Klein Steel Service: IW Best Plants Profile 2011

Klein Steel Service: IW Best Plants Profile 2011

A Culture of Performance: At Klein Steel Service, success is driven by talented people who embrace a set of core values and seize the initiative.

Klein Steel Service
Rochester, N.Y.

Employees: 146, non-union

Total Square Footage: 206,000

Primary Product/Market: metal processor, steel service center

Start-Up Date: 2004

Achievements: finished-product first-pass quality yield of greater than 99%; 86% reduction in OSHA-recordable injury and illness incidence rate from 2008-2011

Processing steel can be a dangerous business, and not only for the people directly involved in the production. Customers, suppliers and other visitors unwittingly can add to the potential for safety mishaps in a building full of heavy metal slabs and machinery that cuts, burns, machines and moves those slabs.

IW's 2011 Best Plants

See the other winners of IW's 2011 Best Plants award and find out how they made the top ten.

Recognizing this truth, Klein Steel Service, a privately owned steel distribution and processing company located in Rochester, N.Y., last year introduced a visitor safety program that established a number of guidelines. These include requiring visitors to the warehouse area to sign in and out, and wear safety glasses and hard hats.

In theory, the safety program worked fine. However, after observing it in practice for awhile, the receiving team in Rochester noticed that an awkward layout made it possible for visitors to enter the warehouse without first registering. Without fanfare, the team changed the flow of visitor entry into the facility; now visitors can't avoid signing in and signing out.

Tim Sullivan burns parts from a thick plate at Klein Steel. The company has been steadily expanding its metal-processing capabilities.

This improvement project, one of many under way at Klein Steel, illustrates several important points about this 2011 IndustryWeek's Best Plants winner. The first is the absolute imperative of safety. "Our team members train on safety from day one, with constant reinforcement, coaching, reminders, additional training and attention throughout their career," notes the company in its competition application.

The second point is the value Klein Steel places on decentralization and empowerment, and on a culture of performance. The team members who improved the layout didn't react in response to an order from management. They instead identified an issue, developed a solution and implemented the solution -- without constantly engaging top leadership for approval.

Team Members Seize the Initiative

That's exactly the type of enterprise Klein Steel expects from its entire workforce. "Team members are empowered to seize the initiative," explains Todd Zyra, chief operating officer.

It's really more than that. Employees are encouraged to seize the initiative. "Do the right thing in the absence of supervision," is one of the abiding principles at Klein Steel.

If it sounds as though the company places significant responsibility in the hands of all employees, it is because Klein Steel does exactly that. Therefore, hiring the right people into the company is an area of emphasis. Interestingly, however, deep knowledge of steel is not a requirement.

"We look hard for very special people, and we are willing to train," explains John Batiste, president and CEO of Klein Steel.

Where the company is unwilling to bend is in the hiring of people who embrace the company's values, which include accountability, candor, customer satisfaction, integrity, and dignity and respect.

"We are very selective," admits Rob Sihto, manager of human resources. His arsenal of hiring tools was recently augmented with an online assessment that helps identify star performers and candidates who share Klein Steel's values and culture.

"If people get fired from Klein Steel, it is because they don't walk the talk with these values," Batiste says.

On the other hand, the company has implemented a robust talent-planning process for high-potential employees. It includes customized training based both on the individual and company needs.

Klein Steel's focus on hiring and developing the right people has helped drive strong results, including a 10% increase in productivity over the past three years, measured as annual sales per employee, and a 34% reduction in manufacturing cycle time.

Perhaps most importantly, the company's success is driving growth.

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