Scott Thomsen &
Discuss Guardian’s Innovation, Its Focus onNorth America and the Industry’s
by Megan Headley
When William Davidson, owner and chief executive officer
of Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Guardian Industries, passed away in March
2009, the company lost a visionary and a leader (see April 2009 USGlass,
page 14). Since 1957, Davidson had led Guardian from its beginnings as
a small glass company to its position today as one of the largest international
glass manufacturers. Davidson’s passing led a shift in the company’s
management as Russell Ebeid—for years now the face of Guardian’s Glass
Group—was elected as chairperson of the board in addition to his role
as Glass Group president.
On February 17 of this year, the company established the new position
of group vice president for North American Flat Glass operations and appointed
Scott Thomsen to the new spot. Some may have seen it as an unusual move,
putting the self-proclaimed “glass nerd,” who has led the company’s Science
& Technology Center he helped establish in 2000, in a position that
gives him oversight of all aspects of the North American flat glass business.
But Thomsen says that those who know him understand it was just a step
from having oversight of these operations to having total accountability
for the same.
Still, the move is meant to send a clear message that Guardian is more
focused than ever on leading the way in product innovation, embodying
its belief that if you’re not adding value to float glass, then you won’t
last in the current glass market. But Guardian—with facilities on five
continents—also is using the move to focus on its “home base” of North
America at a time when many companies are stretching overseas. When USGlass
sat down with Thomsen and Ebeid, they explained that message in detail.
USG: What were your first career aspirations?
How did that bring you to Guardian?
ST: When I got out of school, I
didn’t really know what I was aiming for. I wanted to work in avionics.
That’s why I went to work for Honeywell. I liked it, because it’s exciting,
because you’re working on stuff for F-18s, F-16s, Boeing 777s, the space
shuttle. I learned a lot fast, and got exposed to many, many different
I was in charge of all the displays on the space shuttle upgrade when
I was at Honeywell. It’s an interesting story and it’s how I wound up
affiliated with the Davidson companies. We had won the space shuttle
contract to do the displays and the computers for the upgrade. The supplier
of the liquid crystal displays was a company called Hosiden of Japan.
Then the Senate got involved and said we could not use imported display
technology on the space shuttle. They heard there was a company in Michigan
called Optical Imaging Systems (OIS) that was capable of doing it and
[said that] it should be done there. I was getting ready to go to Japan
and all of a sudden I was told “no, you’ve got to go to Michigan.”
My first thought was, “you’ve got to be kidding me,” because this is
a big Japanese company versus a small start-up in Troy, Mich. But I
came up here and that’s when I met Ralph Gerson, Bob Gorlin, Jeff Knight
and then, eventually, [William] Davidson. For a period of about two
years, I was their biggest customer on behalf of Honeywell. Then finally
one day they said, “Well, would you like to come work for us?”
When Mr. Davidson and the U.S. government put in millions to build the
first large LCD factory in North America, that’s when I said, “okay,
I’ll come.” So in August of ’94, I went to work at OIS. Then in the
fall of ’98 I was approached about coming to Guardian and starting the
innovation initiative. At that point, Guardian had little in the way
of organized R&D in glass.
USG: So you had second thoughts about
ST: I don’t talk about this story
much, but I originally told Guardian no. Part of the problem was that
in 1977 Mr. Davidson had made several statements in the press that he
didn’t believe in spending a lot of money in R&D … in the glass
business because there was no return. So in the fall of ’98 when Guardian
made me an offer, I was thinking “What am I going to do? Am I a figurehead
so you can say you’ve got an R&D program?”
Then Guardian said it was targeting 50 percent [value-added production],
and a new R&D building would be built. I could see the commitment.
When I came we were in North America and Europe at about 5 percent.
Now most of our plants in the United States and Europe are close to
50 percent [value-added production].
USG: R&D has been a big focus for
you; you hold more than 60 patents. You’re obviously still leading R&D
work, but do you miss the development work itself?
ST: You go through a phase, I call
it being a “beaker boy” or a “nerd.” At some point people either want
to get into technical management or want to go into general management.
If they don’t get into general management, they stay on the technical
One of the many things that Mr. Davidson was good at—I mean obviously
he was brilliant—he would always see more in people than what the label
was. A lot of times at Guardian I was classified as “the nerd.” And
if you are a nerd that’s what you are; you fit that box. If you are
an operations person, that’s all you can be. Taking over product marketing
in 2005 really helped me. The reasoning was that Mr. Davidson liked
total accountability. By having marketing and R&D—what he called
innovation—all under one person, now this person has to identify the
markets, decide what products are needed, develop the products and then
take them and sell them. Basically, it’s from beginning to end, one
person. It’s not marketing throwing it over to R&D, R&D throwing
it over to sales.
And another thing—and this was Mr. Davidson’s idea, it wasn’t mine—was
that we do the majority of our scale-up at the production facility across
the street. This got early buy-ins from the operations people, and it
got the scientists quickly into the production environment. It’s really
helped with the hand-off and speed and reduced cost and shorter time
This (along with my work with the architectural sales force) was a great
developing ground. I already had been working with every plant intimately
for 11 years, so I knew all the plant managers, the salespeople and
the globe in terms of customers, competitors and products.
That’s why at first some people were like “why would Guardian put the
head of R&D into leading North America?” But, really, it wasn’t
much of a step.
USG: So what have been some of the new
duties then since taking this step—and what challenges have you tackled
first in this new role?
ST: think it’s one thing to [provide]
support from a product and marketing point of view and it’s another
thing for 100-percent, full-circle total accountability. The biggest
challenges have been, for example, that we’ve closed three fabrication
facilities. Nobody likes to do that, but it should have been done before.
I worked at OIS when we shut that down and sold it off, so I’d been
through it before. It’s a challenge that’s never fun.
We tried to do the best we could to find people jobs. Walled Lake [Mich.]
was close to Carleton, so we were able to take some employees and put
them in Carleton, same with Tillsonburg [Ontario], which was very close
to our Rexdale [Ontario] facility. That was part of the problem—we had
two facilities too close to each other.
USG: You mentioned you felt these facilities
should have been closed sooner. That begs the question, have you and
Russ Ebeid so far disagreed on any of the decisions that have been made
since your appointment?
ST: No, I’ve been left alone. That’s
something that’s just my personality and nature. Mr. Davidson never
told people what to do, ever. I run things by [Russ] before I go do
them. He doesn’t say “you can’t do that,” he’ll say “I wouldn’t do it
but that doesn’t mean you won’t.” I remember one time last fall we were
sitting at a restaurant in Europe and Russ told our sales guy, “yeah,
he never listens to me,” and I said, “no, that’s not true, remember
that day about four years ago—I listened to you.” We joke about it.
USG: But it seems like you two have struck
a good balance.
ST: I think Mr. Davidson picked
people for contrasting styles. I’m a very aggressive person and that’s
where I think Russ and I have always been a good pair. I usually move
very quickly—sometimes too quickly. Russ is very patient, that philosophical
leader who sometimes you would say moves too slowly—we’ve been a good
USG: When your promotion was announced earlier this year, the
news release noted that you were helping Guardian renew its focus on
being “the industry leader in North America.” What do you think it takes
to be the market leader?
ST: If you take a step back, for
Guardian in the ’70s the focus was on North America—with Carleton, Corsicana
[Texas], Kingsburg [Calif.]. Then in ’81, when Guardian went to Luxembourg,
that really became the start of the overseas expansion. Through the
’80s it was pretty much all overseas; most of the capital spending has
been overseas. It’s hard to argue with, because you have economies where
you have GDP of 4, 6, 8 or 10 percent, combined with countries that
have very low consumption per person of glass.
If you look at it from the customer point of view, Guardian was never
viewed as the leader in North America. In the past, PPG—“glass since
1883” is in their logo—and Pilkington had been because they were there
in North America the longest. They had the most assets and that was
the focus. We want to be the preferred supplier to the key companies
in North America. It’s a big change.
In the past, Guardian had been just a float company—and I don’t like
to use the word “just” because Guardian’s always had strong manufacturing,
distribution and logistics. But to become a complete supplier you have
to have services. Now we’re doing our customer service logistics (CSL)
program, for example. It’s really an advanced form of distribution,
which Guardian had never done before. We’re doing loyalty programs for
fabricators and for glaziers—now we have our glazier connection program.
So when we say “the market leader,” it’s to be above that critical threshold
in quality, service, logistics and to be able to provide tools and services
for our customers throughout the supply chain—not just the direct B2B
[business-to-business] sale. We want to influence the architect and
the glazier and then support the fabricator. That’s really where we’re
going. And I think we’re moving quickly.
USG: This is a tough time to take the helm.
What challenges are you first addressing?
ST: To me—and I know it sounds crazy—but
there’s not a direct correlation between the state of the economy and
company performance. What I mean by that is, in certain aspects of North
American markets, we had relatively small presence. When you have the
right products, logistics and services, you should be able to sell more.
This year the big focus has been in segments that are core to Guardian
that we should be participating in more actively. That’s been a big
emphasis for us: where can we expand the business?
USG: Regarding expanding the business,
Guardian is known as being very shrewd in its acquisitions. What particular
areas will you concentrate on in the future?
ST: I’d say right now, yes,
we’re looking at different opportunities. Guardian’s always been an
opportunistic company. What can we do to enhance our current asset base
that makes us ultimately more profitable, but also gives us access to
products or services we may not have today? Or allows us to better balance
our production mix across all our facilities? We’re definitely looking
at whether there could be potential acquisitions, but they have to be
ones that make us stronger. We’re looking at a few and, if in the end
it does make us stronger, then we have to seriously consider it.
USG: Looking outside of North America
for a moment, have you noticed that there are some things the U.S. glass
industry does particularly well compared to other countries around the
globe? Particularly poorly?
ST: I’d say one strength for North
America in the last five years has definitely been in the product marketing
area. I think the main area there has been developing services, programs
and tools that allow Guardian to penetrate further down the channel
… With SunGuard, for example, we developed it here and we basically
exported it to South America, the Middle East, Asia and Europe. North
America has become the product marketing hub. We’re developing an interiors’
program, it’s the same thing. It’s going to be developed, launched here
and then exported around the globe.
USG: And have you been importing any “best
practices” from outside North America?
ST: Definitely. For example, in
Europe they have a very good system for sales forecasting and pricing
tools. We’re learning from those experiences.
That’s one advantage that I think has helped me in North America. Because
I’ve spent so much time overseas the last 11 years I’ve been able to
select best practices from around the globe. Our operations in Asia,
Africa, Middle East, South America and Europe have taught us how to
do things differently.
Something that’s always a challenge in a company the size of Guardian
is how to learn best practices, because we have, historically, a decentralized
culture. So if you’re in Egypt, you run Egypt and you worry about Egypt,
but you’re not going to South America or the United States to see what
things are going on. When you’re a flat organization you don’t want
to have a lot of overhead, so you have very few people in the company
that actually touch every plant, and that’s a downside. There are many
positives to the flat, decentralized structure, but one of the downsides
is that the transfer of best practices becomes more challenging.
USG: Speaking of integration, many mid-sized
to small contract glaziers are watching larger suppliers market themselves
to architects as total solutions. We are beginning to see these companies
subcontract labor-only jobs. Do you think this is healthy for the industry?
ST: The question it comes down to
is vertical integration. If you do a case study on vertical integration
in the glass industry it’s a complete mix. You have people that are
vertically integrated and have done that very successfully, you have
people that are vertically integrated and failed miserably. To me, it
comes down to who the leadership of the company is and whether or not
they have the vision and the ability to execute that vertical integration.
A lot of the companies that have tried to vertically integrate don’t
necessarily have the right resources—human, capital, intellectual property—to
be able to have enough of a differentiation. A lot of times people vertically
integrate because they think they’re going to save on total supply chain
costs, but a lot of times that doesn’t materialize …
USG: Years ago Guardian was the center of discussion when it
sold glass directly to a casino owner who was a friend of Mr. Davidson.
At the time, he said it was a one-time deal. Does Guardian still avoid
such direct sales?
ST: It depends upon the segment.
For example, in solar we sell concentrating solar power mirrors directly
through the channel. Are we going to be in the near-term installing
insulating glass units into a commercial building? No. Really there’s
no general statement you can make that we’re not going to go down and
sell a completed assembly … The best way I can describe it is the only
time we will do it is if it’s the only way to get our product to market.
USG: If not this, then what do you think
are the biggest problems facing your customers?
ST: I’d say the biggest challenge
right now our customers are facing is cash flow. It is. If you look
at any of the statistics from the Zellman report, the National Association
of Home Builders, any of these industry studies say it’s not going to
improve appreciably in the next 12 to 18 months. So really the biggest
challenge for our customers right now is cash flow and having sufficient
business to keep the doors open.
That’s one of the things we’ve been doing with our CSL program. Guardian
always sold in full truckloads. One of the things we’ve really rolled
out in the last nine to ten months is that we’re now selling glass by
the case, which is a complete paradigm shift for Guardian. This is a
way to help customers with their cash flow, so if they don’t need to
buy a full truckload now we’ll sell them [smaller] amounts. We’re also
doing multi-drops out of our float plants, which we historically did
not do. What that’s doing is it’s opening a whole other level of customer
that we’ve never serviced.
Now, that does create some contention. There are people out there where,
that’s what they do for a living—distribute cases. Now that the primary
glass manufacturer distributes cases it will create some contention.
But my experience, globally, in distribution is that the glass companies
provide more of the standard products and the distributors do more of
these specialized, custom products.
USG: Would you say the economy also is
the biggest threat to the glass industry as a whole right now?
ST: I would say probably the biggest
threat is reduced demand for an extended period of time. That’s a pretty
generic answer, but how many float lines were fully operational and
running at maximum tonnage in 2003, 2004? Almost 42 float lines. How
many are there today? You’ve had floats demolished, you’ve had them
taken down. Right now I’d guess the industry is running 25 percent below
peak capacity—and you still have people that are crushing glass on the
weekends and not pulling maximum tonnage. How long can people hold on
if they’re not meeting their minimum thresholds for production capacity,
in terms of costs? I’d say that’s the biggest challenge.
The second challenge, is can all the glass companies innovate at the
same rate? Companies are becoming more and more differentiated by what
products you have and what services you have … Let’s say in residential
you’ve got one company that’s forging ahead and they’re mainly focusing
on that; if you want to be competitive in that you’ve got to be right
there with them … then in commercial, then interiors and then in automotive.
I think that’s what our ultimate goal is: we want to be strong in all
the market segments.
It brings a lot of advantages to be that diversified, but to become
that diversified requires a lot of spending and capital and R&D
and marketing …
USG: Another challenge we’ve been hearing
about lately are the changes to regulations and codes impacting glass.
What’s your take on this?
ST: I think it’s great. We’ve
placed a greater emphasis on regulatory and the glass industry. I feel,
we could do more to help influence the codes to promote glass. I think
you will see more of an increased presence from Guardian in this than
in the past, because when you look at the majority of value-added in
the glass business, it has been mandated. For all the great marketing
that everybody does, the bulk of the value-added still is legislative-driven.
USG: It does seem that a lot of products
out there are a reaction to restrictions or limitations put on glass
by other groups.
ST: As opposed to the other
way around, being proactive. When you’re looking at ASHRAE, for example,
if the technology does not improve appreciably for the U-value of openings,
they may downgrade the window-to-wall ratio from 40 to 30 percent. Look—how
much glass is needed if that were to occur? And this is not just the
primary glass manufacturers, this is the fabricators, the glaziers—the
whole channel is affected by that change.
USG: So when
it comes to driving regulations such as this, or driving codes, do you
see this industry having a role in that?
ST: Oh yeah, but we need more information
to be able to convince them. For example, up to 25 percent of the U.S.
electricity draw is from lighting. So if you go to OLED technology you
could reduce that to where it would be 15 percent—that’s meaningful
… To the government, it has to be meaningful on a macro level. Part
of it would be “if all new buildings built beyond 2015 in commercial
in this many billions of square feet were able to generate X amount
of electricity then this is what it means to the grid.” If you can’t
relate it in terms like that and it’s not meaningful, no way.
USG: Considering energy efficiency has
been such a focus for Guardian, how do you react when groups like ASHRAE
slam glass as an inefficient product? How do you hope to combat that
ST: People always ask me
who Guardian’s biggest competitor is and I say it includes the brick,
mortar and stone industries. It’s the non-glass building materials that
are the competitors. The real competition is alternative building materials.
We need to improve our products, providing better information on the
energy of the buildings …
USG: Given your
background in product research and development, where is there yet to
go with coatings?
ST: Guardian was behind when I came—we
had four coaters and now we have 16. We have the most vacuum coaters
in the world. We do coatings for electronics, solar, interiors, residential,
commercial and automotive, so it’s six segments where we’re doing research
on coatings and we still have a backlog. There is still significantly
a lot more that can be done with coatings. At some point, you will start
to see certain segments where you’re reaching the plateau. But right
now … people know we’re working on vacuum insulating glass, and we are
now working on technologies that will become more critical once the
industry has reached the coating plateau.
USG: During your talk at GANA’s Fall Conference
last year you said of solar glazing, “The key is sustaining growth in
a controlled manner.” Would you say this describes Guardian’s growth
in the solar glass market?
ST: Over the last five or six years
we’ve doubled our revenue every year and this year we’re on pace again.
Our strategy for solar is it is growing, and it is going to be a major
channel for glass. We’re working on everything from thin film photovoltaic
(PV) products to crystalline silicon PV products, concentrating solar,
thermal hot water. We have business in every channel right now on a
heard that PV may not be the most efficient solar technology currently.
What technologies should glass companies looking at the solar market
focus on now?
ST: See, part of the challenge is
… because we also have a BIPV activity, we’ve partnered with a couple
German thin film producers that buy Guardian glass. We’re actively out
bidding projects right now. I would say BIPV is the first application
that’s both for fabricators and glaziers. I do see another possibility
for glaziers in roof-mounted installation of PV for commercial buildings.
In Europe I’ve seen several large “cladders” doing both the façade
and the roof systems. It’s a whole new area for them because before
they were never involved in the roof; that was a separate contractor
and a whole separate set of requirements and supply. So it’s a new source
of revenue and profit, but it’s still similar—aluminum and metal framing.
I would say that is the predominant thing that’s going to happen. You’ve
either got to figure out how to make BIPV work or you’ve got to go to
USG: Overall, where do you see the architectural
glass industry in 2025?
ST: If the innovation continues
at the pace it is, and if we do our job, hopefully you will see that
the window-to-wall ratio can approach 50 percent. To me, the industry
has done its job when instead of going from 40 to 30 percent we can
go from 40 to 50 percent.
And I think that, in the end, you will have fewer glass companies. Today,
anybody can get a float line. Companies will license you the technology.
You will have to have a total package of coatings, laminated, float,
acid-etched—you’re going to have to be a complete supplier in the next
5 to 10 years.
USG: Is there anything else you’d like to tell
ST: I’d say our number-one driver
right now is increasing value-added content. We want more than 50 percent
of the tonnage to be value-added when it leaves Guardian—not by revenue,
but by tonnage. We’ve already got some plants at 60, 65 percent … It’s
easy to pick the number but now that means we've got to have the right
products, we've got to have the right marketing programs, we've got
to have the right channel programs, we've got to have the right sales
force. That one number has huge implications to the organization.
People will also see Guardian become a much more service-oriented company,
less transactional. That’s one thing I hear a lot from customers, that
Guardian is viewed as a transactional company. We’ve lost loyalty to
a certain extent in North America because of that. We’ve got to be more
consistent going forward.
USG: How have
your duties been redistributed since Scott has taken over this new position?
RE: With the passing of Bill [Davidson],
who was a one-man private company, now we have additional duties. Before,
you’d go to Bill and you’d hum him a few bars and you were on your way.
Now we’ve got to watch for other shareholders, whereas before all I
had to do was please Bill. Our duties are really expanded, rather than
In a way, things are shifting. Yeah, before I had North America and
now I’m moving it to Scott. Scott is moving the science and technology
down to others. It’s an evolution, rather than a revolution of assignments,
duties and, overall, we have more areas to cover.
Scott made any decisions differently than you would have yet?
RE: Not really. First, everybody
is different. Scott’s done things I wouldn’t have done, I’ve done things
he wouldn’t have done. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong. That’s just,
once again, the evolution. People have different styles, people have
different strengths, people have different weaknesses and, at least
in my view, even if he did something wrong, that’s the way you learn.
Now, the people under him that were under me are probably seeing a different
style. I know they’re seeing a different style of management but I think
he will have success—he’s already had success. I’m not concerned.
Scott’s promotion was announced earlier this year, the news release
noted that he was helping Guardian renew its focus on being “the industry
leader in North America.” What do you think it takes to be the market
RE: Let me go back to scratch in
a way. We started in the business in 1970 making glass. At that time,
we were the first new glass company to enter North America. At that
point, it was “just make glass.” You didn’t have to temper, you didn’t
have to laminate, you didn’t coat, you didn’t have to make mirrors,
all you had to do was learn to make glass. No one helped us. We just
kept working long days until we finally got it right.
The first era is where we were a fast second and we grew around the
world. Our advantage was we started efficient plants, so we had cost
savings. We were the first ones to marry a business to the technology.
All of the other companies, they had technical people who didn’t know
a customer or they had salespeople who didn’t know a factory. We were
the first ones that married the two together. And that was our advantage,
Now we’re into a different area and that’s the technology, the innovation.
That started when we saw China coming and I thought, “oh man, we need
better technology.” We started that technology center 11 years ago and
I think what Scott’s got going there is pretty exciting. He has taken
us to a new era with the innovation and the patented products.
We were a “maverick” when we started and now I believe we have more
capacity in North America than the second-place float guy. We have gone
from maverick to the leading glass producer capacity-wise in the United
States. So now how do we sell out all that capacity? By innovation.
About five years ago we said there’s another era coming, one that’s
in the marketing and the branding. This takes a long time to get going.
I use Nike as our example. In the beginning the tennis shoe said N-I-K-E
and now, after you’ve seen it, it’s just the swoosh and you know it’s
Nike. I said, “this is going to be a ten-year project for Guardian,
that someday you’re just going to see the horse and people will know
that’s Guardian, and there will be some image that will come to mind.”
I hope the image is, if it’s on a windshield, “that’s a good windshield,”
and if it’s on a mirror, “that’s a good mirror.”
USG: So what’s
the next step?
RE: The industry is shifting from
the glassmaker to the glazier and to the consumer.
That’s what I believe will be the next step. You’re already starting
to see the fabricators fragment again. They accumulated and now they’re
At some point you’re going to read about ShowerGuard [Guardian’s shower
product] and think, “I could use that. Where do I get this?” You’re
going to go to anybody that has it rather than being loyal to one fabricator.
That’s going to be a big hurt to fabricators who are used to customers
coming in or soliciting with local pricing.
This industry is going to continue to shift downward to the consumer
level. It’s going to keep shifting downward. The same way as when you
want Tide detergent—do you care what store you buy it from? It doesn’t
matter. You know the brand you want. And that’s where I hope the Guardian
brand is. “I don’t care which fabricator it is—I want that Guardian
horse.” That’s where I hope we’re going to end up. Or that’s the path
we’re leading to.
already starting to see larger suppliers market themselves to architects
as total solutions. We are beginning to see some of these companies
subcontract labor-only jobs. Do you think this is healthy for the industry?
RE: I think it will be healthy for
the industry but unhealthy for certain companies. These are companies
that won’t change or are too slow to change or don’t recognize change.
It’ll be negative for some companies.
Now, it’ll be good for the industry as consumers are more aware of
the use of glass and the innovation. With showers that are easier to
clean, you’re going to see all-glass bathrooms. You’re going to see
walls made out of glass instead of plasterboard and drywall. You’re
going to see a lot of glass products through innovation and marketing
and what have you. The business, the square footage, the tonnage of
glass is going to grow exponentially. But can the existing companies
you know handle it? I’m not sure.
mention that such changes could be unhealthy for some companies. Do
you see this helping Guardian in future acquisitions?
RE: First, I think the economics
of the past year were disastrous for the industry in general. When you
don’t build houses and cars, that’s 80- to 90-percent of the usage of
glass. You know how bad the companies were doing last year. Fortunately,
financially, Bill [Davidson] left us debt-free. The economy hurt us,
no doubt about it, but we weren’t in debt like the others.
USG: To back
up a bit, what areas of the world do you think possess the most growth
potential for the industry?
RE: Well, I’ll divide the world
into three parts. The first part is Western Europe and the U.S. Mature
markets, 20 kg of glass per person usage per year. You’d better have
innovation for that group if you’re going to do something there.
Then you’ve got Central Europe. It was under Communism, now they’re
free. The money’s coming down to the people finally, they’re buying
houses and cars, and they’re so close to Western Europe that they want
those advantages. They don’t want a Trabant; they want an Audi, or they
want a Mercedes. Now, that second part is maybe 8 to 12 kg of glass
per person, and that can still double in volume. As they get more money,
they’ll want more products.
Then you have the third part, the BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India
and China. India is about 3 kg per person. If they had the same wealth
as you and I in the United States, that country would have 100 float
lines. In a Western economy it takes 10 million people for a float line.
They’ve got a billion. There is tremendous growth to be had. It all
depends on how quickly the money gets down to the people and the country
gets roads and infrastructure and electricity and stuff like that.
So I see opportunity everywhere, but it’s different. In the U.S. and
Western Europe it’s got to be innovation, it’s got to be technology,
it’s got to be patentable stuff. The other part of the world, once again
Central Europe, they’re into laminated and tempered now—that’s old for
us, but it’s new for them. Then the rest of the world of underdeveloped
nations, they’re just happy to have some glass.
USG: What do you feel the U.S. glass industry does particularly
well compared to other countries around the globe? Or particularly poorly?
RE: When it comes to energy savings,
which is a hot topic, Europe is clearly first. The United States is
a sleepy second, I think. We’re just now getting to the solar and all
that; that’s been around Germany and Spain for a period of years. I
think most energy savings comes from Europe, but I think styling will
come from the U.S. Even a lot of American architects are in the Middle
East doing work in Dubai.
Now I’m talking about what’s inherent in our cultures, but if you talk
about the glass industry—what is the glass industry in the United States?
A lot of the traditional manufacturers have come and gone or are pulling
back from certain segments. What’s left?
You saw our place [Guardian’s research center]. It doesn’t have coaters—it
has developmental equipment because our tech center is right next to
the factory. In other companies they develop something and then they
throw it over the wall and say “go produce it.” We’ve married our groups
together. All developments are done on a production coater in a factory.
Now, we do test samples because we can’t shut the machine down all the
time, but there’s no production equipment in that tech center deliberately.
paint a rather bleak picture for glass manufacturers. If you had to
put your finger on one thing, what would you say is the biggest threat
to the glass industry as a whole?
RE: Some companies have had what
four, five presidents in the last 15 years? Others have just quit. These
people are employees and they have to show some results on their promotion.
They’re not in it for the long-term. When Bill Davidson was here he
wasn’t thinking tomorrow. He was always looking down the road. We have
never made short-term decisions, even though we may have made a few
more bucks. Glass plants go down into the ground 30 feet. They’re not
on trailers that you move, so you better do the right thing for the
That’s the beauty of not having debt, that’s the beauty of being a private
company, and that was the beauty of having an owner that’s worth millions.
USG: What about your customers? What do you think is the biggest
problem they’re facing?
RE: When you say our customers versus
customers in general … I’ve had people come in here and say “Russ, we
want to give you our business.” I may have been knocking on their door
for 20 years. We have had customers unsolicited come in and say, “we
want to give you business because we’re not sure whether our supplier
is going to be around …”
challenge we’ve been hearing about lately are the changes to regulations
and codes impacting glass. What’s your take on this?
codes are a good thing because it forces performance instead of bull.
Take low-E—if there weren’t a code for window glass and energy savings,
no one would buy it. You go to the Middle East and they’ve got their
doors open in department stores and the air conditioning is just flowing
out, they don’t care. So codes force, in this case, energy savings.
I’m all for codes.
Generally, though, the glass industry is weak when it comes to codes
because we throw stones at each other … We fight each other and then
the brick people come in and say, “okay, eliminate glass, that takes
care of the energy losses.”
do you see the architectural glass industry in 15 years?
consumer is going to pick which products he wants. The industry is shifting
from producer to fabricator to glazier and architect to consumer and
the consumer will be the king. If you go buy a tape measure and they
have one that says Acme and one that says Stanley and they’re the same
price, which one are you going to buy? Stanley. They may be made in
the same factory but you go for the name. I hope we’re going to be the
Stanley or the Nike or the horse.
© Copyright 2010 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.