Mona Pappafava-Ray Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2010
Pittsburgh Pacesetters 2010
Best story midsized company

Mona Pappafava-Ray isn’t exactly a traditionalist. That was proven during the recession.

When the economy began to slow and threaten the future of numerous businesses, especially those in her industry of manufacturing, she responded in a way that has set her apart from many of today’s leaders. And, in doing so, she has created a more efficient company and one that is prepared not only for tomorrow and next month but for years to come.

General Carbide Corp., a producer of a range of tungsten carbide preforms that was founded by now president Pappafava-Ray’s father, was not immune to the grip of the recession. But as the manufacturer began to experience revenue decrease, Pappafava-Ray made several commitments to keep the company running as smoothly as possible. In fact, her hope was for it to come out of the recession stronger.

Her first commitment was to try to retain as much of her work force as possible, not exactly an easy feat for any company in any industry during a recession.

Pappafava-Ray’s personal goal was to not lay off any direct or indirect labor employees. In order to maintain the company’s staffing levels, she had to cut employees’ hours and she had to ask her executive team to take pay cuts that would be commensurate with the pay other employees would lose with their loss in hours.

Every General Carbide manager agreed to the pay cuts, and in the end, only a couple of salaried employees had to be laid off.

Trying to make it through a recession and keeping your staff in place is a gamble. But it was one that Pappafava-Ray was willing to take. Although she defied the conventional business practice and went against the recommendation of some of her top managers, her commitment spoke to her belief that people are the most valuable resource of any company. She was willing to gamble and accept the consequences that her decision would bear on the company’s finances.

One of the advantages Pappafava-Ray and her team at General Carbide had during the recent tough economic times was that they didn’t have to explain their decisions to stockholders and a governing body. Instead of looking out and planning three months at a time, Pappafava-Ray was able to explain to General Carbide’s board members her plan and vision for the company in the long-term future.

She didn’t get bogged down with the fact that General Carbide could post a loss for a couple of years to come. She made her decisions, in essence, to prepare General Carbide as a successful manufacturing company of the future.

So, along with keeping her staff in place, Pappafava-Ray decided to continue with the company’s annual investments. Each year, General Carbide puts $1 million into capital expansion. Instead of skimping for a year or two, the company bought machinery, put money into manufacturing and spent its annual budgets on sales, marketing and advertising.

As Pappafava-Ray put it, “Why would you cut back on these things when you most need them?”

Pappafava-Ray wanted the company to be prepared and wanted a stronger work force for when the economy turned around and business picked up again. To make sure the company was capable, she extended the need to be ready to efficiency.

Pappafava-Ray felt it was important for the company to invest in and implement lean manufacturing techniques. Knowing the results seen by other manufacturers from using lean practices, she thought the implementation of such techniques on the shop floor would pay dividends for the company in the long run.

The first step was getting employees to buy in to lean manufacturing and the idea of continuous improvement. To help explain the thinking behind the process, as well as how it works, Pappafava-Ray brought in trainers to teach all of the employees the basic philosophy behind lean.

Once employees understood the concept, they broke into teams to address how their segments of the organization could become more efficient. General Carbide began with the manufacturing cell and even got the front office involved in the process.

Now that the company has gone through the initial stages of implementing lean processes, it has become a stronger, healthier organization that is capable of driving new growth with fewer resources.

All of Pappafava-Ray’s decisions have paid off for General Carbide, which was prepared when it began to see an uptick in the economy. The company began to see orders pick up again in September 2009, and it has seen an increase every month since.

How to reach: General Carbide Corp., (800) 245-2465 or