LAKE LAS VEGAS, NEV. — Mack Molding Inc. has reinvented itself, and reinvented itself again, President Jeff Somple said.
“Strategic plans are wonderful, but my message today is love the strategic planning process but not the plan, because it always changes,” Somple said at the Plastics News Executive Forum.
Somple described “light bulb events” when big market changes caused company executives company to act. Mack has had several, said Somple, 27-year veteran of the custom injection molder and contract manufacturer based in Arlington, Vt., who was named president last year.
Mack was one of the first molders in the northeast to run large-tonnage injection presses, thanks to its long-standing business making industrial battery cases. Somple said that put Mack in a good position to mold housings for large computer equipment such as servers, beginning in the 1970s. The company added metal fabrication.
Mack rode the computer revolution all through the ‘80s and ‘90s, growing into a major contract manufacturer thanks to customers like Sun Microsystems, Xerox Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.
Somple said he had a bad feeling in the early ‘90s, and went to visit customers. They told him Mack had become arrogant and was too expensive.
“I basically got my butt kicked from one coast to the other,” he said.
So Mack executives held a strategic planning session in 1992. They decided to focus on customer satisfaction. They started a quarterly employee bonus based equally on customer satisfaction and profit.
But, as Somple quipped: “The plans you come up with in 1992 are not going to work today.”
Mack was generating $500 million in sales by the end of the 1990s. Then the computer work went to China. Sales crashed. The Y2K computer bubble fizzled. In Vermont, Mack went from 1,000 employees down to 300. “It was scary, scary times,” he said.
Mack officials didn't want to open plants overseas. Computers? “I borrowed my strategy from Monty Python. My strategy was, ‘Run Away!'” Somple joked.
After they got over the shock, company officials decided to specialize on “big, bulky complicated” parts. Office furniture. Transportation parts for large trucks. Business equipment.
It worked. Mack Molding has rebounded to current sales of about $300 million and 1,800 employees in 11 locations.
Mack expanded into medical molding. Now Mack is investing $2 million to expand its clean room molding and assembly to move into medical disposals at its headquarters factory.
After all the changes, Mack leaders now hold quarterly management reviews. They now include “what if?” discussions on alternative strategies.
“The changes to the plan take place every single day,” Somple said. “The minute it comes off the copier, it becomes obsolete. … A million things happen every day to change it.”