If you eat at Pizza Hut, grab a rotisserie chicken at Sam’s Club, install a new furnace, switch on a light or have the misfortune to be confined to a hospital bed, there is a good chance you’ve crossed paths with Jim Wilz—and two generations of Xavier connections.
Wilz is president of Sur-Seal, a Cincinnati-based company that traces its roots back 45 years to a small office in the accounting department of the Williams College of Business. Wilz’s father, Edward, was a longtime accounting professor who was approached by two of his students about the idea of serving as a consultant for a business they wanted to create making gaskets for the extensive tool and die industry in the region. Wilz liked the idea so much that he went into business with them. He eventually became president of the company and in 1989 sold it to his sons, Jim, Marty and Mick.
With the tool and die business declining, Jim Wilz heavily invested in innovative technical engineering and transitioned the company from making standardized gaskets and grommets to developing hi-tech components—including its own proprietary materials, such as a flame retardant rubber compound used in furnaces.
The company is now a $22 million-a-year firm that makes various gaskets, seals, plastic molding and rubber tubing parts that go into a dizzying array of manufactured goods for such industries as medicine, lighting, HVAC, food equipment, compressors, pumps and appliances.
“You never know where our components end up,” says Wilz. “We supply them to a million home furnaces a year. A hospital bed will have 20-30 of our parts. They are in outdoor light fixtures, dough mixers for Pizza Hut.”
Wilz, who says he’s more the company’s numbers cruncher than he is into the technical side, fondly remembers his senior year being in the first accounting class at Xavier to use Lotus 1-2-3, the landmark spreadsheet software.
“We were the Lotus guinea pigs,” he says. “It was an incredibly valuable experience. We trained on it and developed it for some CPA firms downtown. That always propelled me to be very creative, while being numbers-oriented. What I learned in that last year I have used almost every day.”