No Time For The Timid
by Russell J. Ebeid
Editor’s Note: the following is the transcript of Mr. Ebeid’s
keynote address given at the 12th Glass Performance Days (GPD) on June
17. Ebeid’s “farewell address” to the industry (see box below) includes
a number of interesting insights.
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the future, a future
that will be completely different from the past, rapid change in work
practices, the way we communicate and the tools we use. The global relevance
of advancement takes place even in remote parts of the planet. Change
comes fast and furious in a world of information, choices, challenges
We are not immune from change in the glass industry and that is what we
will discuss today. We’ll look at changes in the major players, the structure
of our industry and the impact of globalization. We will look at industry
leadership and the evolution that is going on throughout the world. There
will be an opportunity to ask the question that always arises with major
change—what business are we really in? Who is king—the industry or the
consumer? Finally, we will talk about the new tools used to communicate
and conduct business in the future. This will be filtered through why
today is different than previous eras of upheaval.
If we do it correctly, our time will allow us to challenge each other
to be at the forefront of change. Here in Tampere, we can ignite inspiration
and innovation and touch projects and people in Beijing, Berlin, Boston
What does change mean to this industry? These occasions make us smarter
and more integral to the markets we serve if we are visionary instead
of reactionary. We should drive change that impacts our business rather
than just let it happen to us. We must provide leadership and clarity
in meeting the needs of a changing world. The people gathered here are
responsible for change in their companies. So I challenged you to adopt
the title to my speech; this is no time for the timid. This is a time
for the bold.
Since I have been involved in this industry for 41 years this is not a
passing fancy of mine. It is not even my first visit to Finland. I have
learned previously that the saunas are warm and the lakes are cold. Nor
is this my first GPD. I had the pleasure to address this prestigious forum
in 1999 and again in 2007. Since this is my last opportunity to speak
as president of the Guardian Glass Group (Editor’s Note: Ebeid is set
to retire this September; see May 2011 USGlass, page 50) to this assembly
of experts, I would like to build on the themes of my previous speeches.
Let us examine how these predictions have held up under the ravages of
time and rapid change.
The types of adjustments predicted back in 1999 and revisited in 2007
seem to be self-evident today. The perceived wisdom of hindsight is that
everyone saw what was coming. The smart money in 1999 was the “dot.coms;”
Internet companies that didn’t manufacture anything but had high stock
In those days, industry producers were dominant and customers took the
products they could get. The industry was dominated by a handful of large
companies centered in traditional markets. A calendar, rather than a stopwatch,
measured the pace of change. Technology was stodgy and coatings a novelty.
Entire regions of the world imported their glass. At the 1999 GPD, I took
the liberty of making forecasts on the realities of the day and suggested
we were in for big changes and trends in entirely new directions.
While it seems quaint today, almost like another century, instead it was
just over a decade ago. At the GPD in 2007, I asked the attendees to grade
my forecasts, confident that a glassmaker would fare better than economists.
By then we had seen the industry’s shift from producer to user with enhanced
products that every company needed to stay in the game. We saw that a
company’s size did not predict profitability or market value. It was clear
then that the group of global glass players would consist of Japanese,
French, American and, soon, Chinese companies. The clockspeed of our industry
accelerated and technology and innovation was found throughout the world.
Coatings kept opening new frontiers of applications and we had reason
to be optimistic about serving new markets. Indeed we were starting to
think of ourselves as an energy conglomerate rather than a traditional
By the glasstec of 2008, the economic forecasts had turned cloudy and
ill winds blew into most parts of the world, stalling growth and chilling
projects around the globe with economic stormy weather. While some regions
stayed sunny, most endured turbulence and are just now seeing signs of
growth. The rapid change of the past two years has carried gloom as well
as promise depending on your point of view. As always, more lessons are
learned in hard times rather than good times.
In challenging times and rapid change, companies must be smart, nimble
and wise, focusing on their customer’s needs. It is not the time to be
hesitant or timid—it is an opportunity to prune for future growth. It
is time to have the best people. It is time to be the best at what you
do and make sure your customers know it. Paradoxically, during such challenges
it is judicious to identify new opportunities that build upon your core
strengths and use new technologies and tools. Whatever your chosen road
map for moving ahead, there remains the core reality of the glass industry
today. Do you continue to follow a commodity strategy of vanilla products
and compete on price—or do you pursue the model of adding value for your
products and services at an enhanced price? These latter attributes allow
you to survive and flourish.
Remember, iPads are
not a panacea. Facebook won’t fix a faulty strategic plan and Twitter
can’t tweak a furnace in need of reir.
The global nature of the glass industry continues to reveal itself. The
representatives here are from all over the world and the GPD now has conferences
in India and China. Recently we participated in GPD technical sessions
in Shanghai because the growing uses of coatings are being embraced and
enhanced in the Asian region. Infrastructure investments proliferate in
these new economies and the emerging middle class clamor for the beauty
and elegance of glass that range from interior home furnishings to consumer
electronics. Capital market maturity allows smoother adjustments to the
demands of international economic activities as the glass industry in
China continues to evolve at a rapid pace with consolidation paving the
way for national champions and the emergence of a global player.
In India, the industry continues to emerge. The subcontinent has both
global, as well as local players. Similar to China, the infrastructure
investments continue to increase in major cities throughout the country.
India recently has expressed a desire to commence a solar industry, suggesting
new opportunities for industry players.
A trend discussed in 2007 was the emergence of processors in developing
countries. Traditionally, distributors served many of these markets. While
they provided a service, they added little to its value. Increasingly,
processors have emerged, flourished and helped create a domestic glass
industry—a force that increased value and demanded better processees,
systems and products. We witness this phenomenon in Asia, Latin America
and the Middle East.
In the same speech we forecasted that in Europe these trends would be
to the East and to the South. There are many increasingly sophisticated
fabricators in Russia, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and elsewhere
in the region. They bring a broader base of new products and are closer
to the end consumer. In North America, these changes were driven by acquisition
and consolidation strategies that were exposed by the Great Recession
of 2009. Companies that had taken on debt in pursuit of bigger purchasing
power were ill-equipped to survive the financial storm. Many prominent
names are now memories and buried beneath the banner of history.
Guardian Glass president Russ Ebeid commanded the Glass
Performance Days (GPD) stage on June 17 as he closed the keynote addresses
that took place over the course of the day. After a presentation that
had the entire hall silent, Ebeid added “a personal message.” There
was a pause as he explained to the audience, “About two years ago
I lost my boss, my mentor, and a friend of 39 years, Bill Davidson.”
He proceeded to explain that with the change in leadership to a very
capable 5-member board with more than 147 years of experience, “Now
it is the time for me to step aside to the next level of management.”
Ebeid added, “I always thought good business could only follow if
you have a good personal relationship with your customers,” and thanked
his rapt audience for just that. The audience replied with a standing
ovation that one might say lasted for four days as quotes from Ebeid’s
talk remained on many lips during the event’s duration. For many,
Ebeid’s presentation and official announcement of his retirement this
coming September was a highlight of the event.
It is not just the names of companies that are changing; the leadership
of this business is undergoing transition depending on the culture of
the firm, the depth of their personnel and the nature of succession planning.
In 2007, I was joined on the dais by the presidents of three other firms.
None of these gentlemen were with their companies a year later. While
there are a variety of leadership styles and management theories, there
is no substitute for ambitious, self-motivated people who aren’t afraid
to take risks and learn from their mistakes. Remember, iPads are not a
panacea. Facebook won’t fix a faulty strategic plan and Twitter can’t
tweak a furnace in need of repair. Only people can assess a situation,
evaluate the data and act in a timely and decisive manner.
The primary role of leadership is to promote change and to anticipate
the opportunities, resources, technologies and timeliness required. During
the Great Recession, the best companies focused on finding new products
and services to differentiate their offerings. Others focused on debt
Glass is becoming more elegant and sophisticated rather than merely a
“see-through” product. Consider your smartphone or iPad in the latest
electronic devices. Visit the new landmarks of the world like the Burj
Khalifa or the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Ride in an automobile that
has a panoramic sunroof with intelligent photovoltaics that look stylish.
Over the next few days in your technical sessions, innovation should be
a key topic. The consumer is willing to pay an attractive price for items
they consider prestigious. In the past, this industry has done itself
a distinct disservice as it has kept the focus on commodity pricing and
purchasing agents. It is time for us to reinvent ourselves. This may seem
disingenuous since glassmaking has been around for a thousand years but
during transitional times even history needs to meet challenges.
You have heard the veritable story about the transition from the horse
and carriage to the automobile. Companies didn’t make it because they
remained in the horse and buggy industry. Others flourished because they
realized they were in the transportation industry. The crossroad is similar
for us today as we contemplate the mantra of who we are and how we work.
We know that industry alone cannot ensure that energy-efficient products
become the product of choice. It takes knowledgeable consumers who make
responsible decisions and governments who make it a matter of national
public priority. We have seen this before in the case of safety glass,
insulating glass or low-E glass. Government drives product acceptance.
The price of fossil fuels demand government implement higher requirements
for energy policies. The world has changed and the stakes are high. Industry
is responding by using nanotechnology and other advancements to provide
superior performance. We encourage government to adopt them and industry
to deliver them.
But government directives are not enough. They must be enforced with code
regulation and inspection. In the U.S., low-emissivity glass began as
a high cost feature with less than a 5-percent acceptance rate. Today,
because of concern about energy independence, all windows are mandated
by a tougher code. That grew the business for all.
We could talk about solar and other technologies that are being explored,
developed and applied. There are solar technical conferences just about
every other week. I am sure the technical details will be discussed in
workshops here so we will leave that topic for you to unpack over the
next couple of days. This is an area that gives strength to the assertion
that we are in the green energy business and need to think larger than
In the past, this industry
has done itself a distinct disservice as it has kept the focus on commodity
pricing and purchasing agents. It is time for us to reinvent ourselves.
Consumer is King
The devices that tether you to your office while you are in Finland make
the point even more strongly. The tools have changed; the communication
is constant and interactive, and increasingly similar to high tech. We
now operate in an era where companies use new tools to address the reputation
of their brands, products and services. We can access the wisdom of consumers
and their interest in our value proposition. Customers and prospects have
an instantaneous platform for their ideas, experiences and knowledge about
us. The nature of decision-making has evolved rapidly and with impressive
strength, connecting professionals to each other, and changing the dynamics
of customer, management, marketing and communications relationships. Today’s
global environment is a vast network of seamlessly connected devices with
nearly one billion people connected to the Internet and four billion mobile
phones. More than four hundred million people are sharing billions of
pieces of content and experiences each week via online exchanges.
This means the consumer increasingly is king and will demand preferred
brands in the most basic of products. It happened long ago with gasoline
and more recently with coffee. Now that we have moved along the continuum
from commodity thinking to value-added glass, the next era will be one
of brands marked by performance and customer service. The companies that
comprehend that aspect will be the winners of the future.
I trust that you will ponder the comments of today and take advantage
of opportunities to make a difference.
Russell J. Ebeid is president of Guardian Glass Group
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No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.