Want to Improve Your Business? Walk the Floor

Long time industrialist Al Weatherhead says everything you need to know can be found in the factory.

Al Weatherhead's favorite place is the factory floor. His first visit was at age 3 and at 83 he still visits the floor regularly. "All of the answers you need you can find by talking to the associates who produce the products," he explains.

As the CEO of Weatherhead Industries, based in Twinsburg, Ohio, which manufactures plastic closures for the food, spice, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical products, he simply needs to enter the factory to ascertain progress. " Walking onto the factory you can feel just how healthy the company is. It is a gut feeling that I have relied on for my entire career and one that never steers me wrong."

Also time-tested is his belief that whatever problem crops up there is a solution. When asked about his opinion of American companies setting up shop overseas as a solution to costs problems, he replies: "There is no need to go overseas to find answers since they are all right here in the minds of Amercian worker and managers. Going overseas is merely chasing the money and you quickly find out that there will always be another place that is even cheaper. The winning strategy is to use creativity and innovation to overcome whatever issue you have."

Al explains that answers are closer than you think. If you ask the people who make the products how to improve efficiency and cut costs, they can pinpoint it exactly. He gave the example of the employee who pointed out the machinery was so worn in one part it slowed down the process. All that was need was some repair work. "It's simple but if you don't ask you won't know," he says.

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Asking employees for solutions is something that he feels managers are not doing now as much as they did in the past. He feels management has gotten too far away from the workforce. And that's detrimental since employees don't feel they have a stake in their companies. Weatherhead pointed to a time in his company's history where financially things were quite dire yet his employees stood tall, worked without profit-sharing arrangements and weathered the storm that took almost five years to fix. "It was all about trust. They trusted I would save the company and I trusted their know-how," he said.

Loyalty is another issue that is hard to find today but was in full force during his early career. "I remember when I could go up and down the line and know everyone's family stories and we all shared our wisdom."

Another issue where co-operation ruled the day in the past was a company's relationship with the union. Weatherhead was put in charge of negotiations with a union during a 60-day strike held at his father's company the Weatherhead Company. (The company was founded in 1919 and made parts for the auto industry.) Having a personal relationship with the head of the union, Weatherhead made sure that everything was done safely and respectfully. At holiday time, the union heads joined the corporation for parties and Weatherhead even campaigned in his factory for one union leader who was seeking a higher position in the union.

Times have changed though and when he took over his current company he asked the workforce if they wanted to unionize. After a three month trial without unions they decided to stay that way.

Understanding the needs of his workforce could be one reason that employees chose not to unionize. His company works hard to find schedules that accommodate their needs and he does this by listening to their concerns. It's this close relationship that he attributes to the success of his company which invented the Weatherchem Flapper that is used today by 150 companies including Kraft, P&G and Nature's Made.

Creating innovative products is the way to create efficiencies. Weatherhead consults with his employees who always have ideas on better way to product products and find more efficient processes. "The ideas are all there. Other companies can find the success we have it if they make it a priority to think as a team and work together," says Weatherhead.

TAGS: Talent
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