How many manufacturing companies have a chief executive dog? Texas Nameplate does. He's Rowdy and his job responsibilities as CED, according to the Dallas-area manufacturer's website, "consist of being nonthreatening, nonjudgmental, open, welcoming, accepting and attentive." Rowdy has his own Instagram and email account and "gets more than anybody so far," jokes Dale Crownover, president and CEO of the small, Dallas-area manufacturer.
Rowdy's inclusion among the leadership team adds a bit of whimsy to a family-run business that takes manufacturing excellence seriously. Texas Nameplate is a two-time time winner of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (1998 and 2004), it's a holder of two patents with several others pending, and it is now aiming to set an industry standard for environmental responsibility as well as challenging its competitors to make better environmental choices.
Its vision statement says it all: “We are role models for both performance and environmental excellence.”
IndustryWeek recently chatted on a wide range of topics with Dale Crownover, a self-proclaimed Baldrige "nerd" who since 1989 has led the family-run business co-founded by his father in 1946, and has worked there his entire life. "I've never worked for anybody else. I've never filled out a job application, never filled out a resume, and I've had the same W-2 from Texas Nameplate all my life," he says. Two sons have since joined the business.
Crownover has worked in every department, having started at the tender age of 8 in Texas Nameplate's paint department, wiping off sheets of metal for $1 a day. Being an entrepreneur even back then, he started a sweeping company within the manufacturing firm, and by making the rounds to various departments and doing odd jobs he was able to boost his earnings to $2 or $3 a day.
"I loved coming to Texas Nameplate. I worked [there] every summer all my life," he says. "I learned at a very early age that people were willing to work with you if you would work with them."
Now he's hoping the industry will work with him to become more environmentally conscious.
In mid-January Texas Nameplate issued a press release challenging others to follow its lead in going green, and the company has shared its efforts and gains in this area. For example, Texas Nameplate has initiated an acid rejuvenation process, gone paperless, reclaims solvent, and even invented equipment that reduces its impact on the environment in several ways. Called the iScrubber, it is a closed-loop, automated solvent scrubbing system designed for cleaning paint and "resist" from chemically etched nameplates. Texas Nameplate recently received a patent for this green innovation.
The company calculates that its environmental efforts annually save about 1,200 gallons of solvent waste, 450,000 gallons of water, 12 tons of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), 30 trees and 25,000 rags, to list just a few of its environmental statistics. Moreover, approximately one year ago the manufacturing company moved to a new location and facilities some 20 miles south of Dallas, which give Crownover and his team the ability to pursue their environmental objectives even more effectively. The company rolled out a campaign, "Our Nameplates are Green," at the same time.
"Now that we have this new facility, it is a little bit easier for us to showcase everything we've been doing with environmental the last 10 years," Crownover says. "We are trying to encourage our industry and everybody."
Of course, Texas Nameplate also has been on the flip side of the environmental equation. While the company in 1988 won a Dallas Blue Thumb award for water quality, "we were the bad guys before then," Crownover says.
"We had a lot of violations with the city of Dallas on our water discharge," he says. "We ended up with about eight citations one time, and that's when I figured out that I had to get my act together. That's when we really started getting process and procedures in place to deal with the environment."
Texas Nameplate's 1998 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award further pushed the company along the path to environmental responsibility. As a participant, the company received comprehensive feedback. "A key theme ... was the fact that even though we addressed our water, we didn't address our air and our other chemicals. That is what drove me to pursue the ISO  certification," Crownover says.
Texas Nameplate's CEO believes the company's green stand could help deliver new customers. "Statistics show now that new buyers will look at that. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they will make a purchase, but it will get your foot in the door. There's also statistics out there that show millennials are very, very environmentally conscious."
Green as an Impetus for Innovation
The iScrubber is a prime example of how Texas Nameplate's environmental pursuits have spurred innovation. "Baldrige taught me that. We are innovators. We think outside the box. We always are trying to improve something or processes," Crownover says.
Beyond the already stated benefits the iScrubber provides is yet another: productivity. One person can do in two-and-a-half hours what previously had taken three people all day. Competitors want to get their hands on the technology, Crownover says, and the company is considering building and selling the machines – perhaps.
"We will not do it unless we feel like we are financially very, very stable. That's kind of my little dream. I'd like to do it from an environmental perspective," Crownover says. "We're working on some other types of projects that are a little bit outside the nameplate industry, and if those were to become somewhat lucrative, I think it would put us in a better position to maybe lose a competitive edge."
Making Innovation Happen
How does Texas Nameplate find time to work on "other types of projects?" this IndustryWeek editor wondered. A commonly told tale about small businesses is that to simply survive they have little time to do more than keep their noses to the grindstone. Raising the question elicited a strong response from Crownover.
"I have given speeches all over the world for the last 20 years, and I been asked that a thousand times. My response is that, 'you're right, they do not have time,' and the reason why they do not have time is because they do not run their business with any type of systematic approach. I learned that with Baldrige. They are putting out fires every day, they are having meetings every day about lost customers, employees that are upset, and products that don’t work," Crownover says. "They are dysfunctional, and I would put the blame on the CEO."
"I will guarantee you that less than 30% of organizations have a [strategic] plan. How do you think you are going to obtain your vision or your mission—if you even have one—or your goals or objectives—if you even know what they are...if you do not have a plan and you do not deploy that plan?" he asks.
"The reason why we have time to be innovative is we are very systematic in what we do. Our processes are identified, out procedures are identified, we have dashboards around here that are updated every 15 seconds with our ERP that indicates all of our key indicators are functioning correctly. We have a procedure in place if they are not; we know what to address," he says. "We know exactly what we are supposed to do and, more importantly, we explain that to all of our people so they know what they are supposed to do."
"When you do all that, you have time."
The same holds true for small companies and performance excellence, Crownover says. Yes, Texas Nameplate has twice been nationally recognized for quality performance, but the journey to get there was pain-filled at the start. Remember those eight citations for water discharge violations? The city warned him it would turn off the company's water if Texas Nameplate didn't shape up. That was the impetus for some deep soul-searching.
"I got tired of going home with a headache. I got tired of getting beat up. I got tired of getting chewed out. I got tired of crying," Crownover says.
"I can't make nameplates without water. I thought, 'I need to get my act together. I need to grow up. I've got to do the right thing,' and I just got obsessed with all that," he continues. "I had to grow up and I think that's what I did."
And Now, the Tax Bill
That was then. Entering its 72nd year in 2018, Texas Nameplate appears poised to make things happen as well as take advantage of opportunities that may come its way. The recently passed tax bill is one of those opportunities. It already has had an impact at Texas Nameplate, the company's leader says.
"I'm excited. I'm more optimistic. Leaders have got to have a sense of optimism. I'm already am an optimistic type person. It's given me a lot of incentives. It gives me a lot more drive," he says.
"We are a C corp. We were paying 39% taxes; it's going down to 21%. It is going to enable us to give some of that money back to the people through incentives. More specifically ... we initiated an incentive plan that started Jan. 1, and we were able to implement that as a direct result that our taxes are going to go down. It's also going to help us on healthcare."