When John Sheppard stepped into his role as president and CEO of EveryWare Global Inc. nearly two years ago, he knew he was faced with the difficult challenge of bringing together two ingrained cultures of two iconic brands — what he didn’t know, was that the two companies had yet to meet.
Anchor Hocking and Oneida, two of the most well-known and long-time consumer brands in tabletop and food preparation products had been purchased by Monomoy Capital Partners in 2007 and 2012 respectively, and the two companies were set to become one under the umbrella of EveryWare.
“I think there might have been a phone call at one point, but for the most part, they operated independently,” he says. “There was no discussion between them.”
Sheppard has more than 25 years of senior leadership experience with some of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, including 20 years in executive positions at Coca-Cola Co. When he came to EveryWare, he was looking for an opportunity to move back into a CEO role, growing a branded business, especially on the international side.
Sheppard was up to the challenge of turning perfect strangers into one team.
“This was exciting to me because Anchor Hocking and Oneida, particularly Oneida, are some of the best-known brands in the business,” he says. “When I came in, the whole objective was to take these two companies and great brands and combine and integrate them — so, pull together a leadership team, create a vision for the company and then execute on that.”
Here’s how Sheppard merged the companies together and took them public, creating an organization with more than $440 million in annual revenue and 2,000 employees.
Becoming one company
The first step in a merger is usually to get the management teams together and go through the transition punch list, as it were.
Sheppard began by telling them how EveryWare was going to operate moving forward. Then, he looked for strengths and weaknesses, finding the right talent and putting them in the right place.
Sheppard says he came in with an open mind, trying to meet with and listen carefully to the employees in the first few months he was there to find out where they believed the business could expand, and where it couldn’t.
“It became pretty clear where the strengths and weaknesses were, and where we had opportunities to cut costs,” he says.
“There were definitely some headcount reductions during that process, and that was natural because in any acquisition you don’t necessarily need two complete sets of SG&A [selling, general and administrative] costs,” Sheppard says.
But open communication is key — letting people know what you’re doing and when you’re doing it. Sheppard says the uncertainty is what drives people crazy.
“They would rather hear the bad news, as opposed to just dragging on, with no information at all,” he says.
Over time, it became apparent that most of the resources would be moved to the Ohio headquarters.
Sheppard says even though he’d been through many mergers and acquisitions before, you always learn as you go forward and see things you would have done differently.
In addition to making sure you communicate proactively with your board and the outside public as much as possible to avoid surprises, management changes should be made quickly if there’s a problem.
“I think probably, from a management team standpoint, I would have integrated food service and retail sooner, rather than later. I waited until last year and I probably should have done it earlier,” he says.
“So, move quickly when you know you have an issue to resolve.”
At the end of 2012, the decision was made to take EveryWare public. An initial public offering would create currency for the company, opening the door to potential acquisitions down the road.
It also was an opportunity for the private equity firm to take some money off the table. Because it owned 100 percent, an IPO allowed the firm to give back to its shareholders and partners.
Sheppard says they worked intensely for four or five months before going public under the stock ticker EVRY last May.
“That was intense,” Sheppard says. “That was a lot of midnight, 2 a.m., weekend, holidays, you-name-it meetings.”
Sheppard drew on his experience working in public companies and taking companies public to help spearhead the time-consuming and complicated transition.
“It’s quite an intense process,” he says, “It requires an understanding of the difference between a private and public company. You have to be extremely open about business, making sure you’re communicating effectively both internally and externally.”
Everyone had to come to the realization that life as a private company is a lot different than life as a public company.
“Some people found that more difficult than they would have thought,” Sheppard says.
“It’s probably not a great place to start trying to learn — right when you get thrown into the middle of a public offering,” he says. “We had some learning curves with some of the finance people, as they were learning the systems and processes and how to go public and all that. But we had a lot of hardworking people in finance and everywhere else.”
Expanding to new markets
After two major changes over the past two years, Sheppard says the company’s biggest challenges now are execution and focus as management works on a number of initiatives.
EveryWare has begun to expand into new categories, launching new products and SKUs.
“We entered into Brazil, Korea and expanded our business into Mexico and China,” Sheppard says. “And we also added a bunch of new customers in 2013, and we’re also starting to announce some in 2014.
“We’ve really started to grow the brand — expanding both horizontally and vertically. We’ve expanded our current customers and we’ve added new customers.”
EveryWare sells tableware, flatware, dinnerware, beverageware and serveware to retail outlets like Wal-Mart, Target and Bed Bath & Beyond. It also sells to hotels, restaurants and cruise lines.
Sheppard says the top-line growth was about 5 to 6 percent in 2013, which is three times the industry rate.
“International is driving a lot of that. International drives a lot of the growth — that’s because of both new markets and doing better in existing markets,” he says.
Again, Sheppard can draw on his 12 years of experience running Coca-Cola’s operations in Africa, England, Poland and Austria to help guide global moves.
The company chose to enter Brazil and South Korea for a number of reasons: the two countries have a $1.2 billion tabletop market and there are not many Western companies there, though both have relatively stable governments and a strong affiliation towards American goods.
EveryWare also wants to focus on penetrating new U.S. channels.
“Our retail business will be focusing on clubs, department and grocery stores, and in new product innovation, where we launch new SKUs,” Sheppard says. “Internationally, we’ll be opening new markets. In food service, we’re really focused on driving our placement of new products in restaurants and hotels. We’re excited about that. That’s going to be the focus going forward — profitable top-line growth.” ●
- Communication is key.
- Going from a private to public company requires new thinking.
- Finding the right international markets will drive top-line growth.
The Sheppard File:
Name: John Sheppard
Title: President, CEO and director
Company: EveryWare Global Inc.
Born: Washington, D.C.
Education: Bachelor of arts in marketing at the University of Georgia, master’s degree in business administration in finance at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it? I was in graduate school and saw an ad in the paper for Coca-Cola about an IT job, a systems job. I didn’t really know what system they were talking about, but I read up on it and got familiar enough with it so that when I went into the interview, I could talk about it. It was a financial IT package that I had used a little bit in graduate school.
So, I expanded my knowledge of the financial software package and got the job at Coca-Cola. After I became an expert on that software, I moved on to more regular financial analysis and financial management, eventually going overseas as the CFO of the Africa division.
I got my foot in the door at Coca-Cola, which is what I wanted to do. I knew once I got in, I could probably find my real calling in life.
Who do you admire in business? I’ve met so many. I met Bill Gates a couple of times. I really like that he was tough and always saw the end game.
I also joined a group called YPO, Young Presidents’ Organization, which is a worldwide organization. That brought me in touch with a lot of different executives around the world in a similar position. It was sort of networking for senior executives.
What is the best business advice you ever received? Listen well and base your decisions on facts, and then act decisively. Don’t waffle.
When you’re the leader, you listen, you gather the facts and then you act decisively. That’s what leaders do. They need to do that because then people will follow them.
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