When Gregory Kenny took the reins at General Cable in 2001, the dot-com bubble had just burst and the early-2000s recession was taking hold. He responded by ramping up the continuous improvement program General Cable had dipped its toe into a couple years earlier and incorporating Six Sigma into the mix.
"We started with the roots of lean and continuous improvement in '99 and 2000," Kenny says. "Then everything fell in on us in 2001. That's when I went from chief operating officer to CEO, and we began to really put our foot down on the continuous improvement side of things."
General Cable -- which makes copper, aluminum and fiber-optic wire and cable -- fully embraced those concepts and incorporated them into every aspect of its business. It was a prescient move: Following the economic boom years of 2006-08, the slimmed-down General Cable was able to continue growing through the Great Recession, acquiring businesses, introducing new products, entering new markets and becoming a global force while much of the manufacturing world reeled.
"In 2009 we began to see tremendous demand destruction in our markets," Kenny says. "Some of them fell by 50% or more. But we were able to adjust quickly. We kept developing new products and taking cost out where we could. And we acquired a number of companies around the world -- different product lines, many of them distressed assets."
The results have been extraordinary. "Largely because of our sustained 10-year lean journey, we were able to make as much money in 2010-11-12 as we had during the boom years, on basically the same portfolio of assets, with 20% less capacity utilization and much weaker value-added pricing," Kenny says.
General Cable's success is built on Kenny's philosophy of finding people who fit the company's culture, giving them the tools they need, then getting out of their way.
"The most important thing I've learned -- and it may sound trite -- but it's that notion of servant leadership," Kenny says. "With this job you get a dose of humility: Stuff happens. The way I deal with it is to make sure we have the right people in place, give them what they need to do their jobs, and then let them lead the company forward."