Leadership Brainstorming Growth Strategies
Brad Wiandt, president of Madison Electric Products Inc., is securing a bright future for his company by making it an innovation leader.

Leadership and Strategy: Brainstorming Growth Strategies

One year after taking the helm of Madison Electric in 2008, Wiandt launched the Sparks Innovation Center, an Internet-based product development program that uses crowdsourcing to partner with electricians and contractors to develop their ideas.

To Brad Wiandt, growth is a natural byproduct of creating a holistic culture of innovation. 

The president of Madison Electric Products Inc., an Ohio-based electrical products manufacturer, tries to position his company as one in flux -- a rapidly changing enterprise not held to a rigid strategic plan. 

"It's a very progressive culture. It's cards on the table, open innovation, think outside of the box, let's push the envelope," Wiandt says. "We feel like we're operating within an industry that is starving for companies to evolve and reinvent themselves. We want to be the company that fills that void."

See Also: Lean Manufacturing Leadership Best Practices

He calls the electrical products industry a "mature" one and says from the beginning he knew he wanted to find ways to redefine and distinguish Madison Electric in the marketplace. 

"When I showed up, our vast product portfolio was very dominated by commoditized products; it was very mature," Wiandt says. "I didn't want to have prices be our only weapons. That's not sustainable."

One year after taking the helm of Madison Electric in 2008, Wiandt launched the Sparks Innovation Center, an Internet-based product development program that uses crowdsourcing to partner with electricians and contractors to develop their ideas. 

"I understood we had to reinvent ourselves and a new product was a way to do that," Wiandt says. "I knew there were end users, the installers, there was always something they were rigging up…In layman's terms, it's brainstorming by utilizing resources outside of our company."

He knew those on-the-ground ideas were a gold mine, a solution to solving both the questions of what demands existed in the industry and what new products would best meet those needs. And it saved his company from having to hire a team of engineers, a costly and risky endeavor for a 45-person operation like Madison Electric. 

New products redefine Madison

Through Sparks, Madison has been able to introduce six new products -- or product families -- into the market, the most recent of which are the Super Rod products, wire pulling devices launched a year ago. And more are on the way.

Wiandt hopes the new products it has brought to market will be what define the company five to 10 years down the line. 

And, if numbers are any indication, it seems Madison Electric already is well along that path. 

The company since 2009 has experienced 45% growth in sales, with its new product sales already representing roughly 6% of annual figures. Wiandt would like to see that share climb to 10% by year end. 

But, beyond measurable standards, Madison Electric has also grown in less quantifiable ways, Wiandt says. 

The company has gained top-of-mind awareness within its industry as an innovator. That translates not only to more sales but also to new opportunities; since launching Sparks, Madison Electric has been able to get in the door with larger distributors to which it previously didn't have access. In fact, Madison Electric recently opened a 35,000-square-foot distribution center in southern California to handle the additional demand being generated on the West Coast. 

"There's significantly more recognition of the brand because of our new products and our new product development process," Wiandt says. 

Terri Hanna Wiehn, executive director of the Electrical League of Ohio, agrees. 

"They're bringing new products to market, which not a lot of the companies are," she says. 

Innovating the Way to Growth

That's because Wiandt and Madison Electric decided to use the Great Recession as a chance to reinvent the company. Rather than bury its head in the sand and try to survive the turmoil of the economic downturn, Madison Electric aggressively set forth on a new path, one which now guides the decisions the company makes. 

"We have somewhat of a tolerance for failure. You have to as you're trying to be aggressive and innovative," says Wiandt, who characterized his company as 'fluid.' "Not everything is going to work but you have to try. One out of 10 is going to be a home run." 

An exception to the rule

Patrick Cogny, senior vice president of GenPact, a global business process management services company, for the most part sees a heightened sense of caution in the executives with whom he works. Certainly, not all executives are as willing to dive into new processes as Wiandt.

“It’s not caution that prevents people from doing things, which was the case during the downturn,” says Cogny, who oversees the company’s infrastructure, manufacturing and services vertical.

Instead of just worrying about keeping their jobs as many did during the Great Recession, executives now have more stability and can focus on long-term strategy. However, in general executives are being more deliberate in their decision-making and considering risk more before moving forward.

For example, a leader looking at supply chain development likely will more closely evaluate potential partners on compliance and risk factors.

“As they need to grow, they want to sure the new clients they acquire are of high quality,” Cogny says. 

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