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Manufacturing Leadership Shines in Tough Times

Feb. 16, 2011
In the face of challenges from mergers to hurricanes, effective leaders roll up their sleeves and get the job done.

This past July, Hurricane Alex put Mark Goodman's leadership abilities to the test.

After making landfall in northern Mexico on June 30, Hurricane Alex quickly weakened to a tropical storm. But in the days that followed, the remnants of the storm deluged parts of northern Mexico with prolific amounts of rain.

"It just sat there over northern Mexico for about a week, " recalls Goodman, who is the plant manager for Carrier's Charlotte, N.C., Chiller Operations. "And it sucked moisture [out of the Gulf of Mexico] and it rained and rained and rained, and it just kept raining."

Raging floods caused by the heavy rain wiped out roads, shut down bridges and brought commerce to a standstill in places like Monterrey, Mexico, where several of Carrier Charlotte's key suppliers are located.

Mark Goodman, plant manager of Carrier's Charlotte, N.C., Chiller Operations: "These guys fought Hurricane Alex and won."
"That rain filled up a lot of the reservoirs, and then eventually the water had to be released into the Rio Grande, and it flooded, and they shut down bridges in Laredo and Brownsville and a few other ones," Goodman recalls. "The roads were impassable to get trucks back and forth across the Rio Grande."

This was a big problem for Carrier Charlotte, which makes chillers for the commercial heating, ventilation and air conditioning industry. The 2010 IndustryWeek Best Plants winner was in jeopardy of failing to meets its obligations to its customers and missing its corporate revenue targets.

"The bottom line is we make our financial commitments, and there was a very strong likelihood that we were going to miss our financial commitments because we simply could not get the [raw materials] in time to build the product," Goodman says.

Since such a scenario would have been "devastating for our customers and our job site," Goodman rallied the troops.

Goodman, along with supply chain manager Alex Housten and Carrier's logistics team, "worked like crazy" to make arrangements with suppliers and freight providers to ensure that the plant had the materials it needed. And production employees put in long hours, staying until midnight on the last day of the month to meet the plant's deadlines.

Goodman is quick to give the credit to his team, who contributed some "extraordinary Herculean efforts" to get the job done on time. He says he was there simply to lead the "pep rally."

"You should've seen these guys," Goodman says. " ... I'll never forget it as long as I live. These guys fought Hurricane Alex and won."

Setting Expectations

John Stroup, president and CEO of St. Louis-based wire and cable manufacturer Belden Inc., believes that tough times bring out the best in good leaders.

Belden President and CEO John Stroup: "In bad times, I think it's a lot easier to identify who good leaders are."
"In bad times, I think it's a lot easier to identify who good leaders are," Stroup says. "Because the ones who aren't effective aren't able to manage through the difficulties, and the ones that are [effective] manage through it pretty well."

Economic downturns certainly can test the mettle of manufacturing leaders. So can mergers and acquisitions.

When Stroup was appointed president and CEO in October 2005, he took over an organization that had gone through a merger about a year and a half earlier. The July 2004 merger between Belden and Cable Design Technologies Corp. (CDT) brought together two cultures that "were very different," Stroup recalls.

One of the most significant leadership challenges on his plate, Stroup says, "was that it was pretty clear to me coming in that I was going to have make quite a few people changes."

Stroup believes one of the most essential responsibilities of a leader is "establishing appropriate expectations." So he approached the challenge by "being fair, being consistent, being clear with people about what my expectations were and following through."

"When people did well, we made certain that they were rewarded. And if people didn't do well, we evaluated it," Stroup explains. "If they weren't doing well because they didn't have the skills, then we trained them. If they weren't doing well because maybe they were in the wrong job, then we repositioned them. If they weren't doing well because they didn't have a very good attitude, then we asked them to leave."

Regarding the last point: Stroup emphasizes that it's important that leaders address the issue of workers who are underperforming simply due to a bad attitude or lack of effort.

"If you don't deal with the people who aren't giving their best efforts, it is absolutely a poison to everybody else," he says.

Pulling In the Reins

In January 2009, Lyndon Faulkner, president and CEO of Pelican Products Inc., had a unique leadership challenge on his hands. Pelican, a Torrance, Calif.-based manufacturer of advanced lighting systems, rugged protector cases and shipping containers, had acquired its longtime competitor, Hardigg Industries.

The deal, which was one of the largest acquisitions in the history of the protective-case industry, doubled Pelican's market presence overnight. And it created a lot of excitement among the management teams of both companies -- perhaps too much excitement.

Pelican Products President and CEO Lyndon Faulkner: After Pelican acquired longtime rival Hardigg Industries in January 2009, Pelican and Hardigg were so excited about the potential synergies between the two companies that "we ran the risk of it becoming chaos."
"My leadership skills, in that case, were called to action not to motivate and drive people, because I had the opposite problem," Faulkner explains. "I had a group of leaders at Pelican and a group of leaders at Hardigg who couldn't wait [to get started integrating the two companies]." The management teams had identified so many potential synergies between Pelican and Hardigg "that we ran the risk of it becoming chaos with everybody wanting to go off and do their thing."

So Faulkner brought his leadership to bear by pulling in the reins and "setting a vision for what these two companies would look like together."

"For the first 90 days, all we did was start pulling groups of people of similar disciplines into a room and start road-mapping what we thought we could do with the business," Faulkner recalls. "And certainly I think in some cases that caused a little frustration, because everybody just wanted to get at it."

It may have been an exercise in patience for some people, but Faulkner is convinced that the process was worth it. Because leaders from Pelican and Hardigg were involved in shaping a vision for the new company, "we got buy-in."

"And we ended up with a roadmap for the next two years that put this organization together better than anybody could've expected," Faulkner says.

Another major challenge of bringing together two successful companies was deciding which company's leaders and processes would prevail in the new organization. Although the two companies -- despite being competitors for decades -- approached the integration with a collaborative spirit, he says there was some frustration because some people "thought their way was the best way" and assumed that their processes would win out.

Faulkner and his leadership team addressed the challenge by making sure that the two companies took a few months "to learn each other's processes, learn each other's skills and by insisting on an open mind."

"And what we did was force a change-management process in which we learned each other's best skills," Faulkner recalls. "And frankly, we put Hardigg people in charge of certain departments. Not all Pelican people became the kingpins of their divisions. And that helped us integrate the businesses effectively."

This article is the first in a two-part web-exclusive series on leadership in manufacturing. For more, read "Leadership Starts at the Top" in the March issue of IndustryWeek.

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