Ken Marino ’82 has made Orbel Corporation a big player in the EMI/RFI shielding market, producing small parts that help electronics—everything from cell phones to high-grade medical equipment—function properly.
By Liza Darvin
When Ken Marino graduated from Saint Joseph’s College in 1982, he left to join the family business, then called Orbel Electric. The company, founded by his father, Dan Marino, was a small operation based in Bloomfield, New Jersey, that provided electroplated wire for the emerging electronics and aerospace markets. Under the junior Marino’s leadership, however, what began as a one-employee organization has grown to be an international player, with headquarters in Pennsylvania, a factory in China, and customers all over the world.
“Soon after I finished college, my father was evaluating the viability of a small, highly specialized manufacturing operation,” says Marino. “We discussed the situation and agreed that me getting involved could be good for both the company and myself. So I jumped in with both feet. Together, we built the business into what it is today.”
But what is that business, exactly? “Orbel’s main market is the EMI/RFI shielding arena,” explains Marino. “Anything that is wireless has an electromagnetic field that needs to be contained. We contain these signals by designing and producing custom Faraday cages that restrict the emittance of radio waves from a given area of a PC board.”
It might not sound like the most exciting product on the market, but it is one of the most important. That iPhone you keep within arm’s length at all times? Without proper shielding from electromagnetic frequency interference, you’d be challenged to make even a simple phone call during your daily morning commute. In an increasingly wireless world, the relatively inexpensive materials manufactured by Orbel Corporation are what enable $30 million planes to fly safely through digitally-congested airways.
Going Back to His SJC Roots
Orbel’s success comes from Marino’s emphasis on respect, compassion, community, and excellence—four of the core values shared by the College. Last year, the company was honored with Pennsylvania’s 2015 Governor’s Small Business ImPAct Award (small only in the sense that it has less than 100 employees).
“It comes down to culture, and a big part of it is quality. And sustainability. The ImPAct Awards program looks for companies that hold the proper values: how they treat their employees, how they treat their customers, how they treat suppliers… the whole nine yards,” says Marino, again echoing tried-and-true philosophies based in the College’s Mercy traditions.
Indeed, Marino, who has remained engaged with his alma mater by serving as a two-term member of the SJC Board of Trustees and actively participating in the Alumni Association, is quick to credit the College as a factor in his post-grad accomplishments.
“Our company’s accountant, we went to college here together,” explains Marino. “I’ve met people here who have been helpful to our business, for sure. There’s always a connection. No matter how far off you think you are, it’s always just seven degrees of separation; you’re never far from an answer.”
Recognizing that who you know is key, Marino is keen on the College’s new Connections program. This career development initiative pairs current students with alumni working in their fields in order to increase job opportunities and expose students to the all-important concept of networking.
“Colleges used to be the sole keepers of knowledge. But today, I can get that knowledge in a lot of other ways,” admits Marino. “So colleges have to offer a better value proposition, and I think the Connections program is part of that.”
According to Marino, Orbel is currently in the process of reexamining how it addresses client needs, retooling its customer service to be more focused and selective—thinking smarter, not necessarily bigger. Just as Marino is calculating how to thoughtfully grow his company, the College’s President Jim Dlugos is in the early stages of implementing the 10-year strategic plan, his proposal to propel the College to the forefront of higher education. It makes sense, then, that President Dlugos is so excited by Ken Marino’s invitation to help establish the Alumni Association Advisory Board, a group of accomplished alumni who can serve as high-level strategists for alumni development and engagement in accordance with the strategic plan.
“I graduated in 1982 and come back regularly, so I’m able to see more of the woods than the trees, to speak metaphorically. Right now on campus, you can almost feel the electricity in the air—it feels good. It feels like the place is going in the right direction,” says Marino, looking out the window thoughtfully, before enthusiastically bringing the conversation back around to the strategic plan.
“There’s a documented plan, and it looks to me like a dynamic plan.”