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The Next 100 Years
Marehisa “Mark” Ishiko was named president and CEO of AGC
Glass Company North America in June 2010. Now, just two years later, he
has an optimistic outlook for the future—and major growth plans for the
Alpharetta, Ga.-based company. A native of Japan, Ishiko has been with
parent company Asahi Glass for 30 years and has worked all over the world,
including Japan, Europe and now North America. Ishiko recently took the
time to sit down for an exclusive interview with USGlass magazine
about his history, his hopes for the future and the North American architectural
glass market. Serge Martin, vice president of building products, was also
present and contributed to the interview.
USG: Can you tell me a little bit about where you grew
MI: I was born in Nagoya, the fourth largest city in Japan. My mother’s
house is around 20 miles from Nagoya. I graduated from Yokahama National
University in 1982, where I had specialized in chemical engineering. After
graduating, I joined AGC the same year—30 years ago. I first worked as
an engineer for the automotive glass division in Japan. I supported the
new technology process and advanced process and quality improvement group.
I moved to Europe in 1991. AGC was constructing a new automotive glass
plant in Belgium, and I was the chief engineer over this project. We stayed
in Belgium for five years where I continued to supervise production, technology
and operations. I then returned to Japan in 1996 and in 2000, I moved
to the AGC headquarters in Tokyo as director of our Japan/Asia-Pacific
automotive business. In 2007, I became the regional president of automotive
business in Japan/Asia-Pacific. Just three years ago, I moved to the flat
glass division. And in the middle of 2009, I took over both auto and flat
glass when I became the regional president of the glass business in Japan/Asia-Pacific.
In 2010, I came here to the United States and I became president and CEO
of AGC Glass Company North America. I also serve as a senior executive
for the global AGC Group. I have a long, long history at AGC from 1982
to now, so this is my career [chuckles].
USG: What differences have you seen since moving from
automotive to flat glass?
MI: In automotive, the customer is very demanding. The demands of
the automakers in Japan [Honda, Nissan and Toyota] are very exact. They
want quality, they want service—they want everything. The challenge to
meet or exceed these demands also provides great opportunity.
USG: Did you always want to work in the glass industry?
How did you end up at AGC?
MI: I was highly specialized in the field of chemical engineering.
When I discussed the future with my professor, AGC was a company that
was highly recommended, which is the reason I chose to work for AGC. USG:
Is there anything you’ve found that we in North America can learn from
the other regions? MI: Each division is different. Europe is in a very
tough position today, as an economic crisis is happening there, and our
market is shrinking. It’s a very difficult situation. In the U.S., the
worst is over. We had an economic crisis in 2008, 2009 and 2010 also.
Last year, in Japan, we had a very big earthquake and tsunami, and customer
demand will increase for the next year or two, but this market is limited.
In China, Thailand and Indonesia, now construction is booming. Of course,
China is slower but still very big, so we can grow the market.
USG: You took over in the midst of an economic downturn
in the United States. Has this affected the way you lead the company?
MI: I understand the economic situation in the United States is very
tough but we can see the market recovery. I expect further growth in the
U.S.market. The population of America is around 300 million people. The
population increases by approximately 3 million people every year and
three million people is a huge number, yes? … The biggest city in Japan
is Tokyo and the second is Yokahama, which is around 3 million, so every
year a [new] Yokahama city appears in the U.S. This is a very big opportunity
for us. That’s the reason why I expect very big growth and faster growth
of the market in the U.S. in the coming years. This is my expectation
and, at the same time, we have to meet our customers’ requirements—capacity,
quality and also products. For the past five or six years we’ve had the
same strategy in order to meet the market situation and customer requirements.
The peak of glass consumption was 2007. After that, we had to shrink our
operations in order to match market demands. In 2007, we had eight float
furnaces in North America. Now, just three furnaces remain in North America.
It is expected that the market will grow, so we have to expand capacity
and we have to upgrade our equipment in order to meet customers’ requirements.
We have changed our strategy completely toward growth. This is now our
challenge for North America.
USG: What are your specific goals for AGC in the North
MI: We are changing to become a solution provider, by not only providing
glass but also by providing solutions for customers. This is a very big
change for us and this is the basis of our “Beyond Glass” approach. We
have very advanced integration for environmental issues, C02, emission
reductions and energy savings so we can provide a solution to the customer.
This will be our focus for our future business.
USG: The primary manufacturers typically have each been
known by a particular person or face in the North American market. AGC
has not always had this—is there a reason?
MI: AGC is a public company governed by a board of directors; therefore,
one person does not control the company. We are a global company. Providing
good quality, good services and good technology does not depend on the
visibility of one person. It depends on the corporate strategy and corporate
division. We have a very good corporate strategy all over the world. We
work based on this strategy. Our goal is to work together as a team and
to remain focused on the needs of our customers.
USG: There’s been a large debate about what a primary
manufacturer’s role should be—whether it should create value-added glass
or whether that should be the fabricator’s role. Where does AGC fit in?
MI: We are strongly convinced the role comes from both primary and
fabrication and from proper synergies between the two, whether it’s through
our internal fabrication group, or our network of external fabricators.
We really think our strengths in primary and fabrication are complementary.
We don’t think there should be any conflict between primary [manufacturers]
and fabricators …
USG: What do you see as the biggest problems facing your
MI: Clearly the economy and where the market is heading is a challenge
for customers across the industry. Even though we see the market recovering,
if the economy stalls it’s a concern that is very visible to our customers.
There is a big opportunity in the North American market to focus on more
value-added products. This includes selling the value of the glass in
the building and comparing to the other construction materials how glass
brings value. I think it applies to the primary side and all of our customers
as well. In terms of creativity and approach to the market, there is an
opportunity for the industry to reinvent itself and part of that can be
quality. There is still room to open the eyes of the final customer to
the quality of the glass product and to differentiate more on quality
USG: There are a number of companies that have closed
or filed for bankruptcy in recent months and years. How do you deal with
that when those are your customers that unfortunately are closing their
MI: On the one hand, we need to protect AGC in terms of credit risk
like any company does and we do that in a way that is fair to the customer
and fair to the market. So far we’ve proven to have a very good track
record in making the right decisions. We do our due diligence there and
work with our customers to identify problems before they become too severe.
That’s one piece. The other piece is that we have customers we’ve worked
with for years and, within the framework of what we can do within our
credit policy, we’ve tried to help them and support them as much as we
can. We understand that market situations are temporary as well. We try
everything we can, and not just in terms of credit—it can be in terms
of marketing support, it can be in terms of new products, it can be in
terms of a collaborative sales effort —to support our loyal and strategic
customers in those difficult times. It’s trying more to make them healthy
and sustainable, because credit only goes so far as it can go. It’s been
a concern for all glassmakers, and it’s a concern for AGC. I suspect we’ll
see the end of it during this winter and after that we should not see
any major shakeout in the market, at least at the customer level.
USG: Where do you see the architectural glass industry
ten years from now? What changes do you expect?
MI: I think the markets will continue to grow and also value-added
product requirements will be bigger and bigger, especially with Energy
Star under evaluation. The [criteria] is going to be more restrictive.
I think the trend will be continued and the demand will increase. We also
are going to see a continued shift in terms of quality … We definitely
are going to see a shift toward a product with a longer and better life
expectancy (see related story on page 34) and better quality right from
the moment of delivery. This is a place where the North American industry
can catch up. It’s an opportunity for those who will get on board first,
but definitely in the next ten years this is something we should see happening
more widely in the industry.
USG: One challenge we hear a lot about is the impact
of codes and regulations on the glass industry. Do you see this as a problem
for the industry? What do you think is the solution?
MI: If those codes and regulations and programs are based on good
science they will be beneficial to the industry and the end user. They
need to be based on good science and fair to all the players in the country.
If they are on a fair basis, it can only lead to progress. But it has
to be demonstrated that they are cost-effective and environmentally effective.
They cannot come out of the blue from some target numbers that don’t rely
on good science. We’re not challenging the need or opportunity of such
codes and regulations, we’re just saying they need to be well designed.
Then they will be a real asset to the glass industry.
USG: What do you think the industry most needs now?
MI: I don’t think the industry needs anything to come from the outside.
It’s more up to the industry to be bold enough to reinvent itself, to
get out of the whole paradigm of how the industry was just driven by volume
and capacity. It’s more of a change of mindset in the industry and focusing
on the value that can be created in the industry. \
USG: What are your thoughts on the economic recovery
in terms of both the commercial and residential markets? What do you think
is ahead for 2013?
MI: If you look at previous cycles of recession and recovery, it follows
the same order. That’s what we are seeing today as well. The recovery
in automotive comes first, residential second and commercial third. Our
take is that residential has begun to improve—slowly, but it’s starting
to take off and commercial should follow a few months later. And, as we
have seen, automotive has recovered to a certain degree already in terms
of volume. We clearly see that there are signs of improvements on the
residential side with housing starts. Right now, commercial, and I’d say
at the fabrication level, is more of an unsettled market more due to the
dynamics of the players than a result of demand. We see the demand in
the market as reasonably stable and somewhat flat for now. We think residential
is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and we think commercial
is seeing the bottom of the market. Some segments such as institutional,
especially in an election year, are not doing too well …
USG: Product-wise, where do you expect the industry to
head in the future? What do you think will be the next big trend?
MI: Clearly, the current step is the next generation of high-performance
coatings. AGC will be introducing these coatings very soon, and that’s
also driven and relating to the codes as we were discussing before. That’s
a very straightforward one and we should see [this] across the industry
soon. Then there are surface 4 products and trends are moving more toward
triple-glazing or other technologies with lower U-values and better insulating
units. Vacuum insulating glazing (VIG) will take more time to be mature,
but that trend will continue. Another growing trend we consider to have
good potential is dynamic glazing, but before it becomes a mass product
it’s going to take a certain amount of time. Maybe there we’re talking
about two or three code revisions before it really gets support or traction
in the market. Certainly daylighting is a trend that is also playing a
role in all this. It’s again more of a question of system and architectural
design than specifically about primary or even fabricated glass product.
It’s how you put together your building design, so that has to go through
the entire cycle of architect awareness, training in new façade designs,
and [be] implemented in buildings. We must make sure that we do not force
an architect into having to comply with a limited set of numbers such
as a U-value, visible light transmission and solar heat gain because that
can limit them into just picking one product and staying with the same
design. We like the approach LEED has taken to look at a more overall
design of the building. This can drive toward the use of more glass in
the building and better uses of glass …
USG: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
MI: We are changing now. We are committed to North America—including
[bringing] value-added products to the market; [and] to continue providing
quality products and services. And we are sure we can contribute to our
customers and to society in the U.S.
USG: Thank you for your time.
MI: Thank you.
Penny Stacey is the editor of USGlass magazine. She can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://penny.usglassmag.com,
follow her on Twitter @USGlass, and like USGlass Magazine on Facebook
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