When Jerry Burris came to Associated Materials LLC as its new president and CEO in 2011, he joked that he didn’t care whether employees used duct tape, primer or Band-Aids to improve the company’s products, so long as improvements were made. As a certified Six Sigma black belt and Lean practitioner, Burris would never want his employees resorting to quick-fix solutions, but since his arrival, he has been influencing a change in thinking.
Burris wants to get employees at all levels of Associated Materials looking for ways to continuously improve the business.
“Associated Materials is an unbelievably good company,” Burris says. “When I came here, it wasn’t a turnaround story — it was a good to great story.”
Associated Materials is a more than 3,000-employee manufacturer of exterior building products that has annual revenue of $1.2 billion through its Alside, Gentek, Revere, Ultraguard, Preservation and Alpine brands. The 66-year-old company needed to gain better consistency in growth, earnings and processes across the business, so the decision was made to implement a Lean system the company calls the Associated Materials Enterprise System or AMES.
“It’s a cultural change implementing Lean Six Sigma,” Burris says. “It’s not the flavor of the month or the soup of the day. It really takes a cultural change, a mindset change, for people to get in the habit of practicing Lean.”
In its second year practicing Lean, Associated Materials is launching a new window line in the first quarter of 2014 that represents the company’s biggest investment in 20 years, but it still has a way to go to encompass all that Lean has to offer.
“We are in the second inning of a nine-inning baseball game,” Burris says. “We’re early in those stages.”
Change your thinking
Burris was interested in being the fifth CEO at the 60-year-old company because of its legacy and the intimacy it has with its customers, but it wasn’t the only reason. His own history was a factor. He saw the opportunity to bring Six Sigma and Lean to Associated Materials.
“That was highly appealing to me,” Burris says. “The primary focus, whether it’s product, manufacturing or quality, is to have predictable, repeatable processes throughout your business. The beauty of AMES and Lean in particular is it’s an empowerment tool from the shop floor all the way up to the C-suite.”
Associated Materials isn’t looking for perfection when it does kaizen events or continuous improvement events. Burris and the company are looking for incremental improvements.
“That initial outcome from focusing on that process to reduce waste, improve quality or improve service delivery may not be perfection,” he says. “The whole point is you get someone who works on the line every day, the line supervisor, the plant manager, the senior VP of operations and cross-functional people all engaged and helping to improve that process, and ultimately delight the customer.”
Since Associated Materials was already in good shape when Burris came onboard, he was able to focus on making the company even better, which involved creating consistency in terms of growth and earnings.
“That’s why we made the investment in AMES,” he says. “We’ve focused our attention in our manufacturing, supply chain and operations processes, and we’re moving it further into our enterprise.”
That consistency is crucial in a business that operates in the housing industry. Since housing is cyclical and new residential housing is even more volatile, Associated Materials’ business is about 70 percent repair and remodel and 30 percent new residential construction.
“We like that because repair and remodel is not as volatile,” Burris says. “We have felt the ebbs and flows of being in the housing market. You need sustained improved performance and AMES is a key enabler.”
Believe in the strategy
As a 20-year veteran of General Electric, Burris knows that continuous improvement starts at the top.
“That commitment and dedication to really changing or enhancing the culture of a company has to start at the highest level of the organization, and we’re certainly fully supported and backed by our board and financial sponsor.”
From the CEO to the leadership team and beyond, a change like what Associated Materials is going through requires buy-in.
“You’ve got to have strong buy-in from your leadership team because in many cases it may mean a change in either their daily, monthly or quarterly practices,” he says. “It also requires an investment in people. We’ve fused and enhanced our organization by adding quality leaders trained in Six Sigma. We’re supplementing what this company has done for 66 years quite successfully.”
However, anytime you drive change you’re going to have a group of people who aren’t familiar with it or are resistant to it.
“The key is to get all constituents on your team,” Burris says. “I didn’t choose a steering committee of people who were all advocates of Lean. I included people who were a little resistant to it, because if I got them under the fold and committed to the vision, then I was going to pull others.”
Once Burris had everyone on board with the new direction of the company, he wanted to be able to deliver consistent service and consistent quality to customers.
“If any initiative that you drive across your enterprise has a positive impact on customers, it’s going to be sustained and you’ll be rewarded for it,” he says. “All our initiatives are vetted by asking ourselves, ‘What impact will it have on our customers?’”
To gauge what customers think of Associated Materials, the company does an annual net promoter score assessment. Companies that are best in class generally have net promoter scores of 60. Really good companies have scores in the 50s.
“I was pleasantly surprised that this company has a best-in-class net promoter score,” he says. “That being said, we don’t ever want to rest on our laurels. We know that we have to continue to improve ourselves and that’s where AMES comes into play. That’s why it’s such a well-woven initiative across our organization, because we’re constantly looking for ways to improve our customer’s experience.”
AMES fits hand in glove with that mission because it allows employees to take feedback from the company’s net promoter score and incorporate that into the different kinds of kaizen events Associated Materials does to help impact and positively influence its customers and their experience with the organization.
“There’s always something you can improve,” Burris says.
In conjunction with AMES and the company’s new focus on continuous improvement, Associated Materials made its biggest investment in 20 years by launching a new platform called its Mezzo and Fusion window product lines.
“We’re really, really excited about it because it’s our first major new product we’ve introduced using the AMES process,” Burris says. “It’s a major multi-million dollar investment that launches in the first quarter of 2014.”
These new windows are very unique because the company has worked to make these products comply with Energy Star standards that won’t take effect until 2015.
“Energy Star is a voluntary program that is supported and administered by the EPA,” Burris says. “Although it is a voluntary program, our research suggests that when consumers are making a purchase decision for windows, 75 percent of those consumers indicate energy and energy efficiency is important criteria for making that decision.
“It’s part of our mission and vision statement that not only do we want to produce exterior building products that are aesthetically appealing, but are energy efficient.”
Associated Materials views the window as being the first finished good or finished appliance that is installed in a new home. The company’s new window line will be an industry-leading product.
“The challenge is keeping the home cool in the summer and warm in the winter,” he says. “You have to have an insulated glass that protects homes from that. You want to let light in, but the cost of that light is having some sort of thermal barrier or protection.
“We’re going to be industry leading, and we’re excited that a company headquartered in Ohio will be a leader in our industry. It’s got enhancements and aesthetics that we’re pretty excited about.”
While the launch of the new product line will be top of mind for Burris and Associated Materials in the beginning of 2014, there are several other things the company must remain concentrated on moving forward.
“The next step is taking our operations and service delivery to the next level in terms of continuously trying to improve quality service delivery and overall customer experience that they have taking our products to the market,” Burris says. “No. 2 is sustained performance, whether it’s our top line or bottom line.
“Last, but certainly not least, are our employees. We want employees of Associated Materials to have a positive experience and be proud of working for a company such as ours.” ●
- Implement continuous improvement programs.
- Drive improvement from the top down.
- Practice improvement programs in your products or services.
The Burris File
Name: Jerry Burris
Title: president and CEO
Company: Associated Materials LLC
Education: He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Purdue University and a master’s degree in business administration from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
Past job experience: Prior to joining Associated Materials, Burris held management positions at Barnes Group Inc. as president of Precision Components from October 2008 to May 2011 and president of Barnes Industrial from July 2006 to September 2008.
Previously, he served in various management roles at General Electric Corp. over the course of 20 years, including president and CEO of Advanced Materials Quartz & Ceramics in 2006; general manager of Global Services for GE Healthcare from 2003 to 2006; and general manager, Global Sourcing, GE Industrial Systems from 2001 to 2003.
Learn more about Associated Materials:
How to reach: Associated Materials LLC, (800) 922-6009 or www.associatedmaterials.com