INC.'s guide to great company tours
The mere idea of a company tour conjures up images of staged performances on the shop floor, a smooth packaged jaunt put together by a public-relations professional who wants to lay bare the greatest company to hit the planet. No warts, no real workings. A waste of time.
But there are well-managed companies that open their doors regularly for business tourists to see and hear how they do what they do so well. They give tours of the company in action -- in-depth management tours. They aren't about what a company makes or sells but rather about how they train, service, market, manage, and lead. They let you into their business. Some even invite you to sit in on strategy meetings, chat with employees, and have lunch with the boss. We've tracked down six of the best genuine management tours, sure to give you ideas about improving your own business.
All this begs the question, why? Why would any CEO want to entertain hordes of America's most inquisitive managers? Sure, Ben & Jerry's Homemade may do it for a buck a head, but the rest of the tours we've chosen are free. Is it an ego trip to have curious people descend on your company? A marketing opportunity? An offbeat method of recruiting? Thousands of managers pass through these companies every year. That takes a lot of time and attention from the host. Just how many tuna sandwiches can Springfield Remanufacturing Center president Jack Stack eat with visitors?
Who knows? But before these companies change their minds, take advantage of it. So what are you waiting for? Get out of your chair, load up the car, and go on tour.
Company Globe Metallurgical Inc.
Location Corporate office in Cleveland, with plants in Beverly, Ohio, and Selma, Ala.
Telephone (216) 328-0145
Business Two hundred and fifty employees produce many tons of metal alloy a year in foundries that smelt mineral ores so smoothly, the company has a trophy case of quality awards to prove it. Winning the 1988 Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award catapulted this rock processor to the top of world executives' "must-see" list. Why? Wherever a mistake might slip through, an employee is committed to making sure it won't happen again.
Tour Capsule Typical visit begins with eight-minute video and hour-long slide show of Globe's do-it-once, do-it-right approach to operations.
On the plant tour, notice how Globe employees check for mistakes at each stage of the process. Track one lot of incoming iron ore, silica, and wood chips through the furnace and into its molten bath. See the slag come off the top and how chunks of alloy are refined to customer specifications, then packaged and labeled. Get a stunning education in metallurgy, and experience quality circles, statistical process control, and employee stock ownership plans brought to life.
Tour requests from customers are always honored. Others are considered, but only occasionally granted. Call in advance. Tell them we sent you.
Unpaid Tour Endorsement "They obviously have a quality program installed and operating. It's impressive how many different ways they can check the supply going through the plant. Everyone tries to make a good product. Sometimes you aren't really sure what your product should be until a customer complains about it -- a company keeps ordering it and so you keep shipping it. Globe isn't like that. They make sure you get exactly what you want. If you say you want 50% of this, they make sure it's not 5% one way or the other. There's so much going on at this company; we're learning as much as we can from them."
-- Sherman Quayle, maintenance superintendent
Cyprus Sierrita Corp., Greenvalley, Ariz.
THE GOLDEN RULE
Company The Lincoln Electric Co.
Telephone (216) 481-8100
Business Manufactures $700 million worth of arc-welding products and industrial electrical motors a year. In 1895 James Lincoln founded the company; in 1942 his brother John wrote the book Incentive Management, laying the foundation for flexible pay and employee involvement systems. Their theory of participatory management is based on the policy of no layoffs, piecework pay, and individual bonuses. This leader of employee involvement rated as a subject of a Managing People column in August 1988 ("Right from the Start,"). Seeing how Lincoln doles out dividends to shareholders, plans for the long term, and pays line employees on a par with middle managers comforts visiting execs jittery about their own employee-incentive programs.
Tour Capsule At 11:00 a.m., join 50 classmates for the day to learn how Lincoln Electric's incentive-management program works to improve customer service, marketing, and employee motivation.
After class, groups of six troop through the arc-welding machine and electrical motor plants, where assembly-line work dominates floor activity. Visitors are escorted by a "trainee" -- engineers or sales representatives with the company less than three years. They point out how mistakes are traced (everyone signs work) and why they're still using a time clock (it's the most efficient accounting method; employees voted for it). Regroup at the company cafeteria for a free lunch. After lunch, questions. Offered monthly.
Unpaid Tour Endorsement "The Lincoln philosophy boils down to the Golden Rule, but to see the lengths this company takes it is something. The employees on the advisory board must find their own replacement for the board meeting if they cannot attend. The peer pressure is incredible there! These employees are driving themselves. Nobody's out there with a whip, which is why it's not a sweatshop."
-- Paul Huber, CEO and president
Seco/Warwick Corp., Meadville, Pa.
AT YOUR SERVICE
Company Sewell Village Cadillac
Telephone (214) 944-2000
Business Carl Sewell's attention to customer service, repair shop, and showroom details have helped polish the sullied reputation of automobile dealers and the grimy standard of Detroit. Sewell Village Cadillac accounts for $100 million of his $240-million, five-dealership auto kingdom. "Caddy Shack" (May 1987) told how Sewell not only managed to turn his service center, a traditional loss leader, into a profit center, but earned some of the highest industry customer-satisfaction ratings doing it. Now managers from all walks of business life take the tour to see how Carl Sewell has translated customer service into increased sales.
Tour Capsule The tour begins when you step into the showroom, which wows even dealers who've been around the track a few times. Bask in the glow of three huge chandeliers twinkling above four Cadillacs to properly show off the detailing that makes these cars so expensive in the first place.
Chat with salespeople about their philosophy of commitment to customer service. Walk around to the service entrance, which boasts three lanes (no waiting) and plenty of attendants familiar with each car's history. Then look over the new-car "make-ready" shop. Take note of nonsmoking and smoking waiting rooms. Check out the antiseptically clean mechanical shop, spotless paint facility, and dust-free body shop, all boasting the latest technology. Save room for breakfast and lunch -- a local restaurant caters daily to a cafeteria used by Sewell Village employees and customers.
Unpaid Tour Endorsement "The company's relationship with employees is what makes the company a success. Employees there are truly committed to the image Sewell's trying to achieve. I talked with a few salespeople who told me their approach: 'Not everybody buys their Cadillac from us the first time around, but if they come here for service, they certainly will next time.' "
-- Ronald Johnston, general manager
Brown's Honda City, Baltimore
Company Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc.
Location Waterbury, Vt., 25 miles from Burlington
Telephone (802) 244-6957
Business With an iconoclastic marketing style, this company makes and sells $60 million of superpremium ice cream a year. It was enough to land victorious rebels Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield on INC.'s July 1988 cover, "The Bad Boys of American Business." Everything the company does -- from turning its manufacturing facilities into Vermont's second-largest tourist attraction to loudly priding itself on its financial investment in its 315 employees, the environment, and ethical business activism -- reinforces the marketing effort.
Tour Capsule The quintessential marketing tour. Reasons president and CEO Fred "Chico" Lager, "I went on the Hershey tour when I was a kid and became a customer for life." The 30-minute tour begins with a 10-minute slide show. Tour the factory and learn about plant hygiene, the recycling program, the 1% for Peace Organization, and the company's first public offering, made only to Vermonters to benefit the community. See real good ice cream being made . . . and taste it. Last year the plant saw 170,000 visitors. In the summer, tours begin every 15 minutes. Charge: $1. Picture-taking allowed. Gift shop. No billboards along the highway. Bring a map.
Unpaid Tour Endorsement "In most companies like this, the factory would be stripped away to the bare essentials of the process of making ice cream, and it would be boring. This tour unveils a whole culture the visitors learn about. People don't go because they want to see ice cream being made. They want to see their favorite ice-cream company. The tour maintains the entertainment value of the delight associated with ice cream while stressing the hygienic quality of the product. We love free spirits like Ben and Jerry, but we don't like it if they mess up our food. Ben and Jerry prove they can be responsible free spirits. Customers come away learning these guys aren't just bucking the corporate image but are creating a new one."
-- Paul Hawken, CEO, Smith & Hawken, a mail-order
distributor of gardening supplies, Mill Valley, Calif.
THE GREAT GAME OF BUSINESS
Company Springfield Remanufacturing Center Corp. (SRC)
Location Springfield, Mo.
Telephone (417) 862-3501
Business Here, 475 financially savvy employees rebuild $50 million worth of auto and truck engines a year. President Jack Stack keeps his employees motivated by keeping them informed about the company's finances. He makes reaching profit goals a game -- the "Great Game of Business," we called it in "The Turnaround" (August 1986). The company's balance sheet serves as the game's scorecard. Today managers from across the country come to see how Stack motivates employees to improve his company's bottom line.
Tour Capsule Stack tries to greet all visitors. Pull up a chair and sit in on the 9:00 a.m. Wednesday meeting, when 25 production employees from every department crowd into the conference room. Listen to them analyze goals and projections. Watch them tally the past two weeks' score and calculate the odds for the coming weeks. Then pair up with an employee and take a tour of the plant. Chat with workers about what they think of the Great Game of Business, and how they play it on the floor.
Company finances are out in the open; it's hard to be too nosy. Groups are limited to six. Sometimes visitors can shoot the business breeze with Stack and crew at an informal lunch. Real numbers used.
Unpaid Tour Endorsement "I was struck by how many people were in a meeting that would normally be reserved for the five or six key managers. The people doing the work are involved financially here at the highest levels.
"We walked in and saw 42 written on the middle of a bulletin board. I asked a woman in charge of fuel-injection rebuilding what it meant. 'That's what it costs the company per minute per employee when an employee isn't working,' she said. 'Multiply 42 by 60 minutes and it's $25.20 per hour.' Now, she probably earns $8 an hour, so I asked, 'Do you feel you're carrying the rest of the organization because they charge $25 per hour but only pay you $8?' 'No,' she said, 'there are other things that matter besides making a product, like selling, shipping, accounting. The number is on the board so employees will know that time equals money and so meetings will be kept short and the day'll be productive.' "
-- Bob Miller, acting general manager
DRG Plastics Inc., Union, Mo.
Company Quad/Graphics Inc.
Location Pewaukee, Wis., 20 miles from Milwaukee
Telephone (414) 246-9200
Business Long before the miserable education levels of employees became the popular gripe for business executives, Harry Quadracci, CEO of $375-million Quad/Graphics, was pioneering what was to become one of the most admired employee education programs in the country. Last year 162 volunteer teachers at Quad's printing plants taught more than 70 courses for a total of 62,000 hours of class time. (We chronicled Quadracci's efforts in December 1986.)
Tour Capsule Quad hospitality hooks visitors up with line employees. Tell your guide what you want to learn about. Then take free run of the cavernous plant floor to see the Quad work/education ethic in action. On Saturdays sit in on a class and see how employees train, support, and lead one another on their own unpaid time on topics ranging from press operations to improving interview skills.
After class stroll out to scenic Camp Quad to peek in on an Outward Boundtype trust exercise. Employees lead one another blindfolded around the woods. Have a bite to eat in the new 24-hour cafeteria in the Sussex plant.
Unpaid Tour Endorsement "I was impressed with how they integrate new employees into the teams that operate the presses. All the training is done on unpaid time. Instructors aren't paid. I asked, 'What's the cost per student?' and the education teacher said, 'A buck and a half.' It's amazing. The people are highly invested in the company emotionally. Their training curriculum is pretty heavily operations and technology oriented. That makes sense when you see how capital intensive the [printing] business is. They do a good job hammering home what they expect of the employee."
-- James Duffy, manager of employee development
Applied Materials Inc., Santa Clara, Calif.