Wilson, who had left a prestigious post as president of Western Auto Parts America, a company that was purchased by competitor Advance Auto Parts, was no stranger to rolling up his sleeves and working hard. He received valuable tutelage under Sam Walton while working as hardlines merchandising director for Wal-Mart, where he was responsible for developing the retailer's hypermart project.
Following Wilson's arrival, Safelite filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on June 9, 2000, and Wilson and Barlow spent the next few months analyzing the company's operations and restructuring its debt. The company emerged from bankruptcy on Sept. 2, 2000, and by year's-end, the public firm went private.
That began a litany of changes, the next of which occurred in May 2001, when the company consolidated its operations into the Farmers Insurance building.
Barlow and Wilson also looked at more efficient ways to operate the company, including informally restructuring its operations into three separate divisions. But it wasn't until October 2003, when Barlow announced his retirement and Wilson's promotion to president and CEO, that this phase of restructuring became official.
As one of his first acts as CEO, Wilson formalized the three-division structure and renamed the company Safelite Group Inc. Today, barely five months later, he says restructuring at the $611 million company is complete.
"Our new organization better reflects the diversity of the operation more than the glass company did," says Wilson. "It communicates every aspect of our business in a clear fashion, externally and internally."
The organization incorporates the company's three business units -- its retail installation and wholesale warehousing division, its manufacturing operations and its strategic account services.
Wilson says the new vertical alignment is the company's greatest strength. Essentially, anything an automotive glass business can do, Wilson says, Safelite does as well. The company, the largest auto glass firm in the nation, manufactures 80 percent of the glass it uses for installations.
It operates a retail installation business and a wholesale business. And it coordinates claims and installations for more than 80 insurance companies.
Explains Wilson, "The new structure puts us in a better position for growth and lets each division better focus on their customers."
Even though the company loosely operated in these divisions before they were formalized, the structure provided Wilson with the opportunity to establish clear leaders of each division. For example, he created of the position of executive vice president and chief client officer of the strategic account services division, filled by Thomas Feeney, who managed the division's sales efforts.
"Knowing he was responsible for the entire division gave it more cohesiveness and has created better team work within it," says Wilson.
He says getting the right leadership in these important positions was no easy task.
"These were critical positions, and I had to make some difficult decisions," he says.
When the dust finally cleared, 15 people had been promoted, creating a feeling of goodwill throughout the company.
Now that the organizational overhaul is complete, Wilson is looking at other areas for improvement, including plans to grow each of the divisions.
"We have about 15 percent of the market on the fulfillment side," Wilson says. "That means 85 percent that we don't have. We have the biggest opportunity for growth there."
The insurance solutions division is also primed for expansion.
"The solutions side is a business in its infancy right now," says Wilson. "It can provide a lot of value to the industry, and it is growing by the fastest percentage."
To achieve that growth, Wilson says Safelite must continually improve efficiencies and convenience for customers. One way he's trying to achieve this is through a transition to more mobile-based solutions rather than simply bricks-and-mortar operations.
In the 1980s, the company operated small glass shops, and customers had to drive their vehicles to them for glass repair and replacement.
"Basically, you had a building, a manager and technicians to run the store," Wilson says.
Today, the company stores glass in its regional warehouses. Technicians pick up the glass and their orders and drive to the customer at work or home. That adds up to a lot of glass when you consider that Safelite's call center receives an average of 8 million calls a year, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Some technicians even work from home, and the glass and orders are delivered to a nearby storage unit.
Part of Wilson's strategy involves making Safelite a cutting-edge business, and that means integrating new technologies into existing operations.
The company is piloting a handheld computer system in Columbus for its mobile units, which should improve technicians' speed and service to the customer. The unit includes a global positioning system (GPS) that helps drivers and dispatchers pinpoint arrival times.
"With a click, the dispatcher can see the speed the driver is going and tell the customer that he will be there in 10 minutes," says Wilson.
The system can save driving time because the dispatcher has specific information on where the car is parked and can call the driver and pass on the information.
"If the customer is at work, there could be 400 cars in the lot," Wilson says. "Now the dispatcher can call the customer and let him or her know when the driver will arrive, find out where the car is located, and have the customer ready and prepared when the driver arrives."
Other divisions are undergoing technological improvements as well. The company is converting its computer system from mainframe-based to server-based. Wilson has purchased and implemented new customer service management software and instituted Oracle-based software in its supply chain.
"The customer service software is the next step toward providing more customer satisfaction," he says. "It keeps a record of each phone call and issue, and we can relate to you in more specific terms. You'll know what to expect through your policy, and we can set up the appointment as quickly and efficiently as possible. It's one way of providing continual improvement in the processes we generate."
The new computer and software systems also help the company measure and track performance.
"Every technician and every location is measured by our customer service index," Wilson says. "We know very quickly which aren't performing to standards. It's a continual improvement process that wasn't there a few years ago."
Investing in people
Wilson isn't focusing the company's resources solely on technology. He says he never forgets that it's the employees who use the technology and who are best positioned to get the most out of the changes.
"I don't lose sight that the people side is very important," Wilson says. "They have to be familiar with it all so they can use these tools to the best advantage."
The company makes crucial capital investments in its people through Safelite University, an associate development and training program that is also intended to motivate employees.
Motivation, Wilson says, is an essential ingredient in the company's success. Accordingly, he measures every aspect of the business to assess whether the programs are having the intended effect.
"We have key performance indicators and score cards for every activity," he says. "We align those with our objectives and measure the checkpoints to make sure we're on track."
It all boils down to clarity, something Wilson feels the company lacked before he undertook the massive organizational changes.
"I need to make sure that our objectives are clearly understood and give people the right opportunities to make a contribution," says Wilson. "It takes the right settings to motivate people to make a contribution, and it's up to leadership to clearly define these settings for people to be successful."
And, Wilson adds, when people are successful, it translates into corporate success for Safelite.
How to reach: Safelite Glass Corp., (800) 800-2727 or www.safelite.com
The Wilson file
Born: Marshalltown, Iowa, 1951
Education: Bachelor of science degree, business administration, Drake University
First job: I grew up on a farm. Dad had me working when I was 10.
Career moves: Developed hypermart project at Wal-Mart; president of Western Auto Parts; executive vice president and COO Safelite Glass Corp.
What was your greatest challenge in business, and how did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge has always been the continual motivation of people. I have never overcome that challenge, but I don't think anyone does. You just keep working at it.
Past or present, whom do you admire most in business and why?
There are a lot of people that I admire. But I'll pick as No. 1 Sam Walton. He took average individuals and provided them with the tools and the motivation to make them successful.
What is the greatest lesson you've learned in business?
Make decisions, provide leadership, be balanced and maintain high ethics.