Virtual Rebuilding

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Brady Corporation CEO Katherine Hudson knew that before she overhauled the "high performance" label-making company she had to look at the people who ran the operation first.

Virtual Rebuilding

Brady might be the leader in producing labels that actually dissipate heat in electronic devices in some cases, and laminate themselves in others. But the lack of communication between systems could hog-tie the company. Brady officials worried that the Internet would bring a host of new, smaller and faster competitors. In truth, the company had bought most of the smaller U.S. label makers and now only went head-to-head with Accuform Sign of Brooksville, Fla. However, Brady wanted to be the leading label provider in the world, not just North America.

Its clientele, including such growing global brands as abrasive and adhesive distributor R.S. Hughes, maintenance supplies distributor W.W. Grainger and electrical and communications equipment supplier Gray-bar Electric Co., would want a ready source of supply as they moved into Asian and Latin American markets.

But transforming a conservative manufacturing concern was a major undertaking. The task: understanding and refashioning nearly 1,300-1,400 business processes—from configuring discounts to distributors, to unifying price lists in different global jurisdictions, to paying for raw materials, to processing orders over a Web site.

The ground-up overhaul meant examining how Brady's 3,000 employees did their jobs, from the factory floor to marketing and management, a virtual rebuilding of the very foundations of the company. And the whole process needed to occur without a day of downtime.

The company allotted $30 million for consultants, training, software and equipment. Not chump change for a company of its size.

But the near-doubling of the company's size since 1994 revealed the technological vulnerabilities of its 19 different existing database, transaction and file-serving systems used in Asia, Australia, Europe, the United Kingdom and the U.S., as well as the 10-year-old Pansophic Resource Management System it used to figure out how to operate.

The platforms didn't talk to each other. The company could not even tell what a single customer bought from all of Brady's different divisions, because each subsidiary had its own sales tracking system.

Brady's Seton Brazil plant in São Paulo, Brazil, didn't necessarily know when Brady's Imtec plant in Keene, N.H., was sending label application and lamination products to the same multi-national corporation in the U.S. And customers also were overwhelmed with a mélange of discounts, prices and inconsistencies such as multiple identification numbers for the same products.

It became clear, Hudson says, "that we had to be much more customer-focused than we are. And to be customer-focused, we needed much more information about our customers."

The discussions at the American Club also would make the company focus on its top line and bottom line. The revenue goal: 15% growth a year. The profit goal: better than that. And Brady would pursue such consistent double-digit growth through five efforts: Process Improvement, Electronic Business, Market Driven Growth, Proprietary Products and Acquisitions.

This article was originally published on 2002-05-15
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