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Reinventing a Company

HENRY SIEMON ’03 assumed the role of president and CEO of The Siemon Company in January 2021, becoming the fifth family member in as many generations to hold the position since his great-great-grandfather founded the company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1903.

Manufacturing leaders of The Siemon Company show president and CEO Henry Siemon ’03 (center) design changes made during prototyping.

Taking over the company during the middle of the pandemic was not an easy task to begin with, but the fact that a family member tested positive for COVID-19 on his first day in the office compounded the challenge because it required him to isolate for 10 days.

“That was quite an interesting curveball from day one,” Siemon says, especially because as a manufacturing company, the company was deemed essential and many had jobs that could not be done remotely.

While Siemon couldn’t be in the office for his first days on the job, it’s a role the fifth-generation leader was preparing for his whole life, even if he did not recognize it until the time came for him to take it on.

The path to where the company is now began 119 years ago with a focus on plastics. Carl F. Siemon was a chemist who invented a plastic material that had a chemical composition stronger than others available at the time, and he used it to manufacture items like poker chips, rotary phone handles, and kitchenware. In 1923, the company started making phonograph records, and by the 1930s, nearly all the records produced for Decca Records east of the Mississippi River were made by Siemon.

In the 1960s, Henry’s grandfather decided to focus on telecommunications, a pivot that proved advantageous. Today, the company has manufacturing plants in Mexico and China, distribution centers in the Netherlands, Brazil, and India, and employees in 42 countries around the world. It produces telecommunications cabling and connectivity systems for data centers and local area networks in hospitals, schools, office buildings, and other campus environments.

Around the same time, his grandfather purchased three acres in New Hampshire that the company has since grown to over 3,000 acres put in a land trust to prohibit future development—an early commitment to environmental conservation that continues today.

The pandemic presented challenges for the company, but Siemon says it emerged stronger than ever before. “We had a downturn in revenue and had to navigate a lot of very difficult decisions while maintaining the balance of doing what was best for our employees and customers,” he says. Siemon ultimately made a number of decisions that had generated long-term benefits for employees, like creating a work-from-home policy and arranging for transportation across the border for the company’s workers in Tijuana, which allowed them to receive COVID-19 vaccines before the vaccines were available in Mexico.

The pandemic also shifted the focus of the company’s business. “A lot of our core business is supporting the infrastructure in newly constructed office buildings, universities, and hospitals,” Siemon says. “With many of the construction projects across the globe put on hold or canceled, we saw a decrease in project-based activity from that type of construction.” There was, however, a rapid increase in the demand for data centers and the health care industry—so much so that in March, April, and May 2020, the company could not keep up with demand.

Siemon and Manufacturing Manager Brian Wheelock watch a newly installed punch laser machine in operation.

“It was an inspiring time,” Siemon says. “In manufacturing, it’s easy for people to lose sight of the bigger picture of what we’re building. Someone working at a sheet metal press or a plastic injection molding machine is making a small component, and it’s easy to forget that the component is going into a finished good that will enable the internet or a network to function.”

In the early months of the pandemic, the company supported the humanitarian crisis by rising to the challenge of expediting orders and shipping them to customers like Yale-New Haven Hospital as hospital beds were added and needed to be connected—in some cases even on the same day the orders were placed. In another example, the engineering team was able to rapid prototype a component used for face shields that the company produced for donation to Connecticut hospitals when they couldn’t be procured elsewhere.

While Siemon says he never planned to take over the family business, his background positioned him perfectly to fill the role of leading the company through a supply chain crisis.

After graduating from Taft and the University of Richmond, Siemon began his career at consulting firms in Washington, D.C., for about five years before enrolling at MIT Sloan School of Management.

“MIT has a very strong operations and supply chain program, and I unexpectedly fell in love with that subject matter,” Siemon says. During the summer between his two years of business school, he interned with Apple. Siemon returned to Apple after earning his M.B.A. and moved to Austin, Texas, to work on the global supply chain team. Siemon’s role included regular travel to China, where he spent time on the manufacturing floor at Apple’s assembly locations and developed methods to optimize the supply chain for the North and South America regions.

At the same time, The Siemon Company was having issues moving products from one part of the world to the other—a problem that Siemon had learned to solve during his time in business school and at Apple.

“It hit me that the work I had been doing over the years was directly applicable—and potentially a great opportunity for me to add value to the family company,” he says.

In 2017, Siemon, his wife, Ashley, and two sons left Austin to move back to Connecticut so he could begin overseeing the global supply chain and operations teams for Siemon. He and his wife now have three sons at home in Woodbury, and the commute to his office takes him past the Taft campus every day.

—Sam Dangremond ’05