THE BEST OF THE BEST
A few common characteristics stand out among those designated Canada's 50 Best Managed Private Companies in 1999: an obsession with customer service; generous employee recognition and compensation; a ...
A few common characteristics stand out among those designated Canada’s 50 Best Managed Private Companies in 1999: an obsession with customer service; generous employee recognition and compensation; a superior product and an outstanding management team.
Toronto-based accounting firm Arthur Andersen evaluated companies for the 1999 competition, based on financial results, an executive summary, plant visits and employee interviews. A panel of judges makes the final decision. The 50 Best awards program for 1999 was sponsored by National Post, Arthur Andersen, CIBC and PeopleSoft Canada.
In the plastics industry, four companies were found to meet the “best-managed” criteria: Wentworth Technologies Ltd., Stochem Inc., Nitrex Metal Inc. and Injectech Industries Inc.
The common-sense succession
“I believe business management is common sense,” says Jeff Stock, president of Stochem Inc. (Brampton, Ont.) “You put the right people in the right place with the right tools. Listen to the people around you who know.”
Stock was inexperienced in the chemical distribution business when he joined his father’s company in 1995. He held sales and management positions, and moved up to president when founder Dave Stock became chairman. He gave the management team a lot of latitude, which was a change from the more hands-on style of his father.
“The directors of each business unit became extremely independent,” says Stock. He finds it especially gratifying to win the award this year because the management structure has changed so much since Stochem first won the honor in 1996. As a previous winner, the company requalified in 1997 and 1998 (which involves a less intensive screening process than the initial evaluation), but went through the same full evaluation as new applicants in 1999.
Like many of the 50 Best, Stochem is extremely customer-focused. “Our philosophy, which we are almost obsessive about, is: If it is not helping a customer, then let’s not do it. It’s easy for a company to get caught up in itself, in internal functions that don’t benefit the customer.”
Stochem has ambitions to double its business with the plastics industry in two years. Stock has begun to add new suppliers to allow Stochem to be the preferred chemical distributor for plastics, not just a distributor that also serves the plastics market.
Tough love keeps employees, gains clients
While Stock has had success listening to the people around him, Walter Kuskowski has been successful emulating the actions of people he admires.
“Don’t try to do everything yourself,” says Kuskowski, president of Wentworth Technologies Inc. “Pick up ideas from other companies — you’ll be amazed at what kind of support they’ll give you.” An example is Wentworth’s profit sharing program, a direct pick up from Magna International Inc. Kuskowski researched the Magna plan, had interviews with Magna executives, and then applied the plan of the 54,000-employee company to his own moldmaking shops.
Wentworth Technologies is an integrated group of companies that is a world leader in blow molds for bottles, and also has facilities for making injection molds and a plastics processing operation. It first won the 50 Best designation in 1998 and requalified in 1999.
Kuskowski is a 20-year veteran of General Electric. He joined the company in 1966 as an engineer after he emigrated from Poland. “GE is a fantastic company. Very well run. It’s an absolute meritocracy. If you work hard, you get ahead. I was director of engineering at a plant before I even got my citizenship.”
Kuskowski has applied that management experience to the moldmaking shops he owns.
“North Ontario Mold (his first purchase) was too small for me. I decided to build it as fast as I could.”
And build he did. He tripled the sales volume of the Barrie mold shop without adding new employees. Then he proceeded to buy eight more moldmaking shops and a plastics processing facility.
Wentworth Technologies grew from $1.6 million in sales in 1994 to an estimated $125 million in 2000.
Kuskowski says Wentworth is very people-oriented, but practices “tough love”. “We’re very demanding, but we create an exciting, challenging environment. I believe in sharing the economic benefit, and we promote a lot of young people from within.”
As an automotive supplier, injection molder Injectech Industries Inc. faces stringent quality demands and tight deadlines. The 200-person company is rigorous about continuous improvement and 100 percent customer satisfaction.
Of the 50 Best award, president Gert Walter says: “A lot of people have worked very hard to make us successful. It’s nice to have independent verification that our business decisions are on the right track.”
Walter puts much emphasis on team building activities, social days, employee recognition programs and strong communications at Injectech’s two plants in Barrie, Ont.
Injectech has invested in value-added downstream operations and specialized molding technologies as routes to increase its business in the automotive, electrical, electronics and business machine markets. The company has 55 injection molding machines and is capable of assembling metals, automated assembly, heat staking, pad printing, fixture design and manufacturing, and CMM measurement. Molding capabilities include gas-assist molding, insert molding and decorative molding.
The company is certified to ISO 9002 and QS-9000, and uses an approach called Advance Product Quality Planning to increase productivity and reduce roadblocks beginning with the quotation stage of a project.
Investment in technology pays off
In contrast with the other plastics industry winners, Nitrex Metal Inc. is a technology-based company which licenses its Nitreg controlled gas nitriding technology around the world. This business focus dictates a strong investment in R&D and a need to keep knowledgeable people on staff.
Vice-president Chris Morawski explains that Nitrex hires selectively, generally recent graduates or people with little work experience, and trains employees in-house. “We believe in developing our own skilled staff, and in developing our own world class technology.”
The gas nitriding process can be used for surface treatment of molds and mold components to increase wear resistance and corrosion resistance.
“We emphasize honesty and integrity in our dealings with customers. We don’t lead the customer on. If we can’t do what they want, we will be honest about our limitations,” says Morawski.
In addition to licensing its technology, Nitrex has a stake in several joint ventures. One such venture is Nitrex Metal Technologies Inc. in Burlington, Ont.