In 2004, employees of the General Cable (IW 500/167) plant in Marion, Ind., met in a meeting room.
There would be a cost competitiveness feasibility study, they were told, to see if the plant would continue to operate. The future of the plant, of their livelihoods, was uncertain.
"This plant was at a crossroads," says Lee Sneed, plant manager.
Yet today, more than 150 production employees file through the doors of the 860,000-square-foot Marion plant, a testament to the hard battle fought there over the past decade.
At A Glance
General Cable Corp. -- Marion Plant
Employees: 189, union
Total square footage: 860,000 square feet
Primary Products: Industrial and specialty cables
Achievements: 65% water usage reduction in three years; elimination of all knives in three years; 2013 General Cable CEO Award for Safety Excellence
"It feels good from a plant perspective that we’re winning and the employees are winning," Sneed says.
The plant, which had been hit by the dot-com bust and its effect on construction markets, was downsized and focused only on making products for the mining industry. The change, and the smaller workforce, encouraged collaboration and a focus on the operator Marion had never seen before.
"Marion’s progress during the darkest time established an environment for positive growth as the years progressed," according to its IndustryWeek Best Plants application.
The plant that General Cable decided to take a chance on 11 years ago now manufactures products for renewable energy, oil and gas, and commercial building markets, adding three new product lines in the last four years.
It has diversified, focused on continuous improvement and championed lean. And it has made safety its top priority.
"I believe that if you show me a plant with good safety performance, you’ll also see that performance in every other thing that plant does," Sneed says.
The plant in 2010 created a central safety committee and then introduced consequence thinking, which really was its turning point, says David Mooney, EH&S Manager.
"Do the right thing, have the courage to care for each other and do it one day at a time, and the numbers will take care of themselves," Mooney says.
Through one-on-one meetings, small group huddles and complete transparency, the committee and plant leadership were able to start gradually creating a culture in which safety was unquestionably No. 1. They gave workers smoke detectors and weather radios, and pushed the idea that safety should be a driving force in all areas of life -- not just at the plant.
"We’ve really been working to change a culture," Sneed says. "We realized that a cultural shift was needed to ensure the long-term viability of the company. You have to earn the right to operate."
When he assumed leadership of the plant in 2013, Sneed made it his mission to transform what had become a solid plant, a good plant, into a great one. One of his first meetings with the employees was called just that: "good to great."
At that point, the plant’s leadership model changed from a directive one to a collaborative one, a shift that improved morale, increased employee participation and strengthened leadership’s relationship with the union.
And, on the safety side, that meant moving from tracking injuries to tracking near misses -- a statistic that is now used throughout the General Cable footprint.