Wabash National Corp. (IW 500/486) CEO Dick Giromini isn't as directly involved with his company's lean activities as he was when he served as COO. Giromini led the semi trailer manufacturer's lean initiative in the early 2000s. For Giromini, his background as a degreed mechanical industrial engineer helped him understand many basic lean principles, including improved process flows.

The Lafayette, Ind., manufacturer with $1.2 billion in revenues in 2011 began its lean program in 2002 with a focus on line balancing. As the COO, Giromini was visible in the lean process, encouraging employees to participate in teams, attending management reporting sessions and, most importantly, ensuring the entire workforce understood the value of lean.

 

  "I think the important thing for a CEO to do is to be a vocal supporter and make it known to the leadership team that lean is important."  -- Wabash National Corp. CEO Dick Giromini

In 2008, the company initiated an aggressive five-year strategic plan designed not only to diversify the business to offset the cyclical nature of the trailer industry that tends to follow the economy, but also to operate more efficiently to support diversification efforts. The company expanded its engineering expertise to other industries such as the energy and environmental sector, building frack tanks and carbon steel vacuum tankers used to extract oil and natural gas from below the surface. This focus on diversification and efficiency helped new business units to share certain resources with the previously established core business, driving down startup costs and expediting the path to profitability.

"I think that's the power of it—not necessarily being an executive there conducting an event," Giromini says. "We had that burning platform, and if you can create that, it goes a long ways toward successful implementation."

In 2007 Giromini took over as the company's CEO. In his current role, most of Giromini's involvement with lean focuses on providing support for the company's continuous-improvement efforts. "I think the important thing for a CEO to do is to be a vocal supporter and make it known to the leadership team that lean is important," Giromini says. This includes applauding successes and providing financial support for the process.

Giromini suggests other CEOs embarking on the lean process make speed of implementation a priority. "Don't spend a year or year-and-a-half training everyone at the top to speak the language," Giromini says. "There are only so many folks who need primary skill sets, so it's a belief of mine that you could always gain more with a small core of people and implementing as you moved along." Gaining some quick wins helps build momentum for the program, Giromini explains.