“I didn’t get along with my boss.”
It’s a common enough refrain for dissatisfied employees who decide to strike out on their own. But few of them end up building a company that’s celebrating its 50th year of operations, as has Anatole Konstantin, who made the above remark with a laugh.
Now 90, Konstantin has only recently retired from PDC International Corp., the Norwalk firm he started that specializes in packaging machinery for the application of heat shrinkable sleeve labels and tamper evident seals. Since 1992, his son Neal has served as PDC’s president, with Anatole gradually decreasing his time at the firm’s 8 Sheehan Ave. office.
A Ukrainian immigrant, Anatole had been working as a mechanical engineer for another Norwalk firm when, just before Labor Day of 1968, “I decided to try to do for myself what I’d been doing for them.”
Initially joined by his brother Bill, Anatole started Product Design Corp. in a 400-square-foot office he rented for $50 a month. Although there were plenty of tough times — Bill would go on and off of unemployment during the early days. “I couldn’t do that,” Anatole laughed. “I had to sit by the phone, because I was the president. The company slowly grew to occupy first a three-car garage and then a hayloft.
The firm’s first major project was creating a machine that could automate the assembly of typewriter ribbon cartridges, soon followed by work designing a machine that could hold together emery boards for W.E. Bassett in Shelton, which closed in 2012. Following that, a Japanese company asked about a similar device that could employ shrink labeling for bamboo — and, Anatole said, the company has never looked back.
Since 1989, PDC has been at 8 Sheehan, which through further expansion today is a 30,000-square-foot facility overlooking the Long Island Sound with 55 employees. Anatole has occupied the same house in Norwalk for 61 years; Neal also lives in the city.
“We’re Norwalkers for the duration,” Neal said. “We’re involved with a number of charitable organizations and the public schools here — it’s a good place.”
Although he was studying archaeology and history at Tufts University, Neal said he grew up spending weekends and evenings at PDC. “Not being an engineer has actually helped,” he said. “I bring a more holistic point of view to our operations.
“I know just enough to be dangerous,” he said.
PDC has remained proudly independent and family-operated and has declined various takeover offers from its larger competitors, Neal said.
He declined to provide revenue figures, noting that the nature of PDC’s business can vary year to year. “But we’re fortunate to be very healthy financially.”
A look at its corporate clients explains why: PDC designs and manufactures shrink-sleeve, labeling tamper-evident packaging machinery for products ranging from popular foods and beverages to personal care and household goods for the likes of Johnson & Johnson, Bayer, Unilever, Pfizer, Del Monte and Diageo. Anyone who’s broken the seal on a new bottle of Tabasco has been in contact with PDC.
And unlike Anatole in 1968, its employees tend to stick around — many for decades, Neal said.
One such employee is Vice President Gary Tantimonico, who’s been with PDC for 27 years.
“Everybody here looks at Anatole as the brains of the outfit from an engineering standpoint,” the Trumbull resident said. “And from a personal standpoint, the Konstantins have been the most honest, ethical people I’ve ever worked for. And they give us the room to do our work, unlike most of the bigger corporations out there.
“If I owned the company,” he chuckled, “I’d micromanage it up the wazoo.”
In 1983, PDC Europe was started in Montdidier, France to supply machinery for Europe and other overseas markets. Neal said there are no plans for further international expansion at the moment but, while noting that PDC has through its existence grown organically, indicated that it is willing to explore acquiring other companies.
Today, PDC sells 30 to 40 machines a year, he said, noting that all of its manufacturing, testing and research and development are done in house.
“Our advantage is providing good service to our customers,” Anatole said. “Most of our machines can last 20, 25 years — they’re practically indestructible and there’s no planned obsolescence.”
The same could be said of the PDC patriarch, who in 2016 published the memoirs “Through the Eyes of an Immigrant” and “A Red Boyhood: Growing Up Under Stalin.” Last year he added “A Brief History of Communism: The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire” to his bibliography.
Today, however, he has more prosaic matters at hand.
“I like to garden,” he said. “The biggest challenges now are the deer and the woodchucks.”