Crafting company culture at PCI

As Brian Greenplate walks the floor of his company, Precision Cut Industries, he takes time to personally address each employee, asking them about the pace of their work, their needs for the day or their upcoming holiday plans.

The president and CEO of the Conewago Township, Adams County-based manufacturer said he makes a point to know the names of all his 160 employees and to be acquainted with a bit of their background outside of the workplace. It’s more than just a point of pride for Greenplate – it’s what he considers one of the keys to the success of the company that does custom work for businesses around the country.

Brian Greenplate, president and CEO of Precision Cut Industries, watches as employees work on the floor of the Adams County-based manufacturing facility. (Photo Michael Yoder)

Greenplate said he’s proud of the size the company has grown to since he bought it in 2004, expanding to 100,000 square feet of space between three different buildings in an industrial park just west of Hanover. He’s proud of the equipment he’s put in place, including 13 large laser cutters that make everything from specialized parts for satellites to casings that hold glass plates for skyscrapers going up in New York City.

What Greenplate is most proud of is the team he’s built at PCI, calling his workers the company’s most valuable commodity and resource. And to capitalize on that resource, Greenplate has encouraged the development of a cohesive company culture of values and fundamentals that are more than just words on paper.

“The equipment’s there and you need that to do what we do, but I like to think our people are much more valuable than our equipment,” he said. “And with the people being our most valuable resource, how do we, all of us, myself included, behave in a way that helps create customer value as opposed to our equipment creating customer value?”

The PCI Way

When Greenplate, a former executive with West Manchester Township-based Voith Hydro Inc., decided to make the leap to owning and running his own company, PCI was just a small laser cutting operation operating since 1998 in the Penn Township Industrial Park east of Hanover. PCI had around 25 employees then, and was doing about $3 million annually in sales.

The Precision Cut industries headquarters on Ram Drive in Conewago Township, Adams County. (Photo Michael Yoder)

After relocating the company to Ram Drive on the west side of town, Greenplate began growing PCI. He took over a 30,000-square foot space that formerly housed a clothing manufacturer, and later acquired two more buildings. Steady growth through 2015 allowed him to purchase a Beltsville, Maryland-based metal manufacturer serving customers in the metro Washington, D.C. region.

By the close of 2019, PCI was looking at $32 million in annual sales and around 160 employees, and an annual growth rate of 15% to 20% over the last few years. He expects that growth to continue in 2020. PCI has become one of the largest laser-cutting companies on the East Coast.

“The manufacturing economy has been very strong, so we feel fortunate that we’ve been able to be part of that,” Greenplate said.

But PCI’s success runs deeper than a strong manufacturing economy, Greenplate pointed out. Just a few years ago, he felt like the company was stuck in its mindset and work culture, focusing on values like “quality,” “accountability” and “service excellence” without any plan to see them implemented.

Then he went to a meeting of a Central Pennsylvania chapter of Vistage, a peer mentoring organization where he heard a speaker talk about building company cultures and behaviors that support its values. He enlisted the help of the speaker to take a look at his company’s culture, bringing him in to help move the brainstorming process along more quickly.

PCI’s management team started writing down principles it wanted to highlight, coming up with 30 fundamentals it called “The PCI Way.” Those 30 fundamentals and six values are what drives its culture, emphasizing what’s important to the company and its employees, Greenplate says. “We wanted the behaviors to be actionable and what was important and means something to us.”

Each employee carries a card in their wallet listing The PCI Way principles. The first fundamental is “deliver world-class service,” stating that employees should “do the little things, as well as the big things, that surprise people and create the ‘WOW.’”

The second fundamental listed is “take extreme ownership,” encouraging employees to be resourceful, show initiative and do what is necessary to get the job done.

Greenplate said they focus on a different fundamental each week, with an email sent out to all employees describing the fundamental and its meaning for the company. Throughout the week, “team huddles” with department heads take place to talk about the fundamental and ways to implement it in the workplace.

At week 31, attention is turned back to the first fundamental and the process starts again.

“The values are important, but values on a wall are very different from actions we can take day-to-day, week-to-week about who we are,” Greenplate said. “We think the fundamentals are a key part of our growth and part of who we are and how we create value for our customers.”

New leaders selected for John Dame training

Ten up-and-coming executives in Central Pennsylvania have signed on for a leadership development program run by executive coach John Dame.

The program, dubbed the 10 New Leaders Project, offers participants 90 days of coaching by a coach from CEO peer group Vistage, as well as other opportunities to learn and network from established leaders.

The participants are:

  • Danielle Mariano, director of the bureau of budget and fiscal management in the Pennsylvania Department of Education
  • Joelle Shea, corporate communications manager for Gannett Fleming
  • Julie Walker, executive director of The Peyton Walker Foundation
  • Andy Shoop, controller at Advanced Powder Products
  • Kara Luzik Canale, vice president of chamber operations, Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC
  • Allan Mitchell, project engineer at KCI Technologies Inc.
  • Ettel Feinberg, manager of employee experience at U-GRO Learning Centres
  • James Scott, CEO of Team Scott Inspire
  • Luke Salter, account leader at Wenger Feeds
  • Christopher Boyd, account executive for Conexus

“Central Pennsylvania is rich in outstanding leadership, and these 10 participants are fine examples of what it means to be excellent leaders in the business market today,” Dame, founder of Dame Management Strategies, said in a statement.

In a new twist for the program, Dame plans to pair new participants with mentors who were past participants in the program. Participants also will be able to attend Dame’s Evolution Leadership Conference, slated for Oct. 8 at Spooky Nook Sports complex in Lancaster County.

Back to basics: Trust, open dialogue, mentorship keys to small-business success

A small-business leader must be a good listener while providing an environment where opportunities for mentorships can flourish and create a path for future leaders.

How do you foster mentorships and ensure you are listening to new ideas?

For some, it pays to have an open-door policy, step out of your comfort zone or react differently to how you are listening to employees at all levels of your company.

Building a sense of trust also goes a long way.

“Listening, for me, is a key core competency any leader must have,” said Andrew Plank, owner and president of Blue Eagle Logistics, a company that provides freight and warehousing services in Upper Macungie Township, near Allentown. “You need to have formal and informal processes in place to really hear what is going on in your business.”

Leaders need to hold formal daily or weekly meetings to review the business and raise concerns, Plank said. Just as importantly, take the advice of management guru Tom Peters in what he calls “managing by wandering around,” which he introduced to companies nationally in the 1970s.

“You need to be wandering the building to see people informally to see and hear … A simple ‘how’s it going?’ conversation starter can provide insights that people may not be comfortable sharing in a group environment,” Plank said.  “It takes both styles to listen and learn.”

Listening also requires patience.

Daniel Laws, principal of DaBrian Marketing Group in Reading, suggests leaders listen first and come back to the conversation later.

“I think in terms of listening to new ideas, it’s having people you trust and taking the time to understand before you respond,” Laws said. His firm employs 10 people.

Laws learned more about comprehensive listening during meetings at Vistage, a leadership peer program that he belongs to. Being part of that group allowed him to practice listening to understand, rather than listening to respond.

“You’ve gotten some practice, so you can leverage that practice,” he added.

Sharing ideas also is essential for growth. Without them, companies remain stagnant and fall behind.

“Your workforce is your product, if you are not sharing new and better ways to do things, you aren’t growing,” said David Saba, director of public relations for SWBR Inc. in Hanover Township, Northampton County. “We are always looking at everyone to bring new ideas to our attention.”

SWBR, a marketing and advertising firm that employs 20 people, encourages a culture where people want to bring forth ideas, said Ernie Thomas Stiegler, the firm’s director of business development.

Industries change all the time and leaders have to be ready to adapt. By participating in conferences, seminars and webinars, leaders and employees stay on top of new ideas and trends.

“Especially for senior staff members, you can get a little comfortable so it’s really important that you are educating yourself,” Stiegler said.

Open door is welcoming

For Juan Vidal, managing director of Offix Systems in Allentown, an open-door policy is the key to a healthy workforce, and it helps create an environment where people want to come to work.

Some companies where Vidal worked in the past believed that withholding knowledge gave a leader power. The opposite is true, Vidal said.

Creating a level of trust between leaders and employees and among co-workers allows them to feel comfortable sharing ideas.

“I’m a firm believer that the sharing of knowledge gives you more power and helps make you the best mentor,” Vidal said.

Ideas do not have to come only from the inside either.

Now in its 10th year in business, the owners and operators at The Knitter’s Edge in Bethlehem encourage fresh ideas from their staff, their customers and other local business owners.

It’s an approach that has worked well for the mother-and-daughter team that runs The Knitter’s Edge.

JoAnne Turcotte handles the more creative side of the business while her daughter, Amanda Evans, tackles the business end. The business employs 12 part-time workers.

They trust their employees to come forward with new ideas, often with no formal process.

“We also give them a lot of latitude,” Turcotte said. “I’m always willing to try new things. In here, I discovered over time, you don’t know ahead of time whether something will work.”

The small knitting shop offers about 30 classes a week and in a newsletter that goes out to about 8,000 people, the owners encourage their customers to send them ideas for new products, projects or classes.

They see mentorship running both ways. Turcotte and Evans work closely with local business owners by selling their products in the store, and collaborate with them on new product ideas. For example, the store works with a local yarn dyer and a local soap maker.

“We mentor with each other here and outside the company,” Turcotte said.

For Plank, whose company employs 28 locally, he’s also had some key mentors in his life.

“Sometimes I think they have found me,” Plank said. “I’ve been fortunate to have been exposed to some really good people who were willing to share their experiences.”