Bill Gray started in the plastics industry 10 years ago, overseeing Canadian sales, marketing and technical and customer service as the general manager of Uponor Ltd., a subsidiary of Uponor Oyj, the Finland-based manufacturer of cross-linked polyethylene piping for plumbing, heating, cooling and fire safety systems.
Gray had worked previously in sales and marketing at the water infrastructure firm ITT Corp., now called Xylem Inc.
Early in his career, a mentor of sorts made a lasting impression.
"He taught me that if the prospect did not buy then, I alone needed to shoulder the responsibility," Gray, 53, said in a Plastics News survey. "Maybe I did not do a good enough job in qualifying or maybe I somehow missed communicating the value proposition. The most valuable lessons I took from him involved the notion of personal responsibility for my efforts and personal accountability for my results."
At his first plastics job, that lesson translated into a customer-centric focus to take market share in flat times. Gray said in a phone interview that he and his team found success foraying further into the residential and commercial construction markets for high rises and hospitality spaces.
In February 2012, Gray was tapped to become president of Uponor North America, which is based in Apple Valley, Minn.
"I came into the role with a good industry-based sales and marketing background complemented by solid experience in general management," Gray said. "Uponor was a business recovering from the recession and our first actions were to focus the team on our immediate opportunities and then plot the longer-term strategy for the organization."
Looking ahead, Uponor North America put a stronger emphasis on offering high-performing building products through innovation and partnering with more plumbing and HVAC professionals.
In 2013, Gray put out a call for product and business ideas through a new subsidiary called Uponor Innovations LLC. Uponor offered up its plastics engineers, distribution network, manufacturing representatives, technical services and funding to get a first look at ideas.
As a result of that effort, Uponor partnered with Belkin International in a 2016 joint venture to form Phyn, an intelligent water company. Their first product, Phyn Plus, monitors water flows from faucets, appliances and irrigation systems from a single point of exposure. Phyn Plus uses pressure, flow and temperature sensor data to look for faucets left running and leaks. A mobile app alerts homeowners and allows them to remotely turn off the water. Or, if the leak is major, the system automatically turns off the water with a built-in valve.
The water monitoring and shut-off device, which sells for $850, won innovation awards in the categories for both smart homes and technology for a better world at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. Phyn Plus hit the U.S. market in the second quarter along with a network of trained plumbers to install it called the Uponor Pro Squad.
For Gray, who describes the primary role of a business leader as stewardship of the enterprise, Phyn fits in.
"Products without innovation tend toward commodity," he said. "To be sustainable, we have to broaden our base and look at how smart devices impact the plumbing business. What will the future look like? Would we continue to be relevant if we didn't take our leadership position and parlay it into something bigger?"
Corporate stewardship brings about a deep sense of responsibility, Gray added.
"If we view leaders as stewards, then our objective is to leave our organization in a stronger, more resilient position than when we took over," he said. "It reminds us that we need to be strategic and long-term oriented and helps us avoid the pitfalls of short-term thinking."
Uponor ranks 13th among North American pipe, profile and tubing extruders, according to the latest Plastics News ranking, which put its 2017 PPT sales at $373 million.
Gray has some advice for anyone looking to get ahead at Uponor North America and it also touches on personal responsibility and getting results.
"Never allow this phrase to pass your lips: 'It's not my job.' Become an expert in the concept of completed staff work," Gray said, referring to the management principle that encourages and empowers employees to present recommendations to bosses in a manner that needs nothing more than approval or disapproval.
Gray also has some words to the wise based on the best career advice he received.
"No one will care about you or your career as much as you do," he said. "It's completely up to you where you end up and how you get there."