Building Global Reach

In the 1950s, Economics Laboratory (EL) began selling its cleaning products beyond the U.S. market, largely to serve U.S. hotel customers who were expanding internationally. In later decades, the company accelerated its world-wide reach through strategic acquisitions. Key developments in the company’s steady march to build a global business – now in more than 170 countries – are highlighted in the following timeline.
Expansion into Canada, Europe and Latin America and the establishment of a division to focus on growth outside the U.S. 

Early 1950s
Inquiries for products come from Canada; an Institutional salesman in Buffalo, New York, begins to service a few accounts in Canada.

1955  Sufficient business in Canada allows Economics Laboratory (EL) to form a sales territory; Canadian manufacturer handles product production.

1956  First European subsidiary, Soilax A.B. Sweden, opens door for expansion in Europe. The Sweden subsidiary was initiated when the general manager of passenger flight services for the Swedish airline SAS discovered EL while visiting the SAS flight kitchen at New York’s JFK airport. He was so impressed with the company’s products that he offered to put up $2,000 for 10 percent of a new EL venture in Stockholm. EL in turn invested $18,000 to establish its first European subsidiary. Under the leadership of Fred Lanners, who would later become CEO, the company quickly expanded into Denmark, Norway, Belgium, England and other European markets. The name Soilax was chosen for international subsidiaries because it was easier to pronounce and translated better than Economics Laboratory. 

1956  Economics Laboratory (Canada) Ltd., is formed as a fully owned subsidiary. 

1957  International division is formed. 

1958  An EL salesman moves from New York to Mexico City to service U.S. hotel chains. Soilax de Mexico is established, followed soon by subsidiaries in Venezuela and other Western Hemisphere countries.

The company’s International division becomes a significant contributor to earnings as products are sold for first time in Southeast Asia and the Caribbean.

1962  EL establishes a subsidiary in France. 

1963  EL acquires an Italian company as part of the Klenzade acquisition. 

1963  EL products are distributed through direct exports as well as 10 subsidiary and 15 distributor operations. 

1963  Construction begins in Stockholm on the first plant outside the Western Hemisphere.  

1969  International division contributes healthy earnings through 27 wholly owned subsidiary operations, 50-percent-owned companies in Brazil and Japan, 11 licensees and numerous distributors in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, including in Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

Satellite headquarters are established to drive business in key regions around the world.

1970  International sales exceed $30 million in 40 world markets. European satellite headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, guides efforts in 15 countries. 

1977  Headquarters offices are established in Latin America and Hawaii.

EL changes its name to Ecolab prior to listing on the New York Stock Exchange – an action that provides increased visibility to investors around the world.

1980  EL conducts business in more than 50 countries. 

1981  EL completes plant in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

1986  Economics Laboratory changes its name to Ecolab and Ecolab is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Together, these two changes provide worldwide identification and visibility to global investors.  

1987  Company launches joint venture in Peoples Republic of China; begins operations in South Korea in anticipation of the 1988 Olympic Games. 

Late 1980s
Ecolab acquires Deterquimica, S.A., of Spain; Elton Chemical S.p.A, of Italy and Alkalion A.B., of Sweden, all offering chemistries for laundry and warewashing. 

1989  Ecolab has employees in 29 countries.

A joint venture to accelerate growth in Europe and added manufacturing capacity in Asia and Latin America help drive total international sales to more than $430 million.

1991  Strategic joint venture with Henkel KGaA, called Ecolab-Henkel and based in Düsseldorf, Germany, positions both companies for growth in a newly united European Union, as well as Russia and other Soviet republics. The joint venture’s combined European sales of products for institutional and hospitality cleaning, sanitizing and maintenance is $750 million.  

1991  Joint venture agreement with Henkel transfers ownership of Henkel's Latin American and Asian cleaning and sanitizing operations to Ecolab.  

1994  Twenty-two percent of Ecolab's net sales originate outside the United States. 

1992  Ecolab launches its “Circle the Customer – Circle the Globe” strategy, emphasizing its intention to become a worldwide leader in its core businesses.  

Plants are added in Thailand, Indonesia, Costa Rica and Mexico.  

1997  Ecolab gains a location from which to expand in Southeast Asia with purchase of Melbourne, Australia-based Gibson Chemical Industries Ltd., manufacturer of cleaning and sanitizing products for the Australian and New Zealand institutional, healthcare and industrial markets.  

1999  Ecolab has operations in 38 countries.

By the end of the first decade of the new century, almost half of total company sales come from outside the U.S. Ecolab’s buy-out of its joint venture in Europe, acquisitions that jump-start its Pest Elimination business in Europe and an aggressive building programme in China help drive the growth.

2001  Ecolab purchases remaining 50 percent share in the Henkel-Ecolab joint venture, which has expanded to include operations in more than two dozen European countries and annual sales of approximately $869 million.  

2002  Ecolab acquires London-based Terminix Ltd., which provides pest elimination services throughout the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The acquisition provides a strong start for the company’s Pest Elimination business in Europe.  

2004  Ecolab acquires Nigiko, a Paris-based firm providing pest services throughout France.  

2005  Global Research, Development and Engineering (RD&E) Centre opens in Eagan, Minnesota. 

2008  Ecolab’s European headquarters are located in Zurich, Switzerland.  

2008  Ecolab aggressively begins building operations in China. From 2008 to 2012, it invests $150 million in Chinese markets, adding plants in Nanjing, Suzhou, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Taiwan, as well as its largest production plant in China, in Taicang, which opens in 2012.  

2009  International markets contribute 47 percent of total Ecolab sales of $5.9 billion.

2010 and on
Big acquisitions in the water and energy sectors establish Ecolab as the world’s leading water treatment and energy services company and provide a major boost to its presence in markets around the world.

2011  Ecolab acquires Nalco, the world’s leading water management company. Nalco brings with it a well-established and wide-ranging global presence.  

2012  Ecolab acquires Champion Technologies, which has employees and offices around the world serving customers in the oil and gas industry. 

2015  Ecolab acquires Jianghai Environmental Protection Co. Ltd., expanding its water treatment business in China. 

2017  Ecolab acquires Laboratoires Anios at a total cost of $800 million. Based in Lille, France, Anios is a leading hygiene and disinfection products manufacturer primarily for the healthcare market.

2019 Ecolab acquires Lobster Ink, a leading provider of end-to-end online customer training solutions. It provides Ecolab with an ability to meet the unique training needs of hospitality and foodservice companies in 130 countries globally.