Eclipsing Change

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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.

Eclipsing Change

The foundation for the five thrusts would be digital information. But each would start with no preconceptions about how the company should operate. The clean-sheet approach meant a serious examination of what the new company should change into—and what information systems were required to get there.

The result was a project called Eclipse—a transformation-tinged acronym standing for Earning Customer Loyalty through Integrated Processes and Systems Everywhere. The Eclipse project would wind up affecting every employee and every customer the company had.

When company executives walked out of the meeting to return to their jobs in the U.S. and overseas, the first and most important job was clear: educate key managers and employees on the importance and means of change. Prepare them.

Hudson says, "We linked arms and said, 'OK if we're going to do this, we have to do it according to best practice, and we have to understand all this stuff, because we can't expect everybody else to follow us if we don't understand it.'"

Hudson's team took courses, scheduled meetings and attended seminars. Among them were sessions with reengineering guru Dr. Michael Hammer at Enterprise Resource Planning. And it was there that the initial decisions became clear concerning the sweep of the organization that would be required.

"In a lot of companies, there are a few people who get into it [digital reengineering], and the rest are spectators," Hammer, who was coauthor of the business process redesign bible Reengineering the Corporation (HarperCollins, 1993), would later say. "At Brady, a larger fraction of the managers really got into it. It wasn't a handful trying to push it down the throats of the rest."

Turning heads around, as Hammer would put it, began in May 1999. Hudson and her executive team went after what they felt would be the most creative leadership they could find in the company.

"We turned to our best and brightest," Hudson says.

First on the list was Keith Kaczanowski, the vice president of business process development. He had come to Brady out of the University of Wisconsin as an accountant, and moved up through the company ranks over 22 years. He had experience in deploying the company's Pansophic system, which would give him a leg up on the technology his team would eventually be reviewing.

Kaczanowski had broad experience, most recently as general manager of the company's operations in Australia. But he had another qualification, in Hudson's eyes. He had a "wacky sense of humor."

That's a plus at the once-staid company. Hudson had worked consistently to get the company to loosen up. Before her arrival, the most revolutionary change at the company had been to allow employees to drink coffee at their desk. That tectonic shift for the company, founded in 1914, occurred in 1989.

On her first days on the job, Hudson wore a bright purple business suit and matching purple running shoes as an antidote to any gloom around her. She drives a 4x4 pickup truck and a license plate that reads "YO"—a constant reminder of her effort to change the company's culture from "no to yo." She's not afraid to be photographed with her executive team posing with Groucho Marx glasses on. The point: Excelling in making bar code products, die cut parts and identification systems of all types doesn't have to be boring.

This article was originally published on 2002-05-15
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