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January 08 www.bus-ex.com 31 Thermafi ber Thermafi ber, along with other subsidiaries, was sold to the fi rst of four private equity groups. Edris has been with Thermafi ber for 21 years, joining the Wabash facility in 1986 as a multi-faceted project engineer handling process improvements in the plant. “We didn’t specifi cally have design or mechanical engineers, we did it all.” From there he was transferred to a USG plant in Texas as engineering manager, then to USG’s ceiling tile plant in Minnesota, then to Belgium where USG was constructing a ceiling tile plant, and he trained employees on operating the equipment. Returning to the States, he was promoted to technical manager for USG’s mineral wool plants. When Thermafi ber was sold to the fi rst private equity fi rm, he was transferred to the Tacoma, Washington facility as plant manager. After the second acquisition, Edris was made vice-president of manufacturing for its fi ve mineral wool plants. In 2002 he become president, and began refocusing the company’s core competencies. “We used to be heavy in the residential insulation market, which is a tough, commodity-driven sector, where you need to be a low-cost provider. We decided to get out of that business and eventually closed or sold all facilities except for Wabash, consolidating the remaining portion of the business into one plant with 140 employees. We began concentrating on the niche markets, a strategy that’s proven successful. He found working with private equity fi rms to be interesting, to say the least. “Each ownership group has its own ideas about what they want to do with so-called distressed companies; the fi rst two wanted us to make products for any application, which spread us too thin. Then we were distressed.” The third fi rm had a better grasp of the industry, which improved Thermafi ber’s bottom line, and the fourth (Altus Capital Partners) which came on board this past summer, is wisely giving Edris and his team more reign, and currently the company is doing quite well, exporting to Canada, Mexico, the Far East, Europe and the Middle East, especially Dubai, where development is occurring at a ferocious velocity. “Despite managing all the changes of the last decade or so,” says Edris, “we’re trying to stay focused on what we’re best at, and continually improve our processes and the company. In the construction insulation industry we’re a small player, but our brand is known globally for being thoroughly tested with high quality standards, and our customer service has a good reputation for providing solutions. We get calls from architects, for example, to see if we can make custom products for them, which we’ll do.” The facility operates 24/7 and runs to order, not to stock; inventory turns are high for both raw material and fi nished goods; 42 key measurable elements are tracked and reported on monthly. “It’s an ISO-like, documented, process improvement, business management system; tweaking processes to eek out a few more tons of product. Our employees have done a tremendous job getting a lot out of the equipment, so our success is a real testament to them.” He also appreciates the collaborative effort of 30-plus years’ suppliers, such as The Levy Company, Beemsterboer, Arclin and many others, constantly offering ideas on effi ciency and streamlining costs of raw materials. As the green, sustainable construction wave gains momentum, as builders use more effi cient materials with more recycled components, to build structures that consume less energy, the demand for mineral wool insulation is bound to increase, and Edris wants Thermafi ber to be able to meet that demand without straining. Already this product is being used in many LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certifi ed buildings in the US, and the future for Thermafi ber is looking assured. “Our employees have done a tremendous job getting a lot out of the equipment, so our success is a real testament to them”

32 www.bus-ex.com January 08 As befits a firm of engineering, environmental and scientific consultants, Jacques Whitford is committed to sustainability and to the development of its people. CEO Bob Youden explains to Martin Ashcroft why it’s good business all round Goodbusiness