GW Plastics' Comprehensive Consistency Moves Company forward, Maintaining Mission and Core Values
Produced by Brian Mooney
GW Plastics was founded over a half-century ago in 1955 when two early plastics pioneers, John R. Galvin and Odin A. Westgaard, decided to combine their extensive business and materials engineering experience, and their initials, to start a plastics injection molding firm. After building GW Plastics into one of North America’s premier precision injection molders, they sold the company to Carborundum in 1973. A series of large-company M&A transactions in the 1980s resulted in ownership by Standard Oil of Ohio (Sohio). In 1983, a group of company managers and investors led by Plastics Pioneer Frederic Riehl, purchased GW Plastics from Sohio. In 1998, Brenan Riehl became the President and CEO after an early career with Owens-Illinois and General Electric, assuring a successful leadership transition and continuity of ownership. The company has remained closely-held, under the same ownership, to this day.
"We are a high precision injection molding and contract manufacturing company” said GW Plastics' President & CEO Brenan Riehl. "We make precision injection molded thermoplastic and silicone components as well as completed assemblies primarily for the healthcare, automotive safety critical and industrial markets. The majority of our business is with Fortune 1000 market leaders who we supply on a global basis."
Riehl explained that what the Company primarily does is help their customers achieve a competitive advantage in the marketplace by helping them develop, innovate and manufacture their products.
Contributing to GW's competitive advantage is their experienced workforce and stability of ownership. "We've really enjoyed an exceptional period of stability of ownership and leadership with the company," said Riehl. "We are also fortunate to have a professional leadership team supported by an outstanding Board of Directors and a talented, long-tenured workforce. This has allowed us to keep a steady hand on the tiller, and GW on an even keel, as we have traveled through the highs and lows of the economy.”
This steadiness throughout the company has also allowed GW to reinvest back into the business with confidence. “We’re a privately held and financially strong company. We don’t have the burden of chasing quarterly earnings reports. This allows us to invest for the long-run which resonates with our customers,” said Riehl.
The mission of GW Plastics is to manufacture medium- to high-volume, close-tolerance molded components and assemblies. Their emphasis is on profitable growth supported by continuous improvement in all phases of their operations to meet and exceed customer expectations.
"What's especially notable about our mission and value statement is that it hasn't changed in over 20 years, which provides some insight into our culture. It has stood up against the test of time. We don’t chase the flavor of the month. Our mission and value statement has provided consistent and steady guidance in how we operate and conduct our business. We always put our associates, customers and integrity first," said Riehl.
GW Plastics’ Mission Statement first commits to stating that people are our most important asset, and that we must treat each other with respect and trust. “We really do take that very seriously from our leadership team through the entire organization. We practice servant leadership at GW, starting with me and flowing throughout the organization," said Riehl. This approach allows the Company to listen to its associates and to do their best to make sure they address their needs and concerns.
As mentioned, what's especially notable about GW is their long-tenured workforce. "We have a remarkably talented and long-tenured workforce. For example, last year we recognized two associates with 50-year service awards. We consistently recognize associates with 40-, 30-, 20-year and 10-year service awards. At the same time, we are hiring new talent to support the growth of our company. We really care about our associates and celebrate their longevity with the company. Experience matters,” said Riehl.
GW encourages this longevity by taking care of their associates, by investing in its people. This includes a very strong compensation and benefits program (e.g. profit sharing, 90 percent of healthcare covered, tuition reimbursement, generous 401(k) plan that makes both a fixed and matching contribution) internal and external training, and more. These benefits combine to nurture a truly loyal and engaged workforce.
The second pledge of GW's mission statement reads: "Customers are the only reason for GW’s existence and must be treated as such." Speaking on this point, Riehl points out that when you get stability of ownership and leadership, paired with a highly trained, motivated and engaged workforce, you get very solid alignment with customers. "We really focus strongly on aligning with our customers. We work hard to make sure we achieve the right fit, so that our business, our culture and our way of working together, which is predominantly a collaborative mindset, aligns well with our customers," said Riehl. "We work very hard to satisfy our customers. Our focus is really on making sure that we remain exceptionally customer-focused. For all the people of GW, fostering a strong and lasting customer relationship is of the greatest importance."
Furthermore, most of GW's senior management spends much of its time outside of the office visiting with customers. As part of that, in-person, quarterly, customer business reviews are strongly encouraged to ensure proper business alignment. "If you look at our customer base, it's composed primarily of Fortune 1000 companies, where we are the preferred supplier to most, and where we have customer relationships that typically exceed 10 years. That's of critical importance to us," said Riehl.
GW's third element of their mission statement reads: "Quality of product and services is the number one priority. We must strive for excellence in everything we do." As such, quality is a very high priority for the Company, starting from Riehl and reaching throughout the Company. Their focus on quality is intense to the degree that it challenges every employee in every department of the Company.
The fourth component of GW's mission statement holds that "Profits and enhanced shareholder value are absolutely essential to the success of the company." "GW has never shown a net-income loss in its history," said Riehl. "We're responsible financial stewards, working very carefully to ensure that we're here today, and we'll be here tomorrow for our customers and shareholders. We manage the Company in such a way that we encourage consistent performance year-over-year." This echoes very well not just with GW employees and shareholders, but with its customers and suppliers as well, since it serves as an indicator that GW can be relied upon.
Furthermore, a majority of GW's growth has been organic, versus pursuing a serial M&A strategy choosing to grow in a responsible, planned fashion, avoiding undue risk that would jeopardize the Company, their supply chain or their customers. "Not too many companies can show that they've never had a loss, particularly a company that's been in business as long as we have," said Riehl. This enables GW to reinvest back into the business with confidence, supporting the ability to grow with their customers, and be where they are needed throughout the world.
The final element of the Company's mission statement reads: "Integrity is a must in all of our dealings. We are a Company of great integrity — our word is our bond," said Riehl. "We work very hard internally as well as with our customers, practicing what we preach, so that our employees and customers can trust each other."
GW has invested responsibly, but aggressively over the years to support their customers' needs. "In the area of process consistency and process control, we've had a very aggressive investment strategy with regard to making sure we have state-of-the-art injection molding equipment to match our customers' objectives and give them a competitive advantage, both in terms of productivity and quality," said Riehl.
GW also invests heavily in new technology. "We're one of the few companies that have an advanced in-house tooling capability where we make our own molds; both here in the U.S. and in Asia," said Riehl. "We've also invested very heavily in multi-shot molding, liquid silicone rubber molding, clean room contract manufacturing and automation to improve process consistency and control."
"We also have a high level of standardization from plant to plant, whether it's in Bethel, Vermont or Dongguan, China. When you walk into any GW facility, you see the same clean, environmentally controlled and high-tech facility, highlighting our investment commitment to standardization of facilities, equipment, systems and procedures. We are the manufacturing cousins of successful, standardized franchisees like Starbucks or McDonalds said Riehl.
Supporting GW's strategic investments and critical mission statement commitments is the Company's comprehensive dedication to in-house training. Underlining the importance for internal training, Riehl pointed out that the United States workforce is losing a significant amount of highly experienced and talented people to retirement, making it increasingly more challenging to replace those skilled individuals and fill the gaps they're leaving in the workforce, "GW recognized this many years ago, and began investing heavily in workforce training. Specifically, we have a long-standing apprenticeship program in our tooling areas. We've also invested heavily in some very innovative training and recruiting initiatives. With respect to recruiting, we started the GW School of Tech this year. Essentially, it's an on-site high school accredited program where we bring in high school students into our facility; with high school teacher support. The students spend two days a week for an entire semester, learning about manufacturing." One of the things the Company is trying to accomplish through this program is to get young people interested in manufacturing again.
GW has also formed relationships with local tech schools in Vermont, partnering with them and offering very generous, targeted scholarships, both for two- and four-year technical degrees including paid internships. When certain criteria are met within this process, GW then offers employment at the Company. Extending the reach of and bolstering these efforts, Riehl said, "we are also working closely with Vermont state leaders and educators to help students earn free two-year associates degrees in technical fields.”
In addition, GW also has a number of internal training programs. "Two years ago, we started a program called the GW Certified Manufacturing Technician Program. As part of this, we've partnered with Vermont Technical College, which is one of the finest technical colleges in New England. This program includes one class per semester for four years, covering a technical curriculum that helps GW employees become more effective in their roles within the Company. In addition to certification and increased proficiency in their role, those who successfully complete the program are awarded with a substantial increase in pay.
With GW Plastics' stability of ownership, professional leadership team and experienced workforce promoting a culture of customer focus, collaboration, continuous improvement, and adherence to core values GW is well positioned to continue on its steady course of growth and success.