Volume 41, Issue 10 - October 2006

Job Well Done
The Glass Industry’s Global Ambassador Prepares to Bid Adieu
by Charles Cumpston

Pentti Salin, vice president of business development for Glaston Technologies, has announced he is retiring in March 2007. A highly visible participant in the globilization of the architectural glass industry during the last two decades, and an all-around good guy, he recently spoke with USGlass about the changes that have occurred in the industry, as well as what he sees for the future.

Q: Tell us about your career path. 

A: Following graduation from the Commercial College of Lappeenranta, I held a succession of posts of increasing responsibility at several companies, all in different industry segments. My first significant position was with the world’s third largest elevator and crane company, Kone Corp., where I was marketing manager and manager of a division for more than eight years, starting in 1977. This was a very international job that involved traveling all over the world. It gave me a firm basis for international business. Then came Tamglass where I started April 1, 1985. They offered me a job as area director for the Far East. For this, I lived in Singapore for about three years; then I moved to the United States as president of Tamglass America and in 1991 added the presidency of Tamglass Tempering Systems Inc., our American manufacturing unit. I spent ten wonderful years in the United States with Pittsburgh as my base. During the latter years there, I was also responsible for the Far East business and later all world sales for Tamglass, a post I held until the end of 2005. Now, I am responsible for the business development of Glaston Technologies (Tamglass and Bavelloni).

I have also been a board member of most of our group companies, including Tamglass and Bavelloni. 

Q: Your industry career has been very international. What are your reflections on the developments and evolution of the glass industry around the globe while you’ve been in the industry? 

A: There has been a very clear development in the basic (float) glass industry—bigger and bigger players, which means consolidation. I do expect this trend to continue and, in a few years time, the number of players will be reduced. The latest example is the NSG/Pilkington deal. 

China seems to follow this same pattern and potential overcapacity there will also be handled through consolidation, which allows for better control of production capacity. While quality consciousness has grown over the years, it has somewhat limited exports of Chinese glass. 

On the automotive side, replacement glass travels much more easily than architectural glass, meaning tougher competition in the automotive glass industry. It’s simple: automotive glass has its standard sizes and forms for each model, which allows any company anywhere in the world to produce it and ship in volumes. OEM glass is different, though, as the assembly plants have moved to shorter series and just-in-time batch deliveries. 

Architectural glass is, in most cases, individually [specified] by the architects and this keeps architectural glass fabrication more local. If you break a few pieces during the installation, you need to be able to replace them very quickly. You cannot afford to wait weeks for overseas deliveries. So, I expect glass fabrication to stay more local. Standard [commodity] products, however, such as tabletops, shelves, etc., are an exception; they travel across boarders internationally, as their production is based on big volumes. 

Q: Do you see more globilization of the industry ahead? In what ways? 

A: I do expect globalization to continue in the glass industry, as the trade barriers get lower and lower making it easy to import. This applies mostly to the float glass industry. It’s not the same with [fabricated glass], as local market knowledge and contacts play a bigger role. Good fabrication concepts, however, will be duplicated across borders.

Q: What differences are there in the industry in the areas you’ve been: The United States, Far East, South America, Europe? 

A: In the United States business is conducted in a more straight forward manner, players are more service-oriented and insulating glass, for example, is very much based on country-wide, standard sizes (for windows), which allows for high-volume production. 

In the Far East, it is necessary to separate Japan and China from the rest of the region. Japan has always been a closed market and has opened up only during the last five to ten years. High-quality orientation is, and has been, typical of the Japanese glass industry. This has guaranteed the path to quality suppliers from the outside. China seems to go overboard in building float capacity, as it has been doing in some other areas of the industry, as well. This affects pricing negatively. At the same time the quality of the glass produced is not going hand-in-hand with the production expansion. This does not mean that there are not quality products, just that there are still many products with quality that is lower than the international standards. The rest of the Far East is still in development stages with good growth potential. The whole area, except Japan, is blessed with fairly low labor costs, which give some advantage to local industries.

South America in general is developing, but, unfortunately, much depends on whether there is political stability or instability. There are always elections coming up and everybody waits to see the results before investing. In practice, very little changes, but the elections provide a good excuse to postpone investment. Friendship is the key in doing business with South Americans.

In Europe, you see very few companies spreading out to other countries, not counting the float manufacturers. This is also easy to understand; most European countries have their own languages, their own cultures—very different from each other—and these factors defend the idea of staying local or domestic. Europeans are much more appreciative of technological solutions, and also the quality of the products and services there is measured more carefully than in the other parts of the world. 

Q: What is the one thing that stands out most in your mind of the industry changes you’ve seen over the years?

A: The arrival of coated glass products (low-E) and their extremely fast growth. This forced us to make innovations in both the machinery and glass processing techniques, and has offered new earnings potential to glass producers and processors. Also, within the tempering process, the development of these coatings brought the importance of convection heating to a new level as a way to protect fragile coatings while, at the same time, decreasing the cycle times to increase capacity.

Q: What trends do you see in the industry? 

A: Consolidation, starting with the glass manufacturers and going vertically down to the glass processors. Also, the importance of capability and reliability in the equipment used, as well as the importance of fast and reliable service because of the need for shorter delivery times from the order to shipping. The same has also lead to better production control within the glass processing industry, opening up possibilities to suppliers with integrated lines and suitable software.

Q: What would you most like to change about the industry, if you could? 

A: As glass is so valuable and such an aesthetically beautiful product, the industry should price it accordingly. My overall concern has always been the profitability of the industry and this can only be achieved through a cost-effective operation and good pricing margins. This requires education and specialization and in this respect I have always recommended Glass Processing Days (GPD) as the learning and networking forum for all glass people.

Q: What is your most memorable experience in the industry? 

A: Many discussions with industry leaders stand out in my mind. However, I think the most memorable experience was the opening of our own manufacturing unit in Cinnaminson, N.J., and the warmth of the wishes we received from so many customers, suppliers and the press. This, coupled with the opportunity to work closely with so many professional people in our New Jersey operation and being able to turn that business together with these people, was a success story. I still feel great gratitude toward those wonderful people who worked hard with me on this achievement.

Q: What aspect of your job have you liked best? 

A: I have always been sales-oriented and having had the privilege to work internationally with so many different people from Europe to the Far East, from North America to Latin America and even in some parts of Africa has given me the greatest satisfaction.

Q: What least? 

A: Dishonesty, which, fortunately, I have very seldom met in this industry.

Q: Why did you decide to retire now? 

A: Certainly, the first factor is age and a need to reserve healthy (hopefully) years for some other activities. The other reason is that we all need to know when it is time to step aside and leave space for younger and more active people to show their capabilities. Naturally, it makes the retirement decision easier when things in the company are well in the post you have held.

Q: What are your plans? 

A: After March 1, I will take some time for myself in a warm place where I can enjoy some golfing and do some future planning for staying an active member of the “retiree’s club.” I have promised to join two or three boards in growth-oriented companies that want to expand their operations internationally, the area with which I am most familiar.

Q: What do you think you will miss most? 

A: This is easy to answer. I will miss many good business friends, both in the industry and also in the press. When you have met so many unforgettable people during a close to 22-year career, it is natural that you miss many of these people. I just hope that I will have an opportunity in the future to see as many of them as possible, including yourself, with whom I have had many memorable moments over the years.

Q: Do you have any advice that you’d like to pass along? 

A: Stay tuned to the new trends of the markets and their changing requirements. Don’t forget to invest in order to stay ahead of your competition in technology and do not forget the importance of customer service. Good service allows a company to stand out from the pack.

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