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Jost turns education, experiences into successful entrepreneurial venture

Chemical engineering alumnus Jerry Jost founded his own company after being laid off in 1985. It was after that he started Jost Chemical Co., and in the year's since, the St. Louis-based has grown just more than 25 percent each year.

In 1985, with more than a decade of chemical engineering industrial experience under his belt, 1971 University of Missouri alumnus Jerry Jost’s position at Mallincrodt was eliminated.

Jost was 38 and unemployed. He decided it was a good point in his life to start a business, and launched Jost Chemical Co. from a 20,000 sq. ft. building in the St. Louis “Hill” area.

Jost credits his strong background in chemistry and engineering, his education at MU and his time in ROTC as laying the groundwork for his success.

“Engineering school taught me the fundamentals and how to think and solve problems, and I learned lots of leadership skills in the Army,” said Jost.

“If you’re going to succeed, you’re going to have to go out on a limb and saw it off. Most start-ups fail. Only 5 percent are still in operation after five years. Three or four years go by before you see a positive cash flow,” Jost said. “If you haven’t sawn the limb off, chances are you will quit.

“When you start a business, you work 60 to 70 hours a week with no vacations. It’s important that your family understands,” he added.

Jost said one of the greatest keys to his success was “getting the right people on the bus.” Early on, he decided to hire experienced chemical professionals that had retired from the two major chemical companies in St. Louis. This decision served him well.

After only nine years, Jost Chemicals had outgrown its first location and built a 40,000 sq. ft. plant near Lambert-St. Louis International Airport in St. Louis County. In 1998, the company added another 40,000 sq. ft. to the plant, in 2001, a sales office in Belgium, and in 2004, they completed a 110,000 sq. ft. manufacturing plant on a tract adjoining their St. Louis County facility.

“Our growth rate has averaged over 25 percent per year since 1985,” Jost said. “We’re continuously putting in equipment and working on new products. We’d like to eventually build a plant in Europe or Asia.”

Jost Chemical Co. started out manufacturing food-grade magnesium phosphate, and immediately added additional chemicals to its product line. Today, the company manufactures more than 250 specialty bulk chemicals, which it ships all over the world. That includes an exclusive line of ultra-pure calcium salts that are used in making such products as infant formula, medicines for such maladies as osteoporosis and toothpaste, to name a few.

Jost’s success has not gone unnoticed. The Small Business Administration for eastern Missouri named him the 2010 Business Person of the Year. That same year, he was an Ernst & Young National Finalist Entrepreneur of Year in the Energy/Chemicals sector.

When asked if he had tips for others thinking about striking out on their own, Jost recommended Napoleon Hill’s book, “Think and Grow Rich.”

“Hill was the first to interview a number of heads of industry and summarize what led to their success,” said Jost. “Hill points out that ‘for every adversity, there is an equal or greater opportunity.’ Losing my job turned out to be a greater opportunity for me.”

“You’re going to need a lot of help,” Jost added. “So finding mentors who are knowledgeable and care about your success can make all the difference. Such a group can also be helpful to your career development at a regular job. I’m still in a little CEO group; we mentor each other.”

For the past seven years, the chemical company founder and president has served on Mizzou Engineering’s Chemical Engineering Industry Advisory Board (IAB).

“Serving on the IAB gives you more of the perspective of the professors and all the effort they put in with teaching and research,” Jost said. “You get a better perspective about the difficulties of their jobs and how much they care about their students.”

“It’s really a lot different now than it was back then,” he added. “What’s really amazing is that you never forget professors like Dr. Preckshot, Dr. Luebbers and Dr. Lorah.

“I’m glad I went to MU. It’s a great school.”



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