Diversey Celebrates 95 Years!

For 95 years, Diversey has pioneered cleaning and hygiene technologies  that help protect and care for people every day. In this feature, we look at how we have moved from humble beginnings in Chicago’s chemical manufacturing industry, to connecting minds with machines around the globe today.

Food Industry Beginnings
It all started with a man named August Kochs. Kochs worked for a Chicago flour merchant in the late 1800s and experimented with manufacturing baking powder. In 1902, he helped found Victor Chemical Works to produce phosphate for the baking industry. Later, the company produced chemicals for baking, food processing and tooth paste.

Growth Rooted in R&D
As quoted in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, September 1955: “If ever the value of research was dramatized in the growth of a chemical company, it has been so dramatized in the history of Victor Chemical Works. From its inception, Victor has stressed the value of the laboratory and has maintained substantial facilities and budgets for research, control, and testing operations.”

What’s in a Name?
In 1923, August Kochs and his son, Herbert, planned to create a specialty subsidiary of Victor Chemical Works focused on industrial cleaners. In a 1959 Chicago Tribune story, Herbert shared how the subsidiary was named:  “We wanted a name that would not limit us, one that had no connotation, and did not mean a thing.” He said he and his father discussed the company’s organization while lunching at a restaurant on Diversey Avenue in Chicago and was inspired by the street name. On August 4, 1923, Diversey Corp. was born.

Diversey’s Founders
August Kochs was a German immigrant who came to the United States in 1883 when he was 12 years old. After helping found Victor Chemical Works, he served as its president and later chairman until it was bought by Stauffer Chemical Company. He died in 1960 at age 89.

Herbert Kochs attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northwestern University. He was chairman of Diversey for 35 years and retired in 1979 after 56 years of service. He died in 1993 at his home in England at age 90.

A Highly Desirable Business – Again and Again and Again…

Diversey has had several investors and owners over its 95-year history.
In December 1950, Diversey Corp. became independent for the first time after a public offering on the American Stock Exchange of 143,000 shares of its common stock by F. Eberstadt & Co. Over the years, Diversey looked to grow beyond the U.S. and first expanded its market reach in to Canada. By the late 1970s, Diversey’s business had expanded to more than 100 countries and 30 plants.

Molson Companies Ltd. was a Canadian customer of Diversey and in 1977 the brewer was looking for a substantial acquisition in the U.S. The following summer Molson made a substantial offer to Diversey shareholders and sealed the deal.

After 54 years as a standalone company and nearly 27 years as a public company, Diversey would spend the next 40 years as a subsidiary of larger public companies.

Known For Sales Talent
In the book “Back to Beer…and Hockey: The Story of Eric Molson” Molson describes why Diversey was a substantial win for his company: “The Diversey sales people were intelligent world travelers who could put together a program to sell more and more cleaning solutions and services. They were great.” He even imagined a day when this powerhouse sales force could take Molson beer global.

A Highly Desirable Business, Again…and Again
After nearly 20 years, Molson decided to exit the cleaning chemicals market. In 1996 it sold most of Diversey to the British-Dutch consumer goods company Unilever. The purchase represented Unilever’s largest takeover in 15 years and its first foray in to the industrial cleaning sector. Under new ownership and merged with Lever Industrial International, it became ‘DiverseyLever’ based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Six years later, Diversey’s fate changed again. Unilever had launched a new business strategy which focused on growing leading brands in its consumer portfolio. The new focus meant selling businesses, including DiverseyLever.
In 2002, it was sold to Johnson Wax Professional, a housekeeping- and floor-care-products business that was separated from S.C. Johnson & Sons Co. in 1999. The sale to Johnson Wax paired the No. 2 and No. 3 institutional and industrial-cleaning products companies to become JohnsonDiversey based in Racine, Wisconsin. In 2010, JohnsonDiversey changed its name to Diversey, Inc. under an agreement with an outside investment firm that purchased 46 percent of the company.

In mid-2011, it was announced that packaging company Sealed Air Corp. would venture into commercial cleaning and buy Diversey. It was the first time an entire Johnson family company had been sold to an outside entity. Under Sealed Air, the company would become Diversey Care based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

By 2016, Sealed Air’s strategy was shifting to focus on food, product and medical packaging and to divest what it considered non-core business. In September 2017, it sold its food hygiene solution business and Diversey Care to Bain Capital Private Equity for $3.2 billion, making Diversey a standalone company once again.

Guest contributor:
Kelli Hopp-Michlosky
Executive Director, Employee & Leadership Communications
Diversey