Q&A: Wabash National's Dick Giromini
June 2014, TruckingInfo.com - WebXclusive
HDT: Wabash net income in the first quarter
was up significantly over a year ago -- $7.3 million vs. $5.7 million. To what do you attribute that gain?
Giromini: It was really everything coming together. We had gained a lot of momentum through 2012 and 2013. We've continued with that momentum into 2014. When you have a good plan, and you have good people, and have a high level of focus and you execute to the plan it all comes together. And that's what's happening for our organization. The recent acquisition of the Walker Group business was a key to the success we've had over the past couple of years. It leapfrogged us forward in our strategic plan to become a more diversified industrial manufacturer.
HDT: Speaking of Walker, how would you characterize the company's acquisition strategy? Are you looking for more or do you feel you pretty well have the market covered at this point?
Giromini: We'll continue to look at strategic opportunities to provide improved services and products for our customers. We'll continue to be good stewards of the business and be selective. We will not acquire for the sake of acquisition; we will not diversify for diversification's sake.
We want to assure that the decisions we make are sound decisions that fit our long-term strategy for the company and that they are truly strategic acquisitions, meaning we're not like private equity who acquire with intention to dispose of the asset three, four or five years later. When we look to acquire it’s critical that it provides long-term benefit as part of the company, and that's how we viewed the Walker Group acquisition. It met all the criteria we had established to improve our business for the long term. We're excited that they're part of the family.
The Wabash XD-35 can carry steel coils like a flatbed one way, typical dry van freight on another leg of the trip.
HDT: Where do you believe Wabash really excels? What are its biggest strengths?
Giromini: Clearly we excel in innovation and continuous improvement and they really go hand in hand. No one else can claim the history of innovative leadership Wabash National has delivered, going back to aluminum plate trailers. Even something as simple as the ID/Auxiliary stop light system that improves safety for trailers and for people following. Innovation is truly a part of our being.
HDT: What areas do you feel the company could improve in?
Giromini: Every organization can improve and certainly we're no exception. The recession of 2008-2009 was very challenging. Coming out of it was equally challenging, as we were faced with quickly having to ramp up to support growing demand. And we didn't do as good a job for our customers during that time as we would have liked to. … As a result, inconsistency in the quality of the products we were producing led to some disappointment among some customers. We worked through that and as our workforce gained efficiency, we now have processes in place to avoid that in the future. One thing we know in this industry is we'll be up and down, and you have to be good through the ups and good through the downs.
HDT: You recently were part of a panel at the Forbes Reinventing America Summit called "Made in America: Inside the Next Manufacturing Revolution," on how to get manufacturing really going again in the U.S. What were some of your insights and suggestions on this topic?
Giromini: From my perspective, innovation is clearly the lead. The U.S. has always prided itself on being leaders in innovation. That continues to be key for us here.
I think education is an area that we certainly need to continue the increased focus that recently has been occurring. And it’s not just on the national level that gets all the press; it's on the local level. We in our local communities can do so much more to engage with local leaders and educators to help guide them to provide the type of training and education that is so needed to address the skills gap that many manufacturers will tell you is growing more serious.
Here in the Lafayette, Ind., community, Wabash National has partnered in support of the Read to Succeed initiative that's been in place now for three years. Volunteers from businesses and individuals around the community volunteer to go into the classroom and work with children who need additional attention and support. They read to those children and have those children read back to them.
HDT: Will we ever see manufacturing in this country as big as it once was?
Giromini: That's difficult to say. We're currently being provided the best opportunity in years, and that's the increased availability of lower cost energy. It can't be stated strongly enough how much benefit that will have since, for so many manufacturers, as raw materials and components depend on energy as the input. This is going to help make U.S. manufacturing more cost competitive on a global level.
I'm very bullish on the future of manufacturing here in the U.S., and we saw and heard some of that at the Forbes conference.
HDT: I understand at another recent event you talked about what it takes for a company like Wabash to lead in a global economy. What are those keys?
Giromini: I really think it comes down to the four Ps: people, product, performance and passion. First and foremost you have to engage – you’re your workforce, suppliers, community, and environment. You have to be involved, you have to make it known that they matter. And assure an environment of trust, respect and integrity.
The second is you have to diversify, make sure your business is not overly dependent on a narrow range of products. One-trick ponies only get by for a while. When times are good, just about everybody's successful. When times are bad, only those who have recognized the challenge you can face during downturns can truly be successful.
Differentiate. Assure that each of your products differentiates itself in the market it serves. Innovate and innovate some more.
Support your customer. Understand his business and his needs. Always give him your very best. Quality first and quantity second. You have to make sure doing business with you is the very best experience for that customer. If your customer is successful, likely you will be too.
Be prepared. You have to know your market, study the trends, you have to anticipate, and you have to have a backup plan.
Finally and most important is passion. You have to have passion for what you do. So many times, folks will say that they really don't enjoy what they do, and they're the ones that don't succeed.
Richard Giromini joined Wabash National in 2002 as senior vice president and COO. He has a BS in mechanical and industrial engineering.