After 57 years as an independent chemical supplier, Strem Chemicals has been acquired by the sodium borohydride (NaBH4) maker Ascensus Specialties for an undisclosed sum.
Strem, based in Newburyport, Massachusetts, is an important source for chemical researchers. It offers a wide range of inorganic and organometallic compounds, ligands, catalysts, and nanomaterials for both the research lab and manufacturing. It also provides custom synthesis of active pharmaceutical ingredients.
Founder Mike Strem and his wife, Ann, tell C&EN that the acquisition completes a circle. Strem started the firm in 1964 in partnership with Ventron Corporation, which pioneered the commercial production of NaBH4 in the 1950s. Strem took his firm independent in 1977.
The Ventron NaBH4 business, meanwhile, went on to be owned by Morton International, then Rohm and Haas, and then Dow. The private equity firm Wind Point Partners bought the business from Dow in 2015 and renamed it Ascensus in 2017.
In addition to supplying NaBH4, a reducing agent, Ascensus sells reactive metals, boranes, and related chemicals. In 2019, the firm acquired Callery, a maker of alkali metal alkoxides and specialty boranes. And in 2020, it bought NaBH4 competitor Montgomery Chemicals.
Despite the corporate history with the buyer they chose, the Strems say the sale is the result of a “lengthy search for a worthy partner” that would share their emphasis on employee well-being and continue to serve customers in the research community well. “They said they want to keep the identity, the global reputation; that you don’t tamper with a good thing,” Ann Strem says.
Strem the company and Mike Strem the person are fixtures in the chemistry community. Mike Strem served in the American Chemical Society’s leadership on and off for more than 20 years and was a member of C&EN’s advisory board. Strem Chemicals sponsors the annual ACS Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Inorganic Chemistry. ACS publishes C&EN.
Although Strem plans to maintain some involvement in the company, “I’m up there in age; it’s probably time for me to not work as hard,” he says. “I don’t really know what retirement is or what it’s like, but I’ll find out I guess.”
Longtime lieutenant Ephraim Honig, who has been CEO of Strem Chemicals for the past 5 years and served as chief operations officer for 10 years before that, will join Ascensus as chief science and innovation officer and will continue to manage the Newburyport facility. The other 76 Strem staffers are also joining the new firm.
Some customers are apprehensive about the sale. “Strem has always been my go-to company when purchasing palladium and other transition metal catalysts,” says Victor Outlaw, an organic chemistry professor at the University of Missouri. “I hope this acquisition does not interfere with the quality I’ve come to expect.”
But Staff Sheehan, a researcher and entrepreneur who commercialized a suite of iridium-based oxidation catalysts with Strem, is optimistic. “The acquisition is great news. I don’t think this is going to hinder Strem’s role as a supplier of specialty materials to research labs,” he says.
Sheehan is also the founder of the Air Company, a CO2-to-chemicals start-up. “I’m hopeful that this will go the opposite direction and better connect Ascensus to the research community."
This story was updated on April 8, 2021, to correct the year that Mike Strem took his firm independent. It was 1977, not 1974.