Seco Tools CEO Drills Into the Softer Side of Cutting Metal

Seco Tools CEO Drills Into the Softer Side of Cutting Metal

Seco Tools CEO Lars Bergström discusses the roles of digital technology and company culture in taking the Swedish metalworking company to the next level.

At an IMTS 2014 booth chock full of the precision cutting heads Seco Tools is best known for, CEO Lars Bergström spent a good part of his briefing with reporters discussing not hardware but software and culture.

Over the last five years, Bergström noted, the amount of data communications globally has increased 700%. That explosion in information and connectivity put Seco on the path to developing My Pages, a cloud-based digital portal that will allow customers to find product information on any of the firm’s 33,000 products from any device.

My Pages gives machine tool operators the ability to check current and past orders, stock availability, and component pricing as well as access test reports. The software will be available to customers early next year.

“It looks simple as shown here but just to get all the product data right for 33,000 standard products and get all the systems to communicate with each other has been a bit of a challenge,” Bergström said, smiling at the understatement. “We’re getting there. It is a very nice product.”

Bergström: Company leaders have to make sure that "everyone in the group understands where we are heading, what is important, and how they can contribute."

The focus on customer needs reflects the set of values that Seco, headquartered in Sweden and with approximately $1 billion in annual sales, is emphasizing for its 5,000 employees in 50 countries. Bergström said Seco remains a “family-oriented company” despite its size and is built on three values – passion for its customers, family spirit and personal commitment.

Operating with these values, he said, becomes even more important as the company grows globally and seeks to provide customers with great value. Customers increasingly look to manufacturer such as Seco for fast, expert service. That makes the talent the company attracts to its ranks all the more important.

Bergström said he has been focused on strategic alignment in the organization and has been doing a great deal of communication about it to help ensure that everyone can contribute their best ideas to the company.

“We have 5,000 people in the group and we strongly believe that in this war for talent, we have to make sure that everyone in the group understands where we are heading, what is important, and how they can contribute,” he said. “That is going to be one of the key ingredients in all successful companies going forward.”

Seco manufactures in Sweden, Czech Republic, France, India and the United States. The company’s U.S. headquarters is in Troy, Mich. Seco has approximately 600 employees in the U.S., which accounts for about 25% of its sales.

Last year, Seco established a new manufacturing facility for its Custom Tools Division in Troy. The 30,000-square-foot facility combines design, engineering and manufacturing functions and provides the company with an increased ability to offer customers, particularly in the auto industry, with new tooling solutions engineered for their applications.

The Ups and Downs of the Global Market

As with other global operators, Bergström sees a mixed picture with regard to Seco’s markets. Overall, he said the market had been flat – “flat as a pancake” - in the second quarter. He called particular attention to Europe’s ongoing recovery woes.

“We are a bit concerned about how to get Europe back to growth,” Bergström said.

Still, he said the automobile and aerospace industries were doing well, helping to spur growth in the United Kingdom and Italy.

After a slow period, Bergström said the Chinese market was growing again. He also noted that aerospace and automotive were helping the Japanese market, which was benefiting from government stimulus policies.

Bergström said it has been “encouraging” to see recent growth in North American industry. “Especially for us based in Detroit, it has been good to see how the U.S. auto manufacturers are coming back up and producing nice cars with good quality,” he said

Still, he said, the North American economy presented a mixed picture, with the automobile, energy and aerospace industries doing well but weakness continuing in mining and construction.

In South America, Bergström said, Brazil and Argentina continue to struggle with “difficult macro-economic conditions.”

Looking further out, Bergström forecasts increased growth in Asia and Africa as more countries develop, industrialize and grow their middle classes. They will need to play an important role in Seco's growth plans as the company targets a 50% increase in revenue over the next few years.

 

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