If you haven't already, wish Modine Manufacturing Co. a happy anniversary.
Established in 1916, the Racine, Wisc.-based manufacturer of thermal management technology and solutions turned 100 this year. It's a celebratory feat, but proving that hitting the century mark is no reason to rest on one's laurels, Modine earlier this month announced an agreement to acquire Luvata Heat Transfer Solutions. It also began the year by assuming controlling share of a joint venture in China.
IndustryWeek, which takes great pleasure in saluting century-old (or perhaps century-young) manufacturing companies, recently caught up with Thomas A. Burke, Modine's president and chief executive officer. Burke joined Modine in 2005, following a career that included stays at Visteon Corp. and Ford Motor Co., (another century-old manufacturing company).
Here are insights and excerpts from that conversation.
On leadership and Burke's leadership style: Modine's CEO says his style is driven by the company's core values of selflessness, integrity, development, accountability, and communication and conflict resolution. "These are very clear, well-established values that we expect all of our leadership to follow. In my position, my job is to make sure I follow those as closely as I can. The whole point is to gain the confidence and trust and alignment across the organization because that's when you can really expect things to improve faster. That's my approach."
"Our leaders have what we call a mentoring role, and the mentor's job is to make sure that the mentee is developing his or her capabilities, is engaging in our processes to improve, in bringing forth the obstacles that need to be addressed. You can color my style as being one of a mentor. If I don’t take that approach, it will break down.
"It's all about building trust in the organization. That's a firm belief of mine. That means open and honest communication, and that means being able to take the bad news with the good news. If you're not doing that, you can't address issues that drive the company forward."
On continuous improvement: The Modine CEO has an engineering degree from Purdue University. Burke says the engineering mindset is helpful in any discussions about improvement. "For true continuous improvement, you have to be system-oriented, process-oriented, which I think engineering helps you understand -- the flow of things. It is all about flow, whether it is through the plant floor or through administrative processes. Our mentors have to be able to teach what we call our continuous improvement principles to our mentees, and it starts with me."
"It's all about leaders understanding and being able to teach, and then being able to mentor and build the capability of their team."
"Building capability" is a key refrain of Burke's, and executives are expected to build the capability of their teams. One approach is "go and see" observations, in which executives ask key questions, "not rhetorically but to really make sure there's an understanding of not only what the output is supposed to be, but how is the process is supposed to run, and what keeps the process from running that way."
On Modine's longevity: Burke attributes Modine's longevity to "a singular focus on thermal management" dating back to the company's founder, engineer Arthur B. Modine.
"[Modine] felt more comfortable in research areas or on the plant floor, developing new ideas not only about how to run a business, but he solved problems for the farm industry, he solved problems for the automotive industry, right on down the line.
"Protecting that core competency and understanding it is a key element; that is where the secret sauce is. How well are [we] leveraging and strengthening that, making sure that the applications of new technologies come forward… It's that core competency and knowing and having the confidence that we can take this and go into whatever industry and support it. That has been a key."
On innovation. Continuous improvement is part of the message. Modine's new tag line is "Always Innovating. Always Improving."
"We know that in order to stay fresh, in order to move forward, in order to ensure that we are around in the next 100 years, you've got to innovate your solutions.
"We like the new tagline. 'Always innovating' is what we're known for. 'Always improving' says we're not just sitting back waiting for the next 'Gee Whiz' idea to come out.
"We want to be an innovator, always leading, but we also want to be the fastest improving business as well."
On the biggest challenge leading a 100-year-old company:
"The biggest challenge is to not to be over-confident about what it means. The biggest challenge is to remain humble about it, and say, yes, it's a great accomplishment, but it doesn’t guarantee you anything in the future."
On how to assure Modine is around for another 100 years:
Burke says it's about improving capability. "Our objective is to become the fastest improving company in our industry. How will we know that? I get asked that question a lot. We will know that because we are assessing capability. The more capable we become, it’s a direct correlation with how fast we can improve. So I say, let's not worry about having to improve ourselves versus our competition. We know as we build this capability, we'll respond with higher win rates, better margins, more customer satisfaction --that will be a proxy for our level of improvement."