SAN ANTONIO (Oct. 25, 5:40 p.m. EDT) — Accountants can help attract customers.
Engineers will work out the best way to pinch a penny.
And sometimes the hourly worker on the line is the best person to trust with the company's pocketbook.
For Peter Bemis, executive vice president of Bemis Manufacturing Co. Inc., the golden rule of management is uniting the entire work force — from the front office to the night-shift machine operators — and giving them the power to make their company a better place.
"If I look into our plants, I see energetic, bright, common-sense people who, if asked and given a chance, will make a tremendous contribution," Bemis said during an Oct. 17 keynote address at Plastics News' Executive Forum 2001 in San Antonio.
"They understand the specific problems better than the guys in the office. Their candor is refreshing."
The injection molder based in Sheboygan Falls, Wis., posted an estimated $200 million in sales last year, making a variety of items, from toilet seats to lawn furniture. It has 2,500 employees and a companywide philosophy aimed at bringing workers together to understand quality, cost and customer service, Bemis said.
While U.S. manufacturing as a whole has become more productive in recent years, plastics processors have not kept pace, according to some data. Bemis said processors can find innovations both inside and outside their plants by asking the people who know them best.
Those gains, in turn, allow businesses to capture revenue otherwise wasted — even if that means paying a premium to keep and maintain good workers.
"We should not try to win the game with cheap tools and cheap wages," Bemis said.
Bemis credits his parents and manufacturing management guru W. Edwards Deming for his own management philosophy.
His parents taught him to respect people from all walks of life.
Deming counseled corporations on the value of listening, creating a unified goal and getting the entire company on track to meet that goal. He established 14 key points, ranging from constant improvements to minimize cost, breaking down philosophical walls between departments, the elimination of quotas and removal of "barriers" that rob both blue- and white-collar employees of pride in their work.
"If the balance of the organization is thinking together, the quality of the product will improve," Bemis said.
If departments do not understand what each unit brings to the corporate mix and their company's overall goals, then they cannot move forward, he said. That means getting accountants to realize exactly why factories need capital improvements, for sales representatives to understand future potential products and engineers to create what customers want to buy.
"We tore down the walls and people started to see that the sales department and engineering department were not on opposite sides of the field," Bemis said.
Plastics processors who invest in improvements in both machinery and people will benefit in the long run, he said.
"If we can improve quality and cost, the customer will stick around," Bemis said.
And at the same time, an industry looking out for the best interests of its employees and consumers is less likely to suffer from extensive mandates.
"If more companies did that, the government would be less likely to get in our faces every day," Bemis said.
In the drive to unite the company, Bemis Manufacturing asks each department to show what it brings to the overall production. It establishes problem-solving teams with representatives from each unit. Machine operators receive leave time from their line job to help find the best solutions for any situation.
"Sometimes the best truth tellers are the guys who run the machines," Bemis said. "If I ask sales guy, I don't necessarily hear the truth. That's what empowerment is about."
Employee teams have pre-approval to spend as much as $7,000 on improvements. And, Bemis said, they do not waste that money; they spend it as if it were their own.
Those small teams — with more than half of the members coming from shop floors — have spent more than $3 million on a variety of improvements. One $5,000 investment resulted in $250,000 worth of annual savings.
"That's an improvement to the bottom line," he said. "It's worth getting together to solve problems."