LEADING by example
By Michael Legault
Anton Mudde started his career 33 years ago as an engineer, and some essential part of him remains an engineer. However as the president and CEO of Baytech Plastics (formerly known as Waltech) he is a...
Anton Mudde started his career 33 years ago as an engineer, and some essential part of him remains an engineer. However as the president and CEO of Baytech Plastics (formerly known as Waltech) he is an engineer whose experience has been tempered by the business challenges of running an injection molding operation in the 21st century.
Those challenges have included the loss of major customers, changing supplier-customer relationships and the sale of the company. Through it all, Mudde has kept the company on an even keel and succeeded in growing a business that has become one of the cornerstones of the Midland, ON community.
Today the company employs about 300 people at its two plants. It has more than 60 injection molding machines, ranging up to 2,500 tons in clamping force, the majority of which are equipped with robotics for loading and unloading parts. While the company is a custom molder in the truest sense, using a variety of molding technologies including micro-molding, structural foam and compression injection, it also offers an assortment of sophisticated assembly and finishing services.
“We rarely just mold,” says Mudde, noting that Baytech has a complete paint shop, as well as capabilities for hot stamping, pad printing and silk screening parts.
Mudde (pronounced Moodah) has worn many hats at the company. He hired into the company as an engineering draftsman, as he puts it, “back in the days when engineers sat at boards and drew with pencils and paper.” From this position, he was promoted successively to engineering manager, plant manager and operations manager, taking over as president and CEO of the company in 1998 after the company was sold by Emco to a group of investors and a team of three partners, Dave Webster, Paul Goyette and Mudde. As part of the terms of sale agreement, Waltech was required to change its name after a fixed period of time; thus the company now operates as Baytech Plastics, a name it acquired two years ago.
“One of the reasons we were able to accomplish a buy-out was because our investors could see the cycles we had been through, and that we had demonstrated the strength needed to pull through the tough times and come back stronger.”
IT’S ADAPT OR DIE
To be sure, Mudde’s leadership, and the company’s survival skills, have been put to test more than once. Over the years they have lost a number of major customers, including Admiral, Phillips Electronics and TRW, when these companies moved large parts of their manufacturing business to Mexico and other countries. The latest, and one of the biggest hits to Baytech’s business came when Fantom, a large vacuum cleaner manufacturer, went belly-up in 2001-02. Baytech had a third of its business and 110 employees devoted to the Fantom product line.
“That was a bad day,” says Mudde, now chuckling.
The company has been able to recover from these trials because of its superior technical sales and in-plant technical service, and because it has been able to adapt to ever more stringent demands placed on molders by today’s customers. This approach has recently won Baytech a major, new high-volume consumer product for which it is doing complete design, assembly and manufacturing.
“We were able to get this job because we have done a lot of things that the previous supplier wasn’t able to do.”
Mudde elaborates by saying the customer wanted product when it needed it, zero defects and technical/design support for future product development. None of this, frankly, appears out of the realm of the usual demands placed on molders these days. So why can’t more companies meet these requests and do better?
Perhaps part of the answer lies in Mudde’s leadership, which appears to have roots in the ‘don’t explain, don’t complain’ school of philosophy.
“My answer to people and businesses that complain about the Wal-marts of the world is that they (Wal-mart) are providing consumers with a service they want.”
He implies many of today’s businesses say they are listening to their customers, but somehow the message is not getting through.
“We can compete but we have to be smarter.”
One of the salient features of Mudde’s leadership and personality is his ability to look beyond the details of day-to-day production and appreciate the importance of things such as training, the general business and economic environment and community.
Over the years he has been actively involved with Junior Achievement programs, the Canadian Plastics Industry Association, and has served for six years as the co-chair on the Canadian Plastics Sector Council. Mudde says he became involved with the Council because the formation of a Sector Council was needed in order to address important human resource issues affecting the plastics industry. The Council developed National Occupational Standards for key job functions and is now looking at the issue of apprenticeship programs for the plastics industry.
“Anton rarely says no,” observes Serge Lavoie, CPIA president. “He’s invested a lot of time on the Sector Council, and it’s not an easy file. It involves labor and government and Anton helps keep everything on the straight and narrow.”
Lavoie says Mudde’s career has the rounded qualities the CPIA looks for in a leader, with facets of success in business and involvement in the industry and community.
“Anton has been innovative in growing the business of a medium-size injection molder, but he has also given back.”
In the business world, Mudde’s philosophy is to stay diversified, with no single market accounting for more than 30% of its business. Presently, Baytech’s main business is split between the business machine, automotive, telecommunications and electrical switch markets. The company’s telecommunications business is mostly low- to medium-volume parts — for example it molds a large, telecommunication switch gear from structural foam. In automotive, it has purposely positioned itself as a supplier at the Tier 2, Tier 3 and after-market levels.
Since starting his career, Mudde says the biggest change has been in the nature of customer-supplier relationships. “There are very few close relationships anymore, and it’s sad.”
Mudde still looks forward to the day-to-day challenges presented by running a business in what has become a truly global plastics industry. Yet, true to his engineer’s blood, he still gets his biggest kick from technology.
“From my perspective, the technology is still the most exciting part. It’s the driving force of this industry and our business.”