Survival. Corporate longevity. Documented evidence suggests most companies, even the largest of corporations, remain in business for an average of 40 years. In fact the average age of companies on the S&P 500 has decreased by more than 50 years over the last century.
Per Professor Richard Foster of Yale University, average company lifespan is now 15 years; family-owned businesses fare a little better with an average lifespan of 24 years.
So how does a company survive for over a century when the odds are against them?
Never forget where you came from
Francis H. Curren and Charles Pease founded the precious metals refinery, Pease & Curren Inc. in 1916. The two had met when Francis was an assayer at a small refiner in Providence, RI and Charles was a gold leaf salesman for a company named Baker Jewelry. Francis and Charles went into business together, and their first refining job was melted in the basement furnace of Francis’ mother’s residence. Shortly thereafter, with a loan from Francis’ sister, May, Pease & Curren refiners opened in a rented facility on Richmond Street in Providence.
In the early 1920’s Pease & Curren mostly refined gold leaf balls from the shoe and men’s hat industry. Back then the company name and size were imprinted in gold leaf and the excess was blotted off with a rubber like ball until it was saturated and it was sold to a refiner.
As the business grew, the company moved to their own facility on Allens Avenue in Providence.
That’s when the Great Depression hit. The gold price remained stable throughout that time hovering around the $19 USD mark and silver $1.10 USD, both set and controlled by the US government (Gold Standard). US citizens were not allowed to buy or own gold except in the jewelry and dental form until adherence to the Gold Standard ended in the 1970’s.
The Victorian era had come to an end and citizens sold their ornate gold jewelry. Quite a bit of silver was refined in those days because mirrors were constructed of silver with gilded frames. Clothing, hats and book binds were all gilded with gold paint and pastes. The jewelry industry in general was strong at that time because buying jewelry was an inexpensive way to make people feel good.
The importance of the brand
In the 1930’s gold was at $35 per ounce. At this time all military metals were made in America and Pease & Curren refined much of the scrap from the factories that supplied the troops. The average citizen did not own gold, in fact, it was considered “unpatriotic” to do so at that time. Most gold was sold to the government. Pease & Curren was one of only a select few refiners who were authorized by the federal government to melt and refine silver US currency. United States dimes, quarters, halves, and silver dollars were all 90% (coin) silver until 1964.
In 1941 America entered into World War II. With all of the men going off to war, there was a serious labor shortage. The senior Francis Curren obtained exemptions for key workers who would have been drafted. Despite his father’s strong opposition, Francis H. Curren Jr. felt a strong need to join the fight and went to war. Both Francis H. Curren Jr. and Robert Pease served as officers in the Navy and fought in the Pacific Theatre. In 1947 upon their return, Francis Curren Jr. and Robert Pease joined their fathers’ company. Pease & Curren continued traditions and instilled the company values of integrity and trust into a new generation.
During both WWI and WWII immigrants of Italian and German decent settled into the Providence, Rhode Island area, many were employed by Pease & Curren. The Italians were artisans and the Germans were machinists, both which boosted the Rhode Island jewelry community into one of the largest concentrated jewelry manufacturing areas in the country.
Pease & Curren was fortunate to have 20, 30 or even 40 years of service from employees. One employee in particular, Ms. Alice Casey came to work the day after she graduated from high school and retired from Pease & Curren 52 years later, working with and for all three generations of owners
Grow conservatively but grow
The 40’s brought men’s gold cufflinks, buttons, jewelry, tie clips and pens to the refinery and the 50’s, the all- important class rings. In the 60’s and 70’s the refinery saw many gold chains, plated and gold filled jewelry. Business was good and after 40 years in the same facility, in 1969, Pease & Curren designed and built a 40,000 sq. ft. facility in its current location with furnaces, melt rooms and a state-of-the-art laboratory. This facility includes 25 custom designed incinerators and a dedicated melt room with capabilities for small and larger sized refining material. It was designed specifically to isolate the different departments in order to minimize cross contamination and increase security.
Several of the workers at the Allens Avenue facility lived in South Providence and walked to work. When the facility moved to the Warwick location many had a hard time, they did not drive and had never in their lives left the Providence area. Carpools were set up with the few that did to make it easier for everyone to get to work.
The instability of the gold market prompted a healthy respect for changing times and an uncanny ability to adapt to the changes. The company always played it “safe”, which is unusual in this type of business. The outlook was, and is, always conservative, offices are that of a factory whereas others may have gone a different way in prosperous times. The idea was to avoid debt which has proved prudent over time. In the 1980’s refiners were at their peak. The price of gold soared to $810 USD and silver hit $54 USD. Pease & Curren always thought this was a short term phenomenon and it was. In mid-January of 1980, in one month the gold went from peak to $350 USD and silver to $19 a troy ounce.
Environmental and community responsibility
After the Vietnam War, employee and environmental regulation in workplaces began. OSHA laws were enforced in the mines and worked their way into manufacturing. Air quality was and remains to be a hot topic and the 1980’s brought the use of the iconic smoke stack into obsolescence.
Both Frances Jr. and Robert were founding members of the Jewelers Board of Trade and Frances Jr. had a long tenure as President of the Association. The owners felt the need to give back to the community in the form of humanitarian efforts. Charles and Jay Pease, an Eagle Scout himself, have always been involved with the Boy Scouts on a Regional and National level. In 1993 Kip Curren was honored by Big Brothers with the Robert “Cy” Killian Humanitarian award for his service.
Optimistic, even in times of trouble
Security is and has been a top priority. One long weekend in the summer of 1976 the Pease & Curren facility was on lockdown as always. A sophisticated group of thieves bypassed alarms and torched the main vault into four quarters. It was estimated by the FBI and confirmed by several of the captured assailants, that they took close to 24 hours to cut through the main vault to gain access and remove the product. Although heavily insured, the company has forever altered its security and is now one of the safest, most secure refining facilities in North America.
The driving force behind the years and the importance of leaving a legacy
The third generation, Robert H.”Jay” Pease Jr., Francis H.”Kip” Curren, III, and Meredith Curren joined the company in 1971, 1981, and 1990, respectively.
In 2001 Pease & Curren partnered with West Point Academy to orchestrate the West Point Ring Melt ceremony in our facility in Warwick, RI. The West Point Ring Melt is an event during which West Point graduates are memorialized with the donation of their class rings to be a part of the gold in the class rings of the next graduating class. It is an emotional ceremony and very important to the Curren family. 2016 will mark the 100th year of Pease & Curren as well as the 15th year of the partnership with West Point.
The present and the future
In October 2015, Francis H. Curren Jr passed away at the age of 93 years. Francis “Kip” H. Curren, III is now the sole owner of the company. The succession plan gives the family the will to survive the ups and downs over the years by having a clear vision of what is expected of each generation.
Today, Pease & Curren customers come from each of the 50 states, Canada, and Mexico. Our customers include jewelry manufacturers, large and small retail jewelers and corporations, pawn shops, and dental labs. We process gold, silver, platinum, and palladium and partner with our customers to meet their refining needs by understanding their business models and giving them the service of a tried and true 100 year old company.