[M]Power Spotlight: Sean Stack of Aleris talks ownership
This is the second of the [M]Power Interview Series, highlighting the manufacturing leaders that will be featured at the [M]Power Manufacturing Assembly this Sept. 30 in Akron. A special thank you to Fathom Digital Marketing for their help!
It is no coincidence that manufacturing has continually been a driving force of Northeast Ohio’s economy. As Aleris CEO Sean Stack says, “it has that fabric, that DNA” of a strong manufacturing base. His enthusiasm for the NEO manufacturing landscape will be developed further during his keynote speech at the [M]Power event on September 30th.
Since becoming CEO of Aleris in July, Stack now has more opportunity than ever in ensuring that it continues to grow in a positive direction. There are several details he believes are integral to this—the first is their location in Northeast Ohio, the second is a culture of safety & accountability, and the third is following the zeitgeist of sustainability.
Speaking with the passion of someone who clearly feels that manufacturing is his vocation, Stack shared his thoughts on the industry during an interview on September 3rd.
VG: What topics were you planning on speaking about in your keynote at [M]Power and what do you hope the attendees will get out speech?
SS: The main focus will be how to drive ownership in a manufacturing organization. We have a major focus here on what our customers think. We want to be known in the industry as the best quality service and delivery and that’s really where you have to win at the customer level. The main enabler of all of that is best-in-class manufacturing practices and winning on the shop floor.
It’s about building the processes and having the training people need at their disposal. It’s about empowerment and whether employees feel like they ‘own it.’ They need to really feel like they’re having an impact and know that what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis has an impact every quarter and every year. VG: What excites you about speaking at [M]POWER? Is there anything specific that you want to learn or you feel you will gain from attending and speaking at [M]Power?
SS: It’s a great opportunity for me in my new role as the CEO to get out into the Northeast Ohio marketplace and get to know more of the manufacturers. We’ve also got a lot of exciting things going on at Aleris. So I want to make sure the community hears that from me and sees where we’re taking the company and the effects that we’re making.
[I hope they] see us as not only a robust competitor but also as another company that has a lot of experience and can be a resource for other manufacturers in terms of global growth. This includes regional growth as well, in terms of driving what we consider to be world class manufacturing capabilities.
VG: Can you tell us a little bit about your background in manufacturing?
SS: I originally started out as banker working with industrial steel companies [with] a very strong focus in metals and mining. I wanted to be in the corporate manufacturing world and moved to a food manufacturing company.
That took me to an opportunity here in Northeast Ohio in the specialty chemical area where I was part of a new management team, which gave me 4 years in the specialty chemical business. Then, ultimately, that business was sold to Lubrizol.
In 2004, our former CEO Steve Demetriou, myself, and a few others took the opportunity to create and develop Aleris.
VG: In the years that you’ve spent in the manufacturing industry, what are the most important or influential changes you've seen that are affecting manufacturing now?
SS: First and foremost—and this really came to light in the specialty chemical business—the environmental and safety standards that are required to be in this industry. Translating that into what we’ve done right here in Aleris has really helped transition our company into adopting word class safety and environmental standards. Overall, how you make sustainability impact your bottom line is very important for us and for our industry. I think we’ve been one of the leaders in driving that. A lot of others have followed along because they’ve seen our success.
VG: Is there anything about manufacturing in Northeast Ohio that attracted you to this area? You could’ve been located anywhere in the world, why did you pick Northeast Ohio and is there anything that excites you about the manufacturing environment here?
SS: When we formed Aleris in 2004, we had one company headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky and one company that was headquartered in Dallas, Texas. The new management team thought that moving the company’s headquarters out of one of those two regions was an important part of really changing the culture.
Northeast Ohio has a long tradition of manufacturing. You have a very good talent pool both in terms of manufacturing leadership but also the people that can get into our plants and make a difference.
In Uhrichsville, outside Canton, we’ve got one of our largest facilities. It is one of the most successful manufacturing plants we have in the company.
It’s had long-standing leadership, a long-standing employee base, and a tremendous amount of engagement with the employee base on the shop floor. Today, it is one of the most efficient aluminum mills in the world. So, that’s a good testament to Northeast Ohio, that it has that fabric, that DNA, in terms of the culture. It was really built on the back of a strong manufacturing base.
VG: You have been CEO of Aleris since July. What have you learned in that time?
SS: When our manufacturing people go home and they think to themselves whether they had a good day, I want them to be able to articulate what it was they did to drive that good day. I want to make sure that can translate all the way out to the accountability I have with my board. Ownership from the CEO down to the shop floor is a big part of what I’m trying to do.
[Making sure that] that we are putting the right culture [in place] for our employees, [maintaining] the right level of employee engagement, and building the right culture where people feel like they have an impact on our performance, and also feel like the company is moving in the right direction.
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