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Innovation, Leadership Key To Future Competitiveness Of Glass Industry

Aug 18, 2007
The challenge for companies in the glass making business, especially those with significant resources and financial strength, is to differentiate themselves by developing and introducing new profit opportunities for their customers, something that can be done by meeting the requirements of the industries we serve as well as anticipating future trends and demands.

Already we are witness to an evolution of new coatings, films, polymers, chemistry, and glass patterns. But this challenge also includes our customers, who are creating new applications to create more value and demand for glass from the ultimate consumer.

This style of competition will require a redefinition of strategy to one of making the most of an opportunity rather than one of increasing market share or size.

To reap a disproportionate share of potential profits, business must have a more diverse set of competencies. Those who say - that's the way it is - will never have a future because what got you "here" will not get you "there." And since people change only when they have to, their minds, like parachutes, only work when they are open.

For this reason, management's attention must be expanded from day-to-day operations to a different course of direction. Decisive managers should not be buried in policies and procedures that hinder them from using their creative talents to address an opportunity.

While innovation can accelerate the pace, it can only partially determine the direction. Technology must be harnessed; it will never be a substitute for leadership that prefers action to rhetoric. The scarcest resource of all is time. The temptation is to reset the clock, but we cannot. Nature is the timekeeper and winning boils down to desire and effort more so than skill and experience.

Merely restructuring the current business model will not handle these consumer-driven technologies, nor can they be affected by administrative decree. Foresight must be matched with field execution. While the stakes are high, the financial health of a company depends on its role in creating tomorrow's markets.

Since consumers lack such foresight, it will be our collective duty to lead the public to the future. Twenty years ago, few consumers would have asked for cell phones, Internet access, global positioning systems or iPods. This is magnified by the fact that the average person today has access to more information on their BlackBerry or other smart phone than existed in the entire world just 40 years ago.

If we stand back from the rigors of daily business and take a distant view, we can witness the gestation phase of a new industry being born within the traditional glass industry. Creative glass manufacturers are spearheading this rebirth by trying to differentiate themselves not only from other domestic suppliers but also to shield themselves from less expensive commodity imports.

In the past, glass products were merely a "see through" item. Now glass is becoming ever more integral to our lives. This remarkable material, with its incredible combination of function, beauty and strength, is enriching contemporary life and we are fortunate that the core essence of our business lends itself to so many innovations.

In the coming age of a myriad of new products these innovations will have both a feature as well as a functional orientation. Consequently the marketing of these products will be more focused on the demanding desires of the end consumer rather than the competitive nature of purchasing agents. This will shift the business model to one where profit margins will be proportional to the creativity, knowledge, and ambition of marketing and sales personnel rather than the traditional cost-plus structure. This, in essence, is today's new playing field.

This situation may also provide a competitive advantage for large global glassmakers even as we see a proliferation of regional players. While size alone does not create a sustainable advantage, it does provide necessary financial resources to nurture and develop new technologies. It also provides the operating leverage, stamina, and global presence to bring them to market. At the same time, it can be a double-edged sword: large, bureaucratic organizations not in sync with the market tend to lose the correct balance between research and manufacturing capability. And while small companies may not afford the technological research, big companies must decide on the direction of technology as well as the protection of their intellectual property.

Guardian is a diversified global manufacturing company headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan, with leading positions in float glass, fabricated glass products, fiberglass insulation and other building materials for commercial, residential and automotive markets. Through its Science & Technology Center, Guardian is at the forefront of innovation including development of high performance glass coatings and other advanced products. Guardian, its subsidiaries and affiliates employ 19,000 people and operate facilities throughout North America, Europe, South America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
About the Author
Guardian is a diversified global manufacturing company headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan, with leading positions in float glass, fabricated glass products, fiberglass insulation and other building materials for commercial, residential and automotive markets.
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