In 2002, when Charles H. Entrekin temporarily exited the domestic titanium industry, the number of attendees at the International Titanium Association's annual conference in Orlando, Fla., totaled fewer than 425.
He's back in the industry now and recently was elected president of the trade group at its 2007 annual meeting, which also was held in Orlando. If there is one single statistic that reflects the industry's transformation during that five-year gap, it is the number of people who showed up at this year's meeting 1,050.
Entrekin rejoined Titanium Metals Corp. (Timet) Jan. 1, 2007, and is now president of global operations and chief operating officer of the company working out of its Morgantown, Pa., facility. When he left Timet five years ago, the industry was still reeling from the impact of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and it wasn't until well into 2004 that the first signs of a recovery emerged. There was a general consensus then that another sponge plant would probably never be built in this country.
Today, the industry is coming off a record year in domestic shipments, with this year's outlook at least as strong, buoyed by such new programs as the titanium-rich Boeing 787 commercial airliner. Both of Timet's main rivals, Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Technologies Inc. and RTI International Metals Inc., Niles, Ohio, are planning new greenfield front-end facilities, while Timet, which after Sept. 11 was the only domestic sponge producer, said earlier in the year that it was evaluating a brand-new sponge plant at an as-yet-undeclared location. Moreover, these companies and several others have embarked on various projects aimed at expanding downstream operations.
As newly elected president of the ITA, Entrekin—a Ph.D. who was instrumental in the development and application of electron-beam cold-hearth technology—acknowledges that he speaks for "an industry that's healthy and where most people are doing well. That's reflected in the strength of the audience."
During his hiatus, Entrekin was with private equity firm Safeguard International Fund, serving as managing director of London & Scandinavian Metallurgical Co. Ltd. of Britain and president and chief executive of Toronto-based Timminco Ltd. Today, as the top operating officer at Timet, one of the world's largest producers, he occupies a role in the industry different from that of his predecessor, Edward Sobota Sr., president of privately held Tech Spec Inc., Derry, Pa., who made it one of his goals to promote the role of the smaller company.
Entrekin said he's no less eager than Sobota to boost ITA's "mom and pop" members but also cites the "additional challenge" of globalization along with tighter disclosure rules for larger, publicly owned companies via Sarbanes-Oxley and other regulations. (Coincidentally, it was recently announced that Timet would join the Standard & Poor's index of the 500 largest U.S. companies.)
Another ongoing challenge is to "promote the role of titanium as the metal of choice in a lot of applications," Entrekin said, pointing out that more downstream uses in particular need to be developed. One example applications that require welding. He said titanium still has the largely undeserved reputation in some quarters as an exotic material for welding but thinks that more education will help erase this image.
However, one thing he isn't spending much time fretting about is the likelihood that the industry will be facing another slump anytime soon. "We're not planning for a recession," he said. "We're planning for next year's conference in Las Vegas to be bigger and for the year after that (when the conference will take place in Hawaii in a gesture to Asia's growing role in titanium) to be even bigger."