Volume 38, Issue 12, December 2003
All for One
A Commitment to Teamwork and a Focus on Culture Keeps Arch Ahead in the Game
by Ellen Giard Chilcoat
Excitement, teamwork and camaraderie are words that describe the atmosphere of the room. Hundreds have come from across the country to the meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., all with the same goal and purpose—to build a stronger company. And they seem to be having fun in the process.
Badges classify employees into a sports team. All are seated with their team
As things get underway, Steve Perilstein, Arch Aluminum and Glass Co.’s national sales manager, reminds everyone to please turn off cell phones.
“We have new rule this year,” he said. “Anyone whose phone rings during the meeting is going to have to sing. And we’re serious about it.”
With that said, you’d think they’d all remember to turn the phones off. Of course, someone forget.
They are also playing games. It’s called Arch Bowl, and this is where the teams come into play. During breaks between sessions employees are quizzed on how well they know their company, but also on how well they know the industry.
It’s not just employees at the meeting. Suppliers and special guests are invited as well, some of whom are presenting on new products and technologies.
It’s a sales meeting—a sales meeting, since when are they fun? You may wonder. But the sales meeting for Arch is like no other.
“Our sales meetings are almost pep rallies, and part of that is to just drive the culture,” said company president and chief executive officer Leon Silverstein.
“Bottom line at this meeting, the most important thing is that everyone comes out charged.”
Upon its 25th anniversary in business, the fever to excel and succeed is stronger at Arch today than in the beginning. The family operated company prides itself on the relationships it maintains with its employees, customers and suppliers. Though Arch has more than 1,500 employees and more than 22 branch locations, it is not the numbers that make the company distinctive. Much like the sales meeting, it’s in the
From Whence We Came
Though the company was founded in 1978, its roots date back 80 years to 1898. That was the year Harris Perilstein, great grandfather of both Silverstein and Perilstein, came to the United States from Poland, bought a glass cutter and got involved in the industry. At one point his company employed more than 400 people, 50 of which were family members.
The family ties and commitment still ring true. Arch is a true family operation, employing both the Silversteins and Perilsteins (formerly with PDC). Ironically, at one time the families were competitors.
“People didn’t realize we were always competitors,” said Silverstein, “but we always had a very, very good relationship. Outwardly, we were teasing and fighting. Then we’d talk on the phone and laugh and kid about what people were saying about us.”
In 1999 PDC was consolidated into United Glass Corp. and in 2001 Steve Perilstein went to work for Arch. Last year the rest of the family saw that as an opportunity to once again work with family.
“It was a good opportunity for us, because Max and Steve [Perilstein] are very much promoters in their personalities; they are bigger-than-life characters,” said Silverstein. “The Silversteins are very operational and not as social and outgoing, so there’s definitely a good mix.”
S. Perilstein agreed.
“We’re going back to what we started in 1898. My regret is that we didn’t join Leon years ago.”
He continued, “We’re proud of our great grandfather … it’s unusual to come together like this in the fourth generation.” He added that they are already working on the fifth generation. His son works for the company’s American Glassmith operation part time while he’s in college.
One for All
While the family mentality has helped Arch become strong, other aspects of the company’s culture have played a part as well. It cultivates a low-key, laid-back atmosphere; everyone is treated as though they are on the same level.
“There’s no superstar mentality,” said S. Perilstein. “We don’t wear suits and ties and we’re not stuffy. We leave our egos at the door.”
Just visit the company’s Tamarac, Fla., headquarters and you see things you aren’t likely to see in other companies. Step into Leon Silverstein’s office, for example, and it’s not posh and shiny. It’s comfortable and casual. He even shares it with Bob Martin, vice president of manufacturing.
“How many CEO’s do you know who share their office?” Silverstein joked.
All of this ties into to the company’s way of operating. Silverstein says you have to remember where you came from and know where you want to go.
“One thing my dad always said was, in the beginning, the lowest in the company was us. We took no money and we lived very small. The first year the employees made more than my father. They couldn’t afford not to get paid and he figured the best chance the company had was making sure he was a very low overhead owner.”
Silverstein’s father, company founder Robert (Bobby) Silverstein, is still active with the business today.
“We call him the conscious,” said Silverstein. “He makes sure the family doesn’t get too big for its breeches.”
For Better, For Worse
Just because Arch is a family business doesn’t mean everything is always perfect. There are challenges and difficulties as with any company. According to Silverstein, working with family has advantages, but negatives as well.
“Working with family could be an issue if everyone’s not pulling his own weight,” said Silverstein.
According to S. Perilstein the challenging part about working with family is the pride factor.
“Because it’s family you’re pressuring yourself constantly to do good, not just for yourself, but the family as well.” He added that you’re also setting an example for fellow workers. “You have to be on top of the game,” he added.
For Marcie Perilstein, Steve’s sister and a regional account coordinator, the challenge of working with family is that it’s difficult to separate from life outside of work.
“I’ve worked with family for a long time, and the challenge is it’s always with you; you’re always talking about business,” she said. “You have to really work hard to separate family from business.”
That mentality is also carried through in its relationships at all levels, from the employee to the supplier.
“The Silverstein family is very in tune to what employees want and are very fair,” said S. Perilstein. “Employees work with us, not for us, and customers can relate to this. We’re still small and we operate like a small company; we listen to what employees and customers want.”
Top: Scenes from a sales meeting: Leon Silverstein (left) colored
the second eye on the Daruma presented to him by Sekisui’s Matt Muramatsu (center) and Ian Fellows (right). Middle: Arch is opening a new laminating plant in Tamarac, Fla. This building features an Arch glazing system. Bottom: Hundreds of Arch employees came to Fort Lauderdale for the annual sales meeting.
Silverstein agreed. “Whether you’re building a family or a management team you’ve got to all be on the same page. You’ve got to like each other, you have to get along, you have to have the same motives and desires.
“I think we can never, ever lose focus that the two most important things we have are our employees and customers. And we work hard at that.”
This commitment has been evident to Scott Goodman, an Arch employee for the past six and a half years.
“I’ve worked for several other companies in the industry, but from the day I started with Arch everything they said they’d do for me they’ve done and exceeded,” Goodman said. “That’s rare these days.” As a salesperson, he said the support he gets from Arch also helps him at his job.
“If you don’t have support from those behind you, you don’t have anything. I have that here and it makes me that much better of a salesperson.”
Supplier relationships are also important. When choosing companies with which to work, Arch looks for a partnership, not just a product.
“That word [partnership] has become very cheap over the years, and there’s some that really say it and mean it and do some of the little things that really help you. And there’s others who come in and use the word and there’s really no benefit; it’s just a cliché.”
A recent partnership for Arch is with Sekisui, an interlayer supplier. Representatives for the company were on hand at the sales meeting to talk about Arch’s new laminated glass, and to acknowledge the partnership.
Matt Muramatsu, president of Sekisui America, presented Silverstein with a sculpture of a Japanese monk called a Daruma. Muramatsu explained that with a Daruma you make a wish and color in one eye; when the wish comes true, you color the other. One eye had already been colored in, representing Sekisui’s wish to work with Arch on the new products. Silverstein then colored in the other eye.
“Going beyond a traditional customer-vendor relationship is especially important when entering new markets or expanding product offerings,” said Ian Fellows of Sekisui. “The Daruma symbolizes the partnership between Arch and Sekisui.”
Doug Saunders with Roadrunner Glass Co., an Arch customer said they, too, have a good relationship with them.
“Service wise, they get the product out in a timely fashion and in this industry service is a different ballgame from one company to the next,” said Saunders. “They go the extra step, whether it’s with samples or processing an order quickly if necessary, and that’s something not everyone will do.”
To maintain its spot in the industry, Arch is continually working to grow and strengthen as a company. One way to do this is through acquisition; another is new product development.
“It’s exciting how a company can grow,” said S. Perilstein. “We’re going forward, not backward.”
Over the years Arch has acquired several companies and opened numerous branches (see timeline at left).
“We’ve pretty much always had the philosophy that you grow or you die,” said Silverstein. “You need to grow to strengthen yourselves; it’s just something we have to do.”
He continued, “We believe in continued growth. We want to find acquisitions that fit the company. From a profile, personality of that company, product line or geographic area, and in a very tough market, which is today. We still think there’s opportunity.”
Arch has also added a new laminating facility to its Tamarac operations, which features its laminated glass system. Silverstein said the product development was a risk.
“There was a need for a four-sided, impact-resistant glass system in Florida, and it’s expensive to design and develop,” he said. “What we decided to do was design our building with the intent that it would look beautiful [featuring the product], but the question was could we get Dade County product approval and get it tested, and passed and not delay the construction of our building.” Silverstein explained that in many cases earning Dade County approval can be trying and difficult. He said that if the product didn’t pass they would have to re-design the building’s entire storefront. “The end result, though, was we designed a system that [passed] was user-friendly and now we have something else to sell.”
Risk-taking, as Silverstein explained, such as in the start-up of its new laminating plant, is important.
“A lot of times we look at opportunities and we don’t look at how much we can make, we just look at whether we can afford it. And if we can afford it, we’ve always taken risks.”
In years past, Arch was a company with a reputation of having somewhat of a black cloud above it. Silverstein said that early on they were small and under capitalized. Then, as it grew quickly, and had to meet market conditions, there was a feeling among some in the industry that Arch would negatively affect pricing. Thanks to hard work and a commitment to its beliefs and ethics, the cloud seems to be gone.
“Now we want to get to the next level. We want people to see Arch as the brand name,” said Silverstein. “We’re going from being the black cloud to being the guy everybody wants to be a part of.”
“We’re going places,” added S. Perilstein. “We have a three to five year plan and we’re very aggressive in our growth. We feel we’re the Harley-Davidson of the glass industry in that we have a special brand behind us.”
But you don’t get to where you want to be by standing still. This, Arch knows.
“I still think hard work pays off,” said Silverstein. “I believe in a lot of the old school ways of dealing with people. And I think as long as we can continue that and keep the culture, then we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. I think the day that stops is the day that it probably won’t be fun anymore.”
Just as the sales meeting offered a sporting event atmosphere, so too is the entire company’s outlook.
“We love sports and we relate our job to a sporting event,” he said. “And we will not lose.”
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