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
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
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
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
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
AGRR: Has Guardian taken any steps
on the automotive side to combat the current economic conditions in the
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.
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
–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
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.
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