Chris Pruitt becomes East Penn CEO, Dan Langdon retires

East Penn, the US battery manufacturer, appointed Chris Pruitt as chief executive officer and president on January 1. Dan Langdon, 66, the former CEO, is retiring after 32 years with the firm and will remain on the board of directors.

Pruitt joined the firm as a financial controller in May 1994 after working as a senior manager for international accounting and consultancy firm Ernst & Young for 10 years. He had been spotted early on as a potential candidate for a senior slot.

“DeLight Breidegam [the founder of East Penn, who died aged 88 two years ago] spent the last 15 years of his life working to ensure a smooth transition of management and what would happen after he was gone,” Dan Langdon told Batteries International. “Chris was a key part of his thinking from early on.

“We liked his approach and the way he handled people from the outset. When we first met him he was in charge of recruiting new staff for Ernst & Young and we immediately admired the way he could read and understand people and situations in a respectful and professional way.”

Pruitt joined the same year that Dan Langdon moved from being chief financial officer to president.

Their career paths have been very similar, Langdon also joining East Penn as a controller in 1986 before becoming chief financial officer and then president.

In 1999 Pruitt was promoted to CFO. This is a key position in most companies and enabled Pruitt to have a strategic view of the company’s activities. This also brought him into greater contact with the operational and sales side of the business.

Part of the corporate culture in East Penn has always been for the senior management to have a daily informal lunch together with clients, suppliers or other staff. It has also enabled management to get exposure to all areas of the company’s business.

“For the past 10 years I’ve been actively involved with the customer side of the business,” Pruitt told Batteries International. “I’ve spent a lot of time understanding the way we go to market — our sales force, how we get things done, and our channels of distribution.

“And this became more important later, when I became executive vice president of sales, finance and administration.”

In 2014, following the untimely death of Sally Breidegam Miksiewicz, then chief executive officer, Pruitt became president of the firm and Langdon took over as chief executive officer.

Pruitt sees the direction of East Penn as largely unchanged by his appointment. “In a sense this is the same senior team that’s been in place for the past few years,” he says. “We are a successful company and this will continue if we keep a sure and steadfast focus on our employees, customers and the community that we live in.”

And the future?

Pruitt believes there are still huge opportunities to be grabbed within the lead battery market. East Penn’s subsidiary Ecoult — which produces the UltraBattery, a unique combination of a lead battery that incorporates an ultracapacitor — has been active across the US in the past few years.

East Penn has been a licensee and investor in Gridtential, a bipolar battery developer, and an experimental line is being tested. Gridtential says its battery could well be the next step change for lead battery performance.

Pruitt says East Penn has been actively involved in R&D in lithium-ion battery capabilities and manufacturing. “We have invested a lot of time and money in understanding this technology. At the moment we believe it’s best to be knowledgeable about all this — but in the end it’ll be time that tells.”

Langdon leaves East Penn in the best of health, having been part of a team that grew the firm from making annual sales of around $300 million in the early 1990s to $2.5 billion today. “I am pleased to have Chris take the helm and very thankful to the Breidegam family and all of the employees for their support of me over my 32 years,” he says.

“We cannot thank Dan Langdon enough for the tireless service and leadership that he has brought to this company,” said Dan Breidegam, chairman of East Penn. “My family and I are pleased to continue to work with Chris to help move this company forward. He has been a pillar in our company, as well as the community, and he will continue to uphold my family’s vision and values.”

Bob Flicker, chief operating officer and part of the core management team, said: “We would all like to congratulate Dan Langdon on his retirement and sincerely thank him for his leadership. As we move into the New Year, we will continue to build the company and carry on the legacy of those who came before us. I will continue to work with Chris Pruitt, Dan Breidegam and our leadership team over the next few years to prepare our company for the next generation.”

And Dan Langdon’s thoughts on the future?

“As a board director I’ll obviously be involved in decisions about issues such as capital expansion and so forth. Although I’ll miss the daily contact with all of my friends at the company, I won’t be away permanently from it. At present, my wife, Kathy, and I plan to do some of the things we didn’t have time for earlier — fishing in Florida, travel to Europe, and summers in Delaware.”

Pruitt, as per the ethos of East Penn and the Breidegam family, is very much involved in the local community.

He is currently involved as the treasurer and board member of the Wyomissing Foundation, a charitable organization that aims to improve the quality of life in certain communities.

Formerly he was a board member of YMCA, chairman and board member of The United Way of Berks County, president and treasurer of The Children’s Home of Reading, board member of Big Brothers/Big Sisters, board member of the Children Advisory Center, treasurer and board member of The Reading Area Community College Foundation, audit committee chairman and board member of the Berks Community Foundation, and board member of the Shippensburg University College of Business Advisory Board.

In March 2011, Chris received the Wilburn H Doran award in recognition of his outstanding work with the United Way and in the Berks County Community.

In 2013, he was named CFO of the year by the Lehigh Valley Business Journal. Also in 2013, he was honoured by the YMCA for his community service. In December 2016, he received the Eugene L Shirk award for Community Builder. This annual community award is given by Berks Community Television (BCTV).

In December 2015, he received the Sydney D Kline award for Outstanding Community Service.

Pruitt is also a member of both the American and Pennsylvania Institutes of Certified Public Accountants.