Drawn by 'rich heritage,' DRT CEO pushes forward with historic company

May 26—Walk into the lobby of DRT's Dayton plant, and you may see a monitor on the wall proclaiming: "We make things. Things that are challenging to make."

DRT, perhaps once better known as Dayton Reliable Tool and Manufacturing, has been making things in Dayton and beyond since 1949.

In the more than two years since Mill Rock Capital's acquisition of DRT Holdings, that hasn't changed.

The company is helmed today by Rob Cohen, a Middletown native and, since October 2021, DRT's chief executive.

New York City-based Mill Rock focuses on family-owned, mid-sized industrial companies with a solid record poised to go further. DRT fit that bill, Mill Rock principals believed.

"What attracted me to come to DRT is the rich heritage this company has, dating back to the roots of ErmalFraze and the metal packaging business," Cohen said in a new interview.

Cohen brought to the corner office a childhood in Middletown, a history with General Electric, as well as time with manufacturer Whitcraft Group and more than 15 years leading TECT Power, a producer of airfoil components for turbine engines.

In some of those roles, Cohen became familiar with DRT as a competitor.

He lives in Cincinnati but works most of the time in Butler County's West Chester Twp., when he isn't traveling to one of DRT's 10 facilities.

DRT's corporate base is 618 Greenmount Ave., a property that crosses the Dayton-Kettering municipal boundary, surrounded by leafy streets and a recreation trail that links the University of Dayton campus, Dayton's Patterson Park neighborhood and north Kettering.

With about 160 employees, the Dayton plant is the company's largest and oldest location, stretching back to the late 1940s when Ermal "Ernie" Fraze built a machine tool business serving General Electric, Ford, Chrysler and others.

Those familiar with Dayton innovations may remember that it was Fraze and his team who invented pop cans with pull-top openings.

DRT also owns Hartzell Mfg. Co., LLC in Miamisburg, DRT Precision Manufacturing and DRT Aerospace in Sidney, as well as plants in Brunswick, Germany, Rochester, N.Y. and elsewhere.

In all, the company has more than 600 workers, with about 270 in the Dayton area, nearly half of their employees.

The company serves three main sectors: aerospace, metal packaging and precision manufacturing. For that reason, Cohen believes the business is poised to weather economic downturns.

"Where one industry might be down, and one market might be down, the other two are up, and they pick up that downward trend," he said.

The recent global pandemic upset that apple cart, as it did for so many businesses. But at no point did DRT close plants, despite medical concerns and supply chain challenges.

"I arrived probably right in the middle of it," he said. "I will say, DRT did a phenomenal job of protecting their employees. They never shuttered any facilities. We had some of our salaried employees working remote for a while, to try to minimize exposure across the business. But all 10 factories essentially kept working."

Supply chains were affected across all three of DRT's sectors. Aerospace is starting to bounce back, with the single-aisle airframe business and military orders showing promise, Cohen said. He expects the twin-aisle airframe business to strengthen in the next few years.

Cohen's biggest challenge is a familiar one. Like every other CEO, he needs good workers.

With that in mind, DRT is focused on apprentices, interns and spreading the word. He also said Mill Rock has improved employee benefits.

"We've been able to hire folks," he said. "Last year, we hired over 100 folks, and this year already we've hired north of 40. We're really starting to get the churn on hiring, and it's really that whole journey about building a great company, and building a destination (place of employment) rather than a drive-through."

The terms of the Mill Rock acquisition in January 2021 were never made public. In terms of annual revenue, Cohen expects to approach $160 million this year.