One PowerPoint slide illustrated the problem that Richard Hipple faced.
The one slide he was showing his board had 17 division names and logos representing the 10 brands in the company.
“You can have all these other presentations, but I always used this one slide to communicate to Wall Street and internally and the board,” Hipple says. “It didn’t matter — you only needed one slide to tell the story. [It’s] simple communication.”
As he showed that slide, he needed only one question to communicate his point.
“This is our company — do you think we’re really one company?” he’d ask.
It was hard to argue for the affirmative looking at that slide, and the message he was sending was clear — the company needed to be more unified.
The problem started small, in just one division of Brush Engineered Materials.
The division had made some acquisitions, so when you visited some of those facilities, there could be as many as two to three names and logos on the signage — ultimately illustrating the point that the company was a division of a division of Brush.
“Who are you?” says Hipple, the chairman, president and CEO. “That’s what we had. It’s absolutely amazing.”
So it started with an effort to rebrand the entire division. But when he took a step back, he recognized this was a common problem across the entire company. Brush had doubled in size as it expanded beyond its Beryllium core into other materials. As it grew, it had acquired other companies, and those entities retained their logos and names.
“We had like 10 names, 10 logos, 17 websites, and so we were missing a lot of leverage,” Hipple says. “The people who knew us as Brush Engineered Materials was the community and Wall Street. Nobody else knew us as that. Customers didn’t know us as that. We really needed standard platform recognition as a company. We didn’t have it.”
Simply rebranding a division wasn’t going to cut it.
“We had other division names, so maybe it’s time to relook at the whole company because we were going to spend a lot of money to do this and still not really solve our problems,” Hipple says … “We had an opportunity here to get everybody on the same platform.”
Being on the same platform was critical if the company wanted to continue to grow, but it was going to cost money to fix.
“You’ve got a mess in the marketplace, and you’ve got to fix it,” he says. “Nobody wants to spend the money to do it, but you’ve got to do it. We didn’t approach it from an ROI standpoint — I have no clue. I just know we can’t get to the next step with this many names and brands.”
Hipple recognized there were only two solutions to this name problem. He could either start having all the various divisions refer to themselves as Brush as well, or he could start from scratch with a new name for everyone. Of the two options, renaming made more sense to him. With all the discontinuity, he thought it might be confusing to just regroup under the current name.
“Why wouldn’t you rename the company and use the Brush Engineered Materials?” he says. “We had that already. It loses the pizzazz. You’re not really renaming the company – you’re saying, ‘We’re Brush Engineered Materials, and by the way we’re Brush Engineered Materials.’”
Another factor that made him choose renaming was the cost associated with each option.
He says, “It would have been almost the same cost to rebrand under the same name, which is kind of crazy, so we thought we would get a whole lot more runway with what we’re doing.”
Choose a new name
Once the decision was made, the process of choosing a new name began.
The company brought in a rebranding expert to help with the process.
“He came in, and we talked about the company — what kind of company we were, and what kind of image we wanted to have, and he just started to spit out names,” Hipple says.
As a management group, they would pick out about 10 of the names the consultant had come up with. Then the consultant would research and flesh the names out. They went through a couple rounds of this process.
“It gets extremely difficult,” he says. “We picked other names — I couldn’t tell you what they were — but as you started to flesh them out across the globe, fundamentally, they’re not available, or there’s a cultural problem where it doesn’t work in Asia but it works here.”
As they would research each group of names, they would put it to a vote among the team.
“It was surely not unanimous, but you can’t keep going on forever,” he says.
It’s in those situations that he says you have to recognize what is a gray decision versus a black and white one.
“I’m involved in a lot of the gray decisions — there isn’t right or wrong, but it’s important because it’s going to take you in a certain direction,” he says. “There are a lot of things you do, and you don’t know if it’s the right answer, and you may not know for five years, and you hope you [are correct] 80 percent [of the time].”
The one thing gray decisions have in common with black and white ones is that you’ll have to make the tough call.
“You can never get everybody to come to a conclusion, but a decision has to be made — simple as that,” he says. “To expect total uniformity would be highly unrealistic, but everybody understands that you’ve got to move forward, and then people get behind it.”
In order to make sure he can make the best possible decisions in those gray situations, he says you have to do your research.
“You just collect information,” Hipple says. “You have outside expertise, you have internal people, and you just listen and make a decision. You try to do the best job you can collecting knowledgeable people’s insight.”
In the end, the name that seemed to stick through these rounds and processes was Materion. They liked it because the “mater” part seemed to represent what they did — materials — and the “ion” part sounded futuristic, which made them feel like they were looking forward and evolving.
He says, “It was available, it fit, it was culturally good across the world, so we locked it down and bought it.”
Prepare for the change
Once he had locked in the name, Hipple set a timeline for the launch.
Instead of opting for a hard launch, he chose a soft approach to ease people in and give all constituents enough time to prepare for the change.
First, he would tell employees and then later tell customers. So in the fall of 2010, the management team let employees know that come March, the company’s name was going to change to Materion.
“We knew we had risk of them talking about it, but we said it’s worth the risk,” says Hipple. “We’re sharing things with the employees — we let you know first, talk about it, and this is going to be unfolding in the next six months. We said, ‘Look, if it gets out, it gets out.’”
He used the slide with all the logos on it to illustrate the need, but there were still challenges; there was history, identity and comfort in those names. They had to get people excited about the name change and make them feel like they belonged to Materion as much as they had belonged to whatever unit they were in before.
They created activities to get people’s buy-in.
For example, they created a three-minute video called “Pass the flag” so people could see all the different locations of the company. They had a new company flag and each location created about a 15-second video of all their employees with the flag. At the beginning of their segment the flag was “thrown” to them from another location, and they caught it, did whatever crazy things they wanted to with it, and then “passed” it to the next group, who would in turn catch it, and the cycle would continue.
“You have all these hourly and salaried people around the world not really knowing the breadth of the company,” he says. “Then you get these cultures — there were cultural things going on, and it was crazy and everybody just loved it. We’re all one. It’s Materion.”
The other thing Hipple had going for him in terms of buy-in was the results he had achieved. When the company saw that Hipple had led the organization to $1.3 billion in net sales for 2010, up from $715 million the year prior, they knew they could trust him — this wasn’t a rebranding as a last-ditch effort to save a struggling organization.
After communicating with employees, Hipple’s team contacted all of their customers to let them know about the change.
“We basically said, ‘It’s coming, here’s why we’re doing it,’” he says.
As they communicated the reasons, they found, not surprisingly, that many customers really didn’t know about the other business units, so in addition to an education about the change, it was also a sales platform to start introducing other products to existing customers. Some customers were already working with different divisions but didn’t realize those divisions were part of the same company.
To resolve these issues, they created sales literature to help better educate customers about all the ways Materion could meet their needs.
In addition to educating people about the change, Hipple and his team had to actually prepare the organization physically for the change.
“You have to be careful that when you switch over in March, you have to have all your computer systems talking, because we do like to get paid. We didn’t want invoices to get screwed up.”
So in addition to communicating the change, Hipple’s team used the time to work on IT issues so that when the switchover occurred, they could still service customers and still get the money due to them. They also looked at any legal items they needed to take care of, such as IRS numbers and the like.
“You have some customers who have to go through some process before they’ll accept you under the new name,” he says. “There are things, and sometimes it’s not easy and it takes some time, so we built in some space to allow the transition to occur to make sure it was a smooth transition, not just from an education standpoint but from an actual execution standpoint.”
Hipple had a team of about 10 people working on all these things — not full time, but with a project manager leading them to make sure they got it right and wouldn’t experience any adverse situations when it happened.
“I wouldn’t even dream of [micromanaging them] because I’m sure I’d create more problems,” he says. “You have to line them up, tell them what the goal is, and get out of the way. That’s true for all things. … I can’t do that. You’re crazy if you think you can. If you micromanage, things aren’t going to work.”
He says that when you’re making big changes like this, you have to recognize what your role is versus what it isn’t.
“The CEO’s job is really to figure it out — somebody has to make a decision, so figure out the direction of the company, keep making sure you put pressure on the company that you’re moving in that direction, and know when to step in if there are issues going on that you need to get involved in,” he says. … “If things aren’t going well, you have to step in.”
Roll it out
March 8, 2010, finally arrived for Hipple and his team, and Materion Corp. was officially rolled out. Seventeen websites overnight became one.
“We launched that website, and that process is going to go on forever, because you’re always tinkering with your website,” he says. “Other than that, we didn’t have any hand grenades go off. We got paid. Let me put it this way — the true test was there were no fire drills the next day. There was nothing. We have not had a fire drill on the outside. The most important thing is are there any problems with the customer base in and out, and there has been zero.”
Because of the amount of preparation for resistance and issues, the team experienced a successful launch, and after rolling it out, they had to really just focus on logistical issues. For example, internally, it would have been easy for Hipple and top management to continue to refer to divisions by their old names, but they knew they had to set the example and find a different way in order to promote the new one-company mindset.
“Before you say something, you have to say, ‘How do we talk about that operation?’” he says.
They now use geography. For example, one company in the organization was called Academy before, but it’s in Albuquerque, N.M., so now it’s referred to as Albuquerque. Another unit was Cerac, which was in Milwaukee, so now that unit is just referred to as Milwaukee.
“You try not to use the name, because the name doesn’t exist anymore,” Hipple says. “You have to get out of the names, and it’s really hard. It’s a little easier to use Materion, but when you start to talk about one of your locations, you want to go to the brand.”
And even the simplest of tasks, like answering the telephone saying Materion instead of Brush, still causes Hipple to stumble, even a few months later.
“I’m still slipping in that,” he says. “I just did that today — it’s not easy on anybody.”
Moving forward, he sees the company having far more continuity and more opportunities for selling as the market sees Materion as a whole versus 10 separate entities. Looking back, he’s proud of his team for what they’ve achieved.
“We renamed the company to get everybody in the company on one name, one logo, to get global recognition, and that was really the most important thing,” Hipple says.
“We followed a pretty disciplined process and had a lot of communications behind it. It’s not magic; it’s work.”
How to reach: Materion Corp., (216) 486-4200 or www.materion.com
- Keep the process moving by quickly making the tough decisions
- Explain the reasons behind the change
- Lead by example and embrace the change