Over the past 18 to 24 months, Gary Heiman has had to overcome obstacles and challenges from seemingly every angle of the textile industry. The president and CEO of Standard Textile Co. Inc. has had to face fluctuations in raw materials cost, capacity and quality challenges, and the pressures of operating across the globe. It has taken a resilient leadership and company to maintain the kind of professionalism needed to not let those challenges get the better of the business.
Standard Textile Co. Inc. is a 4,200-employee global provider of total solutions in the industrial textiles and apparel markets that saw 2010 revenue of $750 million. Heiman has moved the company into new areas of business and has built up the company’s reputation.
“There are several areas of strength that we have as an organization,” Heiman says. “No. 1 would be our global supply chain. No. 2 is innovation and creativity, which is something that flows throughout the veins of everybody in our company. We’re trying to improve upon every process as well as product in order to be more efficient and effective both for our customers and for us.”
Heiman, who has been in his current role for 20 years, has prided himself on continuing to build a culture of excellent people, professionalism, trust and values, which has been the main solution to overcoming business challenges.
“If you don’t have the key building blocks of your organization in place and you come upon a period which presents real challenges, is a real crisis and you’re not ready for it – and you don’t have the organization that’s ready for it, it’s pretty tough to get through it,” Heiman says. “It’s tough to get through it as an organization that has all of the attributes and is ready and has worked together as a team in difficult situations in the past. If you don’t have that, it’s a tough situation.”
Here’s how Heiman and Standard Textile have maneuvered through the many obstacles in the textile industry.
Evaluate the challenges
As a manufacturer of linens and apparel, one of the most critical elements of Standard Textile’s business is raw materials such as cotton. The price and availability of raw materials have a ripple effect on business.
“There have been really violent swings in the costs of raw materials over the last 18 months-plus,” Heiman says. “You take those raw materials like cotton and oil, which would affect energy and electricity, freight and transportation, and they also affect all of our synthetic raw materials. We’ve also had to deal with raw material capacities and quality consistency throughout the supply chain. With all of that, we’ve always wanted to maintain, and needed to maintain, financial stability, which many other suppliers either couldn’t or didn’t.”
The price of cotton during this time fluctuated from $0.70 a pound to $2.40 a pound. Heiman and his team were committed to make the raw materials available and not make any change in them so there would be no alteration in quality, consistency, on-time delivery, or service levels.
“As part of that, it’s probably been the toughest period in balancing our work-in-process and finished goods inventory levels and to forecast,” he says. “Our customers expect on-time delivery and product consistency, but they either won’t or can’t give us realistic forecasts. We basically have to guess at that and make sure we have enough product and take into consideration that there will be shortages in markets that we’ve just come through. We need to be the company that can make up for those shortages.”
On top of those challenges, the company also has dealt with political and economic volatility as a global company.
“If you just take the U.S. and China relationship and the politics involved there and having plants in the United States, North America, and China, we’ve had to deal with those political issues which have affected us,” he says. “If you think about the fact that we have 24 manufacturing plants in 13 countries and we sell to over 60 countries today, currency exchange rates have been a real, real challenge for us over that period. We’ve really had to have our finger on the pulse all around the world almost on a daily basis in order to manage all these things.”
To combat the consistent uncertainties and challenges that the industry presents, Heiman and his team have one annual and three quarterly strategic supply chain meetings that they conduct all over the world.
“In our last meeting we actually had 275 initiatives for lowering our cost and dealing with the challenges,” he says. “Of those 275 initiatives, 100 were accepted. We as a company are really committed to a lean continuous improvement process. As part of that, we’re always out there looking at new countries, new nations and new places where our next plant will be and the plant after that because it’s a continuous process. We have an aggressive and vigorous process that we follow in these supply chain meetings. Everything is put on the table. Anybody can bring up anything and there are no silos and that’s the only way that we are going to truly achieve continuous improvement.”
Build a professional culture
Adopting a culture of continuous improvement and building a company that is prepared for the challenges and obstacles that an industry can throw at you is a tough task, but a necessary one.
“There really are no easy answers,” Heiman says. “I’ve been CEO here for 20 years and I’m the third one. Our company is 72 years old and we’ve built up a culture of excellent people, professionalism, trust, and a whole system of values and respect, and it’s very hard to say to another CEO who hasn’t built this up over a period of decades to just do this, this and this. The one thing that we do and we find we can’t do enough of is communicate.”
The company is always communicating what is being done, why things are being done, and the results that are being achieved through those efforts.
“You can’t communicate enough and you can’t get the message across enough,” he says. “We also engage in continuous research so that the messages that we’re communicating to both our customers and our associates are things that have been researched. We show them charts and trends, and our customers have learned to trust what we tell them.”
Standard Textile’s global capabilities and presence allow the company to know what’s occurring in the market worldwide and gives customers a better understanding of their business in return.
“Because we’re diversified around the world, we know what’s happening in China, Europe, the Middle East, and what’s happening in North America and South America,” he says. “We can bring all of that together and they’ve gained a lot of trust over these many decades about what we tell them because they know that we know what we’re talking about.”
That trust is not just built up over a period of time, but due to a history of getting the right information and helping customers make sound decisions.
“You have to build an organization of excellence in every respect,” Heiman says. “You need an organization that has the best professionals in marketing, in sales, in both process and product innovation, in supply chain, in finance, and really every aspect of the organization. Your job as CEO is to find the best people and the best associates for all of those key areas. For the next level down, it’s their job to find the best people under them so that the organization becomes continuously strengthened.”
Building this kind of organization relies heavily on the CEO being able to identify where the company is going and what it needs to become in order to flourish.
“The primary role of the CEO is to No. 1, communicate a clear vision to all associates and to all of the customers that are around the company,” he says. “No. 2 is people and being responsible for interviewing and having the final decision-making on the key people in the organization. A CEO wants people that buy in to the vision, into the strategy, into the values and into the culture.
“In addition, it’s putting together the strategy and the values that you want to have in your organization and the culture. That’s something that takes years to build and it’s something that has to be continuously reinforced and you need to communicate the message about what your values are and about the culture of the organization at every possible opportunity. You have to demonstrate it yourself, you have to speak about it, and you have to live it.”
Be innovative and diverse
Having a clearly defined vision, strategy and culture for employees to operate in allows them to be creative and innovative at a diverse company.
“You have to make a commitment to total organizational innovation, both product and process innovation,” Heiman says. “You’ve got to look at global diversification, both in raw materials and in manufacturing. If you have global customers who want to have global standards, you need to create a company that can service these customers around the world with the exact same standards and specifications in quality wherever they might be.”
To achieve that you need one culture and one set of values and those should be built around your customers and around your associates.
“Whether it’s local or global, every part of the company has to share and compare what their challenges are, what their opportunities are, and what their risk and exposure is in order to come together around best practices which they can then use as part of the company,” he says. “That type of training and continuous training is essential for creating a strong organization.”
One of the biggest success factors for Standard Textile has been its global supply chain which has allowed the company to be diverse and to innovate.
“In today’s world, you almost have to have a globally diversified supply chain,” he says. “The best and safest way to manage that supply chain is if you own your own supply chain. You’ve got to get out and you’ve got to travel the world and meet other suppliers because you’re going to have to use them. If you’re intending to work only through agents and just stay in the United States and not get out, you’re going to miss the bigger picture. It’s really important for a CEO to understand the bigger picture of what’s happening around the world.”
These continuous efforts to build a stronger, better company have led to industry-leading innovations in product development and cost.
“If you take a towel, you understand that 99 percent of people that dry themselves with towels will use the middle 50 or 60 percent of the towel,” Heiman says. “Because they want to improve the product, we’ll put more weight in the 60 percent of the center of the towel and reduce the weight on the 20 percent of the two sides. Or we’ll keep the weight used in that 60 percent in the middle and lower the weight on the 20 percent on each side, so you can actually reduce the weight of your product and therefore reduce the cost of your product.”
The company has also introduced technologies such as Centium Core Technology which is a patented weaving technology in the core of the product.
“The guest or patient or whoever is lying on the bed is effectively lying on cotton, but in the core of the product there is a synthetic product which actually weighs less. The specific gravity of the synthetic fiber weighs less, but the overall fabric will have over 200 percent more durability.
“Because the core weighs less it will dry faster and cut your energy costs and overall laundering costs. We’re developing products that last significantly longer and we’re creating products that process in a less expensive way.”
While Standard Textile has seen numerous challenges during the course of the past two years, the company has been able to roll with the changes and has come out of it as a stronger organization.
“Throughout this period we’ve gotten bigger because of the increase in pricing, but we’ve also gained about 19 percent in unit growth because we have taken market share from others that couldn’t supply or were supplying sub-par product,” Heiman says. “We’re bigger, stronger, and more recognized for having a truly professional team of people.
“We’ve gained the trust of our customers and we’ve come through it in a strong financial situation. We also have the trust and full confidence of our associates because they’ve seen where other companies have gone under or are struggling to survive. We’re flourishing in this environment.”
HOW TO REACH: Standard Textile Co. Inc., www.standardtextile.com
The Heiman File
President and CEO
Standard Textile Co. Inc.
Education: Received degrees in history and engineering from Washington University
What was your very first job and what did you take away from it?
As a teenager I worked at everything from mowing lawns to being a lifeguard to installing window unit air conditioners. The things that I took away from those jobs were being responsible, working hard, and trying to find better ways to do whatever I was doing more efficiently and effectively so my customer would be satisfied.
Whom do you admire in business?
I admire Jack Welch because of the issues that he dealt with regarding innovation, people, marketing, and sales on a global basis. Those were the things that I was dealing with.
What is your favorite thing about the textile industry?
The textile industry has been described as being a traditional industry, but there is nothing about it today that is traditional. All of the machinery that we use, all of the processes that we use are all high-tech, robotic and computerized. So whether you are in this business or another business, you are being challenged in the same ways. You’re being challenged in marketing, sales and manufacturing. So whether I’m producing a chip for a computer or a surgical gown, you still have the same types of challenges and same types of tools that you would use in getting to the best possible product. I really enjoy that part of the business which is built around innovation and creating new product that will better serve the customer in every way possible.
If you weren’t a CEO, what is something you would want to do?
I would like to be involved in innovation and product and process development of some type. Creativity and innovation is something that I really enjoy and really thrive on.