Volume 12, Issue 5 - September/October 2010

feature

The Man with the Plan
New Guardian President Mike Morrison Discusses the Company’s Automotive Business, New OEM Accounts and What’s on the Horizon
by Penny Stacey

Guardian Industries began as a small windshield manufacturer in 1932, and, until recently, the aftermarket has been a quiet part of its overall Automotive Glass Group, which includes both OE and aftermarket manufacturing and distribution, along with several retail locations.

Enter a brand-new automotive division president, Mike Morrison, who’s been with the company for the last 23 years in its flat glass division and has big plans for the automotive glass side of the business.

Morrison has been heavily involved in recent years with the automotive group working on solar projects using Guardian EcoGuard glass, mirrors and automotive laminating and bending technologies, and places a strong emphasis on the people at Guardian that have grown it to what it is today. Morrison recently spoke with AGRR magazine about the company’s past, future, the industry’s challenges and issues and more.

AGRR: How do you think your knowledge of the flat glass side of the business will transfer to Guardian’s auto glass division?
MM: For me it’s not so much that I’ve been with the flat glass side, it’s that I’ve been with Guardian for [more than] 20 years. So really it’s bringing that overall Guardian philosophy that we drive our businesses with our people. We don’t allow bureaucracy to occur in our business, and we really drive to be a profitable business, but you have to have the right manufacturing, the right people in our manufacturing and the right customer base. I think pulling all those items together is key. That’s what I’ve found in the flat glass side, and that’s what I’m looking at on the automotive side. I’m a little new to comment as to whether all those things exist today. I can just tell you that it is going to be a key philosophy on our automotive side that we’re driven by our people, we’re driven for profit and we’ll make an outstanding product that the industry not only wants but will need.

AGRR:
As the new president of the automotive business, what will your focus be? Are there any particular areas you plan to address first?

MM: Like any good businessperson I’m focused on making a profit just like our customers expect their businesses to be profitable. I think it means providing products and solutions to meet our customers’ needs and expectations and really focusing on things that maybe they don’t know yet. We’re bringing some new technologies to the market, and I’m looking at our own internal operations to make sure we have highly efficient manufacturing and all the right people to make the quality that the product needs today and in the future.

AGRR: What are the new technologies you’re looking at?
MM: Obviously there are some products that are used today in Europe, for example IR [infrared-reflective] and also HUD glass for the windshields that we’re looking to produce, assuming that the industry wants that in the U.S. We’re looking at some laminated product, both laminated and acoustic laminated, for sidelites. And we’re looking at sunroofs—it used to be a product that just let the air in and now you have anything from solar panels to switchable glass to lamination for safety, so [there are] a lot of new things on the horizon. Hopefully we’re looking a little bit ahead of it.

AGRR: There have been some rumors floating around that Guardian might sell the auto glass retail portion of its business; other rumors say it might expand that part—can you comment on the future of this business and how important it is to Guardian as a whole? 
MM: I think it’s never a good policy to comment on rumors … but I think I said earlier really our focus is to make the business profitable. It’s a key for Guardian, and it’s been that way for the 20-some-odd years that I’ve been within Guardian. For me, I look at Guardian and say that Mr. Davidson [recently deceased owner William Davidson] started Guardian in the automotive business and it’s key for me to make it profitable and an important part of the business both in the near term and in the long term.

AGRR: Do you see any challenges in serving the industry as both a supplier and a retailer, as far as the competition with your customers?
MM: Having both suppliers and competitors is not really unique or new to an industry. It’s a model we have and we’ve had for a long time. As long as we offer the right products to our customer base—whether it be the end-consumer or the people who supply the consumer—I think things will be fine.

AGRR: I’ve been hearing from readers that there are a lot of supply and demand issues in the industry—particularly a shortage or difficulty finding common parts. Are you seeing that at all?
MM: We’re not seeing it. Whether that’s coming from some of our competitors in the U.S. or offshore, I can’t say. I will say I haven’t heard that complaint, at least from my customer base.

“If you go back to the past, people had a laminated windshield, they had monolithic door glass, backglass and sunroofs. Today a lot of our customers request HUD, IR, and HUD and IR for the windshields.”
–Mike Morrison, Guardian Automotive

AGRR: As far as NAGS® pricing, how relevant do you find this is to your business, both in retail and on the manufacturing/distribution side?
MM: We’re all well aware that NAGS has been around for a long time. I think as long as NAGS fairly represents all parties, it’s been a system that people have used for a long time—especially the insurance industry—and I think it can be used in the future … as long as everybody looks at the whole industry and not just one portion of the industry.

AGRR: Has Guardian taken any steps on the automotive side to combat the current economic conditions in the United States?
MM: I think on the Guardian side as a whole we’ve always looked at our business whether it’s in good times or bad times and really try to focus on the business. We know that being lean and challenging ourselves, work[ing] smarter, more efficiently and look[ing] at fresh ways of doing things is the way we should run our business in good times or bad times. And I think for us we look to get our people involved—the key for Guardian is our people—and we empower them to make decisions and those decisions have really helped us in the long run. And, really, it’s to cut out the bureaucracy and the process and overall I think we’ll continue to do that. Obviously there’s more pressure when times are even tighter, but I think we’ve done that for a long time and it will be my goal to push that in the future in good times or bad times.

AGRR: What do you think are the auto glass industry’s biggest challenges as we head into the future?
MM: Well, if we look on the OEM side, I think it’s offering highly technical products with extremely tight tolerances. We’ve seen some new windshields come out that have far, far more measurement points than we’ve ever seen before. If you go back to the past, people had a laminated windshield, they had monolithic door glass, backglass and sunroofs. Today a lot of our customers request HUD, IR, and HUD and IR for the windshields. And for door glass we’re looking at the standards being set for lamination, and not only traditional lamination but acoustic lamination, and I think you get to some products which are fairly creative on the sunroof side. Where before you’d just let the air flow in your vehicle with the sunroof or get a little light in, today we have solar panels for cooling and to keep your car’s temperature down. We have looked at switchable glass so you can have privacy or not have privacy and there can be added lamination for safety issues. So there’s just a lot of new things that the industry is pushing. Guardian likes the challenge and that’s why we’re in this business—we think we can meet the challenges [with solutions] that the industry is asking us to provide.

AGRR: In the past it seems that Guardian had stepped back somewhat from some OE work. What led you back into that area recently?
MM: No doubt in the past Guardian has always looked at our business and said “we need to make a profit” and I think in previous years we looked and said, “Is that profit there?” and it was a little more of a struggle. We’re starting to see that the OEM industry is beginning to realize they can’t just push price, price, price with their suppliers because no supplier would be around. I think it has to be really a team effort in order to grow and I think we’ve seen a strength in our relationship with the U.S. as well as foreign auto suppliers and I think we’ll grow not only today but in the long run.

AGRR: Are there any specific manufacturers you’re now working with that you hadn’t in the past?
MM: I’ll just say we’re opening our relationship up to lots of people, and we now have a Volkswagen contract for one of their vehicles in the U.S. We didn’t have that business before. We’re continuing to strengthen our relationship with BMW, with whom we’ve had multiple parts. So again we’re looking at a diverse customer base, making sure we supply them the product and the technology they need, and I think vice versa. We’re seeing businesses come back to Guardian knowing we’ve been in the business for a long time saying, “I believe you can supply our needs and let’s begin to talk.”

AGRR: How does a U.S. manufacturer of windshields compete against all the offshore imports?
MM: Anytime competition is out there it’s a challenge, which I think is good for the industry. The industry as a whole should be pushed and if you can step up and be a world-class supplier for your customers not only in the product you offer, but the service you offer and the innovation you bring to the product, I think you can step up and rise above the rest. Imports will be here—they’ll be here for the long term, but it’s really offering all the variety to our market, and being able to say “This is why we’re a world-class supplier. This is why you need to come to Guardian.” There will always be someone out there who might be a little cheaper, but I think you have to look at the bigger picture.

“We’re starting to see that the OEM industry is beginning to realize they can’t just push price, price, price with their suppliers because no supplier would be around.”
–Mike Morrison, Guardian Automotive

AGRR: Retailers and installers are complaining of quality issues in windshield manufacturing now like never before. Why do you think there are such quality issues?
MM: I don’t think this is a new problem. I kind of think in this industry you’ve seen this before. It goes back to this—we talk about price and quality, right? If you look at the toy industry, you just wanted cheap toys, and then all of a sudden this lead issue came up. I think in our industry we really need to focus on the fact that we need to look at the supplier of the product, and say, “Are they giving me the quality? Are they giving me the service?” Obviously price is one of those items, but price can’t be the only driver. And sometimes with price you may be paying for quality.

AGRR: Do you think the Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standards (AGRSS) Council’s third-party validation review program is positive for the industry as a whole?
MM: For me, I can say yes. We’ve had four of our locations audited. They all passed with flying colors, so that’s great. It’s really good for the industry if people say they’re doing something, then they should have no fear that someone comes in and audits them and says “you are following the right procedures.” It’s the people who just want to go out and get a label that says, you know, “we’re part of this team, we’re following the standards” and then don’t follow the standards. I think in any industry you try to avoid players that don’t follow the standard, because they’re the ones who give the industry a bad name.

AGRR: Has anything surprised you about the auto glass side of the business?
MM: I think it’s that when I meet individuals in my manufacturing plants, even after a tough couple of years they’re pretty upbeat. They’re looking to the future. People I’ve talked to both in the management side and people on the manufacturing floor are saying, “Look, we know we can meet the quality and the price the industry wants. Let’s just get a chance and get out there and we’ll show them that Guardian is one of the key suppliers for the industry.”

Penny Stacey is the editor of AGRR magazine.


AGRR
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