Vipal S/A, a maker of retread and tire repair products, being a good corporate citizen and an environmentally friendly company is just as important as making a profit.
Perhaps even more so, if you listen to the words of Joao Carlos Paludo, a son of company founder Vicencio Paludo, who, at age 83, remains active in the business.
``Our family has a humble history,'' the younger Mr. Paludo said in an interview during the recent World Tire Expo in Louisville. ``My father started the business himself. He went through very hard times. We try to keep the values he's given us.''
Those values include viewing the business seriously, being humble as a company and having social responsibility as well as taking care of the environment.
``All of our grandparents came from Italy and immigrated to Brazil,'' said Mr. Paludo, Vipal's executive vice president. ``Originally they were very poor and very humble. We see that as a value.''
The elder Mr. Paludo established Vipal in 1973 in Nova Prata, in Brazil's Rio Grande state. He had owned a small gas station that included a retread shop and found it difficult and expensive to get tire repair materials, which had to be imported. So, in 1967, he began making his own repair materials for use at the station.
Before long, others in the tire business were asking him to produce repair materials for them. So in 1973 he struck out on his own and founded Vipal. The company grew and in 1982, the first year telephone service came to Nova Prata, Vipal made its first export sale to Chile.
Today, Vipal boasts a payroll of 2,200, has capacity to produce 12,000 tons of tread rubber per month and sells its products in 90 countries. It has seven distribution centers in other countries, including the U.S., where Vipal Rubber Co. operates a 15,000-sq.-ft. warehouse in Miami.Vipal operates three factories in its home country, all in Nova Prata, that produce precure tread rubber, tire repair materials, cements and other products to repair and retread tires.
Besides these operations, Vipal runs a compounds division that mixes rubber for tire manufacturing and other uses, a division that makes rubber flooring and a plastics division.
While the elder Mr. Paludo has seen his company grow into a major corporation, he has never forgotten his humble beginnings, his son said.
``We try to search for kids in elementary school-kids who have above-normal intelligence,'' said Mr. Paludo, one of four brothers and five sisters working at the company. ``We support them (thoughout their entire education). The only thing we ask is that when they get a job they (in turn) support two other students.''
The company also has set up a plant at the state jail in Nova Prata for making tire patches, giving inmates an opportunity to earn up to $200 a month and a chance to reduce the length of their sentences.
The goal is, when they are released, ``they come out, have a job and can work,'' Mr. Paludo said. Vipal has 20 such former inmates on its payroll, he added.
The firm also actively supports a local ``soup house'' and backs an agency working with underprivileged children suffering from HIV/AIDS.
Vipal also believes that every company must be environmentally friendly, Mr. Paludo said.
Since 1988, for example, the company has collected all the waste it generates and recycles everything it can, including paper, metal, plastic and rubber. It even captures rainwater for use in its industrial operations and operates its own water treatment plant.
``When we return the water to nature, it's cleaner than when we got it,'' said Ivan Silva, Vipal's international market coordinator.
In 1989, Vipal acquired one of the last remaining rain forests in the mountain range of Rio Grande do Sul that was being destroyed by what it described as the indiscriminate exploration of its resources. The company has invested more than $1 million in the property to recover the land. This includes the replanting of more than 60,000 trees on 300 acres of the recovered forest.
``We believe every company should be environmentally friendly,'' Mr. Paludo said, noting this is the nature of the company's business-retreading, recycling and repairing.