CEO Gary Vroman of Ladish Co. in Cudahy talks about his thoughts on the future of Ladish. Ladish has given their employees a profit sharing bonus because of a good year last year. January 27, 2011. (Credit Photo @ Milwaukee Journal Sentinel )
It has the world’s largest counterblow hammer, which releases 1 million pounds of energy with every blow, and the world’s largest isothermal press, which makes aircraft engine parts for companies such as Rolls-Royce and General Electric Co. A century old, Ladish Co. specializes in handling exotic materials, such as titanium, and can make forgings weighing up to 350,000 pounds with 28-foot diameters. It’s also in the process of being acquired by Allegheny Technologies Inc. in a $778 million deal that could bring more work to the Cudahy metal-forging operations. Ladish chief executive Gary Vroman, 51, has been with the company 28 years and has been CEO since December 2007. Vroman would not say much about the pending sale because it still faces regulatory hurdles. But in an interview he talked about the company’s current businesses and the economy. Here are excerpts from that interview:
Q. Most of Ladish’s business is in aerospace. How far along is the recovery in that industry?
A. It’s just getting started. And aerospace has two components, new builds and spares. There are maintenance, overhaul and repair components to the business. And when people have the money to buy planes, and many in the world still do, the new builds come on top of that. Aerospace has hung in there at a pretty decent rate even through the difficult financial period we just came out of.
Q. What’s the business climate like for some of your other markets?
A. Part of the defense business that we participate in, which is parts for jet engines on fighters, bombers and refueling planes, has been relatively steady for us. The helicopter business also has been strong. So we have aerospace that is just getting into a recovery, defense that’s been at least steady coming off two or three nice growth years, and then we have our industrial business where certain areas are terrific. We do big, technically complex things, and those markets are not too bad.
Q. What’s the employment picture like for Ladish in the Milwaukee area now?
A. Of our 1,700 employees worldwide, about 800 are here in Cudahy. We were below 700 at the end of 2009. If this year goes as planned, we are going to hire a few more people, ending the year at between 825 and 850 employees. We have a lot of skilled labor positions and jobs that, quite frankly, are sometimes difficult to fill. But it’s something we want to stay ahead of because the last thing you want is for markets to recover and not be ready to respond. I would like to think we did a pretty good job in the last business cycle of being ready for the uptick. And that is what we are here for, to employ people and give them a livelihood. I am certainly concerned about our shareholders and all other stakeholders in our business, but my first concern has always been about the people who come to work here every day.
Q. What has the hiring market been like?
A. In some cases we have been able to fill positions very quickly because there have been some people who have been laid off and have skills we need. Sometimes, we have a nice list of people we can interview and choose from, and other times we will wait six, nine or 12 months for the right person.
Q. As CEO, what are the issues that concern you the most?
A. It is the things that are outside of our control, such as the tone of the business climate and how everyone else is going to handle the recovery. We are at a point where there is reason to believe that our markets are going to grow, which means we should be preparing for that. It means we should be making certain that we continue to invest in the plant and equipment so it’s ready, and that we continue to invest in people so they are ready. We can do all these things, and do them appropriately, for what we see is going to happen. But if the rest of the world does not come along for the ride, and people are a little more muted in their response, the supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If everyone sits around and waits, we are not going to get going. It has been our experience that if we get out ahead of things, we do really well. It has also been our experience that if we lag back and are too slow to be prepared, we really get hurt.
Q. What’s the biggest challenge for you this year?
A. I think it’s all about striking a balance. We are predicting that 2011 is going to be bigger than 2010, and we are making plans for growth. It’s not just about 2011 though. We expect growth in 2012 and 2013, too. Everything we see in our markets tells us that is what we need to prepare for.
Q. What’s the most important lesson you have learned as CEO?
A. It’s to listen, listen, listen, because our company is full of great people. And the thing I have had to come to grips with is, as much as I would love to control situations, you don’t control anything. You just influence. The only mistake I can make is not letting people express honestly what they need to do and to think that I somehow know better.
Q. What’s your advice for someone pursuing a career in your field?
A. Understand the business, have an appreciation for the equipment, the processes, the people, the markets you are serving, and what you do that helps make the company special. This is such a technical business, you need to have an appreciation for technology and manufacturing operations. That makes all the difference because the people in the business know, whether or not people like me understand it.
Source : Milwaukee Journal Sentinel