MARIETTA — In far northeast Cobb sits a 90,000-square-foot facility where the fragrance in your laundry detergent and the flavor in your lip balm were likely created.
Arylessence, Inc., President and CEO Steve Tanner leads the family business that is a part of most consumers’ everyday lives. The company is on Lake Drive, near where Canton Road meets Jamerson Road.
“It’s an interesting business, because no one ever thinks about where these compounds come from. You won’t find our labels anywhere, but we ship globally every day,” he said.
The company creates custom fragrances for major manufacturers of personal care, cosmetic, fragrance, laundry, cleaning and air-care products. It also makes flavorings found in products such as popcorn, lip balm, oral care, chewing gum, soda, coffee and tea.
Among the 95 employees, many spend their days in white laboratory coats and have titles such as perfumer, flavorist, compounder and scientist.
Tanner said almost every household product contains a unique formula for fragrance or flavor, or both.
“A lot of work goes into making sure the recipe is perfect for that product,” Tanner said. “No two are alike.”
Arylessence was founded in 1977 by Steve Tanner’s late brother, Lee, who had worked as a product developer for Atlanta-based cleaning product manufacturer, Zep. Lee Tanner opened the business in Smyrna with just four employees.
“Lee got started with fragrancing the products he knew how to make,” Steve Tanner said, adding that Zep is still a customer.
In 1986, Lee Tanner had grown the company to 11 employees and enticed Steve to join as vice president and “help make a go of the business,” Steve Tanner recalled.
“He was a good technical person, and I was a good sales guy,” he said. “When a customer had a problem, we could solve it.”
The Tanners grew up in Forest Park. After earning a bachelor’s degree in management from Georgia State College, Steve Tanner spent five years in the Army as an artillery captain. He served in Vietnam, where he earned a Bronze Star for valor with oak leaf cluster.
Before joining Arylessence, he worked for Airborne Freight Corp., then Trailways bus company, where he honed his management skills as east coast operations manager.
In 1996, Lee Tanner died suddenly of an aneurism. An imposing portrait of him hangs in the office lobby in homage to the company founder.
Today, Steve Tanner and his two children, Cynthia and Bret, serve as the company principals.
“We are very proud of the fact that we are a family enterprise. They wanted to be a part of it and have been instrumental in the growth,” Steve Tanner said.
The company has grown to $35 million in annual revenues. In an industry that employs 4,000 people globally, Arylessence is considered a mid-size player.
“There are a few people making a very important component for products,” Tanner said.
Tanner said while the company was affected by the recession and had to replace some lost business, it did not have layoffs or salary cuts, in part because of his conservative approach to bookkeeping.
“We were in good financial shape and we had a pretty good war chest,” Tanner said. “We don’t mind taking risks, but we are not out there living on the edge.”
Another reason for the company’s resilience is its customer base. Arylessence supplies major manufacturers of store brands in retailers including Publix and Kroger, as well as discount membership clubs. Tanner said that fact played a role in their success during 2008 and 2009.
“Who came out better during that process? It wasn’t Neiman Marcus,” Tanner said. “The big-box retailers were the winners, and that is where we are. We were at the right spot at the right time.”
Tanner is also actively involved in addressing safety and other issues through industry groups.
Jennifer Abril, president of International Fragrance Association of North America, said Steve Tanner is “a true fragrance industry leader.”
“He is approachable, encouraging and motivating,” Abril said. “Steve’s devotion to and passion for his industry comes straight from the heart.”
CEO PROFILE: STEVE TANNER
* TITLE: President and chief executive officer, Arylessence, Inc. * AGE: 68
* EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in management, Georgia State College, 1966
* FAMILY: Wife, Gail; children, Cynthia and Bret; five grandchildren
* FIRST JOB: As a teenager, working at the Municipal Market in downtown Atlanta. “In my family, you were always expected to work. This job gave me the opportunity to work with people, and make a good wage.”
* BEST JOB: Current job. “My role at Arylessence gives me the opportunity to be part of a dynamic industry, work with my family, challenge a talented staff, and continue to find ways to grow our business and our position in the industry.”
* LESSON LEARNED THE HARD WAY: “In the military, you lead by giving orders. In business, you lead by listening, communicating and becoming a person who cares about people.”
* ADVICE TO THE NEXT GENERATION: Step up to opportunities. “If you look for opportunities, you will find them. When you find opportunity, be sure to take the initiative to turn the opportunity into success.”