Bouncing back from trying years, Airgas in early 2002 was poised to complete its largest-ever acquisition — the U.S. packaged gas business of industry giant Air Products. This landmark acquisition involved 88 locations, 36 gas fill plants and 44 retail stores. Two years later Airgas acquired the U.S. packaged gas business of another major player, the BOC Group, adding an additional 120 locations in 21 states.
“I never thought the majors would exit the packaged gas business. It was a great opportunity for us to gain even more experience and density in good markets.”
Mike Rohde, Senior VP, Distribution Operations
These deals were themselves surpassed in 2007, by the purchase of most of Linde’s bulk gas business. At $346 million, this transaction was well over 100 times larger than Airgas’ 1982 acquisition of Connecticut Oxygen. The Linde acquisition more than tripled Airgas’ oxygen and nitrogen capacities and vaulted the company to 10 percent of the U.S. bulk-gas market.
With these purchases, Airgas dramatically changed scale. From modest beginnings, as the holder of one local distributor, the company had advanced to an integrated, national operating company offering a full range of products and services.
GAS PRODUCTION: A BIT OF BACKGROUND
Airgas was primarily a distributor of gases, not a producer. However, it had been dipping its toes in the production pool for some time. Production capability first arrived when Airgas acquired three air separation units (ASUs) as part of its joint venture with National Welders. In the mid-1990s, the company constructed two more ASUs, one in Oklahoma and the other in Arkansas. This was a clear “shot across the bow” to the major gas producers and had the desired effect. Producers were forced to give Airgas rational prices because they now knew not only that the company had a national distribution network in place, but also that it was capable of building its own production plants anywhere in the country.
A sixth ASU was purchased as part of BOC’s packaged gas business. However, not until the Linde bulk-gas purchase — which added eight units, almost 5,000 tons of production and the infrastructure for a national bulk business — did production capabilities really take off.
As of 2010, Airgas is operating 16 ASUs and producing roughly 30 percent of the gases it sells.
“We got into production in stages. It wasn’t until we bought Linde’s bulk business in 2007 that we really expanded.”
CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION
On Wednesday, December 14, 2011, Airgas, Inc. visited the New York Stock Exchange to celebrate 25 years of listing on the NYSE. Since its initial public offering in December 1986, Airgas stock has delivered a compound annual return of 18% to its shareholders, twice that of the S&P 500 and outperforming 97% of the S&P 500 constituents during that time. Associates from a variety of Airgas business units, representing the customer service commitment that is the heart of Airgas, joined Airgas chairman and CEO Peter McCausland on the podium to ring the closing bell.