Volume 49, Issue 3 - March 2014

First-Year Fast Tracker

Wausau’s New President Sets an Ambitious Agenda for His First 12 Months
by Debra Levy

Jim Waldron first comes across as the type of guy you would definitely want on your team: strong worker, team player and all that of course. But spend a bit of time with him and you’ll soon forget about wanting him onboard the team. Focused, analytical and driven, you’ll soon come to realize you want him instead to lead the team.

Tapped just about a year ago by Apogee CEO Joe Puishys to lead Wausau Window and Wall Systems, the 50-year old senior executive sat down with USGlass in November to discuss his new job venture and what he thinks of the glass and metal business thus far. Speaking with Waldron was USGlass magazine publisher Debra Levy.\


Q—You have been in the building products arena for quite a while. Can you give us an idea of your background?
A—I spent a number of years at Metal Sales Manufacturing Corp. It’s a $300 million company that makes metal products—roofing, siding and the like for the commercial construction market. Before that, I was with the Timken Company for more than 22 years. They make steel products. I also served as president of a joint venture between Timken and two Japanese companies.

Q—So what made you decide to leave Metal Sales?
A—Well, I was looking for the next opportunity and I was obviously aware of where Joe [Puishys] was. So I decided to take a look at Wausau and it worked out.

Q—Sounds too easy to be true. Has anything surprised you so far?
A—Honestly, the strength of the team I inherited was a wonderful surprise. They made me want to be part of the company. It wasn’t an easy decision, though, as my son is in high school and it’s hard to uproot kids at that age. But we made the decision to move even though he was in high school. That was a concern.

Q—How is he doing since the move?
A—Everything’s been great. My son even came home a few days after he started school and said “Dad, there’s something I need to tell you. These are the nicest people I have ever met.”

Q—Now not long after you started, Apogee acquired Custom Window. That move was generally hailed a very good strategic one. What led to that purchase?
A—You know, when we acquired Custom Window, the outgoing owner said we were acquiring an incredible team. Everyone I interviewed there bore that out. They talked about their company culture and their high regard for values. The owner was right.

Q—You know there’s a lot of concern about losing Custom Window from the marketplace and the decrease in the number of suppliers in that niche. Do you think this fear is valid?
A—I read the comments; I hear the talk. Perceptions are funny. People tell me their biggest fear is that we are going to “Wausau-ize” Custom Window. Well, we are only in one sense. We are going to keep the best of both worlds. Custom had a “can do” mentality. I want to keep that. We want to keep the Custom Window that customers love and combine it with the stability and reliability of Wausau.
Their true divided lite is very unique. We didn’t believe what they did was possible. We met as a group and had a 180 degree transition.

Q—How did the deal come about? Did you reach out to Custom Window or did they contact you?
A—We initiated the discussion. Dave [outgoing owner David Gann] and I had lunch and he told me it was time for him to move to the next phase in his life and for the company. Then we sat down to see if such an acquisition made sense and it did. The whole process took 45 days.

Q—Your boss, Joe Puishys, has made no secret of that fact that Apogee is looking to grow through acquisitions … A—Yes, through acquisitions and organically. Our attitude toward growth is focused on both the organic and inorganic. We are looking for companies that are a good fit for us and make sense.

Q—[laughs] So is that the message that you want to leave with our readers?
A—[laughs] Well a bit. But even more importantly, I would like contract glaziers to know that we are eager to partner with them, to build strong relationships. We are eager to bring Wausau’s value proposition to them.

Q—Since we are talking about contract glaziers, I have to ask you about one of the most common concerns I hear about and that is long lead times—particularly long lead times by companies such as Wausau. Do you think this will be an issue in the future?
A—It’s no secret that the entire industry is moving to shorter and shorter lead times. We know customers need it faster, and we know what happens when product is not delivered on time.
Wausau has always been a company that leveled with its customers about lead times. The customer may not have liked what we said, but we tell the customer the real timeline and not just what the customer wants to hear. Now, with that said, I will also say that we have, and continue to pick up jobs, that our competitors can’t meet schedule-wise and we do.

Q—One of the other things contract glaziers worry about is fairness. If you are quoting me, are you going to quote the guy down the street—who you like doing business with—the same. Or are you going to give him a price advantage?
A—We provide transparency. I think that’s important. There are times when we will make a commitment and partner with one company. Usually if we are partnered in the development of the job then we stay partnered. But we are transparent about it and don’t bid others. If it’s a generic project and open to all, we are careful that we are fair to everyone.

Q—I will hit you with another one I often hear, and that is this: that Wausau gives preferential pricing to Harmon because both entities are owned by Apogee. Is there any truth to this perception?
A—No. Wausau operates an independent business and we do our own thing. Never has Joe or anyone else related called us and asked us how we bid. We treat Harmon as just another subcontractor. That probably doesn’t feel that great to them, but that’s the way it is.

Q—Sounds like you hope to accomplish a lot very quickly. By what criteria will you measure your own success? A—First, I focus on meeting the customers’ needs. I want customers to be saying that Wausau is the company they want to work with. I want customers to feel comfortable enough to say, “Jim, we want to work with you, but here are the barriers.” And then we will try to overcome those barriers. Then, I focus on financial success. That is easy to measure; it’s all in black and white.
We can’t give it away, of course, but we are doing a lot to become an even stronger partner. We are pulling the front-end together and having sales, estimating and engineering working together as one team.

Q—I know Wausau is also in the process introducing a number of new products. How is that going?
A—We have really moved ahead in innovation. We have some excellent new products especially in the area of protective glazing, which will help people in tornados and hurricanes and to meet blast-resistant requirements. I’d love to take the credit for them, but they were started before I arrived. They do speak to how we are creating new products with the right materials that meet new needs.

Q—Where do you see the future of new product development?
A—In energy efficiency and efficient products. You know aluminum is very recyclable and has a great future in the right segments.

Q—You’ve put quite a tall order upon yourself in your first year.
A—Yes, but it’s fun.

And I think I covered all the bases. Q—Thank you. A—Thank you.

Debra Levy is publisher of USGlass magazine. Follow her on Twitter @keycomm and read her blog on Mondays at http://deblog.usglassmag.com.

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