A New Chapter
At the Maxi Rolex in the first week in September 2008, while discussing his new build, Hetairos owner Otto Happel stated that 2009 would be a “…very bad year economically, I mean very bad.”
How right he was. Two weeks later Wall Street firm Lehmann Brothers, the fourth largest investment firm in the United States, filed for bankruptcy and the Great Downturn began.
The Downturn didn’t affect Hall Spars immediately. We had the big Oracle job and a new mast for the Baltic 148 Visione on the books, but knew we had to be pro-active to ensure the health of the business.
The idea was to wean ourselves from a lifestyle business to a business business by growing our non-marine business as rapidly as possible.
I doubt we weaned ourselves enough from the lifestyle part, but we had an impressive start in the non-marine business after officially branding it Hall Composites in 2013.
Our biggest score was making parts for SpaceX rockets. Our main product was the fairing that streamlined to landing legs. When the images came back of the SpaceX rocket returning to earth and landing on an ocean barge for the first time, the fairings were easy to see, a source of great pride for us all.
Our other early Hall Composites client was Zodiac Aerospace. We built components for their escape slides on Boeing jets and made a bunch of 737 parts.
We had some other fascinating and visible projects. We delivered a 120-foot wing for a high-altitude aircraft for Aurora Aerospace. Perhaps the most fascinating was a project for Deployable Space Systems (DSS). DSS needed to get a six-inch diameter, 80-foot-long tubes into space. Their concept was a tube that could be flattened, rolled up like a tape measure and stored in a two-foot square box. We succeeded in making one. Man, rolling that thing up and keeping it from getting away from us and flying all over the shop was a challenge. But the guys did it and it worked!
While we were growing the non-marine business, as expected, the spar business began to slow.
The America’s Cup for which we always seemed to be making masts, changed its format to solid wing driven craft. The wings were now made in house by the teams. By 2013 whatever we were doing for the Cup was just crumbs compared to the mast days.
Where pre-2008 there was more than enough spar and rigging for everyone, post 2008 the market shrunk dramatically. What business remained seemed to be drifting towards our competitors.
With the prospects of large capital injections dim, we began looking for a White Knight to acquire Hall Spars.
It was heart breaking to part ways with the company we had built, but it took less time than we thought for our moods to recover. We all still had our retirement funds and a lot of sailing and other activities still in front of us. And of course, our families. I personally was able to start Alphalock Systems, a new business marketing halyard locks. Halyard locks are probably at the bottom of the marine hardware food chain, but the business has kept me in beer money and, as I enjoy saying, occasionally champagne money.
Over the forty years from 1980, we had a great run, with great people who built a great company on three continents, making a lot of great products.
I am proud the company endures, continuing to do great work in Holland and New Zealand as part of North Technology Group.