Birth of a Company

Hero: man welding

A young Peter McCausland

Peter McCausland

In 1976, young attorney Peter McCausland was hired by Messer Griesheim, a German industrial conglomerate, to be general counsel for its industrial gas production and distribution subsidiary in America.

Messer had been vigorously expanding its presence in the U.S. gas industry, and McCausland—armed with a law degree from Boston University—was hired to assist with acquisitions. He quickly learned the ins and outs of the industry and met many of the people who would become key players in the Airgas story.

Man working with oxygen cylinders

Identifying an opportunity: CONNOX

In 1981, McCausland recommended that Messer purchase a small oxygen distributor in Stafford, Connecticut. The response? A brief note: “No more acquisitions for three years.” Not easily deterred, McCausland left Messer to start his own law practice. Meanwhile, he just could not shake the idea that Connecticut Oxygen (CONNOX) would be a wise investment.

Financing the deal

With a hunch that venture capitalists would be attracted to CONNOX, McCausland pitched his idea to J. B. Doherty, head of TDH Capital, who was inspired by the young, bow-tie-clad entrepreneur before him—and impressed by his proposal. TDH put up $1 million, and an asset-based lender offered the additional $3.85 million needed. By February 1982, McCausland and his associates were the proud owners of CONNOX.

Forming U.S. Airgas

U.S. Airgas was formed as the holding company for CONNOX, with McCausland owning 60 percent of the business and serving as part-time chairman. Tom Mason, a former colleague from Messer, took on the critical task of running CONNOX.

McCausland considered himself a lawyer first and foremost, but the entrepreneurial spirit rarely conforms to a plan. That spirit led to many deals, and one after another, many small companies were gathered under the umbrella of U.S. Airgas. The timing could not have been better.