Volume 10, Issue 2 - March/April 2008

Honest and Truly Green
Step Inside Bend, Ore.-based GlasWeld 
by Debra Levy

"How do you respond to people who thought that you were crazy when you first started in the auto glass business?”

It’s a question that brings no denial or consternation from Mike Boyle, the president of GlasWeld in Bend, Ore.

“I had fresh ideas and I asked a lot of questions,” he says, smiling. “If you are not in the right environment to do those things, it can kill you. I needed to be tough, which I was, and not back off, which I didn’t.”

Boyle had just joined GlasWeld in 2000 and burst onto the national repair scene when he made a presentation at the 2004 National Windshield Repair Association’s (NWRA’s) annual convention. He made his debut in a memorable speech that challenged the status quo.

“When you are new to any industry, you don’t have perspective. You also don’t have pre-conceived notions about how things work. I looked at the glass industry very differently than a lot of people,” Boyle said during a visit to his offices late last year. “I was amazed and disappointed by it. It is very, very politically driven, very selfish. So I asked a lot of challenging questions. This led some people to ask ‘who is this person and why is he rocking the boat?’”

“I had some fresh ideas about things,” he continues. “I believe this can be an admirable industry where people can be proud of what they do. No one had heard that before and it rankled some people. One trade association even had me investigated unfairly. They later apologized and retracted their investigation.”

So was Boyle’s reputation as a rebel-rouser well deserved?

“No,” he says. “I believe in candor. I love [former GE president] Jack Welsh’s style of management. I speak my mind because I want change. You have to identify a problem to change it. This industry had problems and needed some dialogue around them.”

How Boyle came to work at GlasWeld is a series of coincidences culminating in a confluence worthy of Horatio Alger. “After going to school in Lake Tahoe, I moved to Southern California and ran a ski and boat company,” he recounts. “We had a great shop—water ski equipment and ski boats and tournament ski boats. We reinvented that industry back there.”

“I did that for a long time, then my wife, Lori, had a family tragedy and really wanted to be closer to her mom in Bend. We moved and I started Talkpad—a notebook computer that uses voice recognition to drive it. This was all just before the Internet bubble burst. Then it did burst and that market changed. I took some time off. I coached baseball—won a state championship. It was a Cinderella story.”

Could This Be Kismet?
What happened next is what Boyle calls his kismet moment.

“I had purchased this new van and noticed as I was leaving the lot that there was a chip in the windshield. I returned to the dealer and was told a repair was possible,” he says. “I did not know about repair, nor was I interested. The service manager explained the safety role of a windshield and said that he could repair with a full warranty. ‘Yeah, right,’ I thought. That was my first experience with repair. The dealer told me that [General Motors] would not be responsible for the roof strength if the glass was replaced and I had it repaired using the GlasWeld system. I was amazed at the results.” Then Boyle found out the company was headquartered right in Bend.

So Boyle got out of coaching baseball and went in to talk to GlasWeld. He started working as a sales consultant for the company in 2000 and became president in 2003. 

GlasWeld had been around the industry for more than 25 years (see box on below), and though Boyle says it was immature as a company when he joined up, he thought it had all the ingredients necessary to be a great one. “Our windshield repair system had such value to the consumer, yet no one knew about it,” he says. “We also had a scratch removal product that was under-utilized. Our products had a great reputation but we weren’t taking advantage of it. I was beating my head against the wall for awhile.” 

“When I took over as president and CEO, I decided we were going to do whatever we had to do to become the market leader,” he continues. One of the first things the new GlasWeld did was re-brand itself. “We had a slightly comical branding initiative that just didn’t fit with the idea of quality. A brand is like an iceberg—you only see the tip of it. We refocused seriously on quality and service. I don’t think there’s another company in the world that offers the service we offer,” he says.

The efforts led to rapid growth for GlasWeld. Today, its products are used in every state and 50 countries including all of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. And Boyle is no longer considered the industry’s loose cannon. Instead, he’s worked hard to become its conscience.

“Training is the most important thing we provide,” he offers. “Customers buy both the system and the training, but the system is nothing without proper training. We focus on quality. Everything we offer, except for two items, is made in the United States. All our machinery is made here and nothing is manufactured offshore.”

When Ignorance Isn’t Bliss
The answers come easily when asked what surprises him most about the AGRR business. “Ignorance and the lack of understanding,” he says. “The value of the technology we have to offer the consumer is amazing. I fly 150,000 miles a year and have never sat next to anyone who understood glass repair. In fact, most people I’ve met who’ve had it done have been dissatisfied … They either had it done a long time ago or didn’t have their expectations properly set.”

He continues, “There’s been very little commitment to innovation and science by this industry. Windshield repair was considered a necessary evil … The glass industry doesn’t understand the great service that repair provides.”

You can sense Boyle’s frustration growing as he expands on the topic when asked about the challenges the industry and his company face. “There’s been very little commitment to innovation and science by our industry. Repair has been considered just a necessary evil and little more,” he says. “The replacement glass industry doesn’t understand the tremendous service repair provides.”

“The biggest challenge the repair industry has is informing and educating its customers and consumers as to the value of our products and services. It doesn’t do me any good if the customer does not get a good return on his investment. Our biggest contribution to them is returning their investment. With the right effort the customer can get a far better return out of us now than ever before,” he adds. “Controlling growth is our company’s biggest challenge, and that’s a good one to have. And we have some non-traditional ethical conditions that challenge us occasionally.”

Boyle is referring to the hands-off ownership of GlasWeld by shareholders. “My responsibility is to the shareholders, the employees and the customers,” he says. “It took awhile for me to understand the values that are important to our owners, but we work it through with candor and an understanding of the company’s long-range goals.”

Boyle’s quest to become an effective leader led him through some painful “moments of truth,” though.

Moments of Truth
“When I became president, we had a policy of appeasement,” he says. “Decisions were made for their consensus value. This meant most people in the company didn’t know where anyone stood or what they believed in. I called all the employees together in a room with a chalkboard and asked them to tell me everything they didn’t like about the company. Remember, I’d worked there for a few years at that point. Fifteen employees stayed. We filled two flip charts full.”

What employees asked Boyle for was more help in understanding GlasWeld’s long-range goals. And then there was the kicker. “It’s too much about you and not enough about us,” they told him. “It doesn’t matter whether they were right or not,” says Boyle, “because this is the way they felt. They cannot be wrong in their feelings.”

“My first impulse was to fire back at them,” says Boyle, “but I kept it in check.” Instead he worked against type. “That day changed me forever. I learned I had to make changes in order for us to grow. I learned to surround myself with people who are better than me. Delegating is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I did it, and with it raised our standards of quality.”

GlasWeld uses the processes set out in the Malcolm Baldridge Quality Awards program to run the company. Going for the GreenBoyle feels that GlasWeld’s green initiative is the next logical step in the company’s growth. Environmental stewardship is also a personal issue for him. His green initiative has affected every single part of the company. On this point, Boyle is adamant: being green requires a seismic shift in how companies operate. “Being green, really green, involves way more than just recycling paper,” he declares.

“We started by conducting an energy audit and moved forward from there. We changed everything—the energy we buy, the transportation we take. We will be a paperless office in six months,” he says. “We want to have a substantial impact on decreasing the carbon footprint of this industry.”

“We, as the glass repair industry, need to provide more education. People think auto glass can be recycled, but it can be only in very limited cases. There’s a glass company near us that drops 12 tons of broken glass a week,” he says. GlasWeld uses the polar bear as the symbol of its green initiative. Boyle says that every time he researched global climate change in preparation for the green initiative, the plight of the polar bear was in the forefront. 

“We are watching them become extinct before our eyes because the ice they live on is melting. Polar bears can swim up to 60 miles before they begin to drown, and they are drowning everyday. 

The landmasses they used to walk on have melted,” he says. “Five years ago, I would have kicked myself out of the building for talking like this. It sounds too left-wing liberal to me. But this is an initiative that the glass repair industry must embrace. We can coalesce around it. Being green has made GlasWeld more profitable. It can make the whole industry more profitable as well. That’s the great side benefit,” he says. (For what you can do, see box below.)

Boyle admits that there has been some backlash against the company’s efforts. “We’ve had a few customers who sent letters telling us they are not getting on the green bandwagon—just a few,” he says.

Boyle’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by the glass industry. He chairs the Green Committee of the NWRA and has spoken on the subject at the group’s annual convention. Yet he feels the glass industry, as a whole, particularly those in replacement, does not fully understand the benefits of such an initiative.

“The glass industry is very skeptical. The repair community is out in front on this. I’m wildly optimistic about the future of this effort. It’s a real paradigm shift,” he adds. “It’s our legacy.

”Legacy is something that has been on Boyle’s mind since he burst into the business 9 years ago. “I’ve mellowed and learned what’s important,” he says. “The glass industry is a cookie with some big nuts sprinkled in. For a while, I was one of the nuts. But I’m not anymore.” 

Round the Bend
Located in Central Oregon at the eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains, Bend is a hidden treasure of the Northwest with a fast-growing population of just less than 80,000. Bend is noted for its scenic setting, year-round recreational activities and growing economy. At an elevation of 3,625 feet, the city covers 32 square miles. It offers world-class skiing, a delightful downtown and great vistas from every location. 

Bend has attracted Californians and other Silicone Valley-ites with its pristine air, wide-open spaces and beautiful view of the mountains. In addition to GlasWeld, both Cardinal Industries and JELD-WEN, a window manufacturer, operate plants there. “Almost every Cardinal plant uses our scratch removal system,” says GlasWeld president Mike Boyle. —DL

Easy Being Green
GlasWeld spent months putting its green initiative in place. The staff there offers the following advice to companies trying to begin their own programs:

  1. Start small. Trying to go green all at once is like trying to eat an elephant. Take one step at a time.
  2. Investigate some of the credits available to your company. There are tax credits available for certain credits and green energy credits that can be bought.
  3. Recycle. Paper is an obvious material for recycling, but there are tons of other products used by companies that can be recycled. Printer cartridges, packing materials (GlasWeld shreds packing foam and reuses it) and glass all can be recycled.
  4. Do a paper audit. Ask yourself “do I really need to print these?” Most information is available in the computer system so printing may not be necessary.
  5. Conduct an energy audit. Most local utilities will come in and show you where you are wasting energy and provide ideas for improvement.
  6. Ask questions. Include environmental considerations when purchasing new equipment. Give each choice an environmental rating just as you would an efficiency rating.
  7. Check the fleet. Encourage or provide incentives for employees to carpool or take mass transportation. Choose hybrid or fuel-efficient vehicle models for your company’s own fleet.
  8. Repair. Repair glass, rather than replace it, whenever possible.
  9. Do the basics. Shut off computers at night and don’t plug a phone charger in unless the cell phone is charging. These are big energy-wasters.
  10. Spread it around. Ask your vendors, your customers and your employees what they are doing to become green.

A Company History
GlasWeld was founded by a Novus licensee named Hap Alexander, who expanded on what he had learned at Novus to develop new proprietary products beginning in 1978. Together with his son, Von Alexander, and son-in-law, Thomas Spoo, he founded GlasWeld five years later. 

In 1986, GlasWeld developed the industry’s first tinted resin for auto glass repair. According to GlasWeld, tinted resins allowed windshield repair technicians to have good results when repairing certain types of damage. For example, GlasWeld’s website says its gray-tinted resin was developed for repairing star breaks, because its color hides the reflectivity of this kind of break.

The company is also a supplier of repair equipment and a scratch removal system called G Force. GlasWeld also offers extensive training on its equipment, which today is used around the globe.

Debra Levy is the publisher of AGRR magazine.

© Copyright 2008 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.