John Ryan III Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2007

John Ryan III didn’t have it easy in the 1990s. As with other U.S. manufacturers, the growth of the global economy posed a challenge to Mine Safety Appliances and Ryan, its chairman and CEO.

Sagging demand for the company’s products, a poorly performing manufacturing facility suffering from low quality and productivity, and an IT system change in anticipation of Y2K dragged down the venerable Pittsburgh manufacturer during the decade.

Ryan pulled MSA through the 1990s by revamping its manufacturing operations and regaining the spirit of innovation and development that had kept it at the fore-front of its industry since Ryan’s grandfather co-founded it in 1914.

He revived the company’s stature as an industry innovator. Ryan insisted on pouring resources into new product development, including thermal imaging cameras, a project in which the company invested $500,000 at a time when finances were tight because Ryan didn’t want to lag behind competitors in getting to market. The R&D effort has paid off for MSA, with as much as 40 percent of the company’s revenue in recent years derived from new products. MSA posted 2006 revenue of $913 million.

To cure its manufacturing ills, Ryan assembled a team to turn around a poorly performing Murrysville plant, whose productivity had fallen to 75 percent. Ryan gave the plant’s managers a year to meet high, but achievable, goals or face closing the plant.

MSA introduced lean manufacturing and Six Sigma processes and started monthly performance evaluations for each employee, who were reviewed on quality, productivity, safety, delivery and attendance.

By 2000, Ryan completed the turnaround, with the plant winning an IndustryWeek award as one of the 10 best manufacturing facilities in the U.S.

HOW TO REACH: Mine Safety Appliances Co.,