Just shy of 40 years in the electrical industry, Rich Stinson’s entry into the field was as an engineer with Westinghouse Electric, after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh’s engineering school. He stayed at the company for more than three decades, seeing through Eaton’s acquisition of one of Westinghouse’s electrical business divisions in the mid 1990s.
His time at Westinghouse and Eaton gave Rich the chance to travel the world, working on projects in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Japan, Mexico and all over the US. After stints in operations, engineering and supply at Eaton, Rich became Vice President and General Manager at the turn of the millennium.
From there, he went on to become President of one of Eaton’s multibillion-dollar power businesses. Rich joined Southwire in October 2015 and was officially named CEO in January 2016.
Moving to the privately owned company, now turning over US$6 billion annually, has seen Rich’s focus broaden in scope. “I really believe in a private company like Southwire, where we are equally focused on the community, the environment, customers, employees and shareholders,” he says. “In a private company, stakeholders’ value includes so much more than just the financial metrics.”
Making the wire and cable manufacturer work for all its stakeholders starts with its ‘five tenets of sustainability’, of Growing Green, Living Well, Giving Back, Doing Right and Building Worth.
“They’re about being environmentally friendly, making sure our employees, customers and everyone we talk to and influence are living well, that we’re giving back to the community, being ethical, and building worth for the shareholders, employees, and our customer and supplier base,” Rich explains. “Those five tenets are the focus of a lot of what we do here at Southwire and one of the main reasons that I enjoy being here.”
Rich describes his leadership style as direct, yet approachable, and puts a huge emphasis on being morally sound. “The most important thing that a leader can do is lead,” he states. “You need to be ethical and straight up with people at all times, and that’s the way I live my life, both personal and corporate.
“I have a straightforward leadership style that allows me to make my point and get results, but at the same time, people feel that I’m approachable. People are always coming up to me and talking with me about work issues and opportunities, and their personal lives, so I’m pretty proud of that.”
Advice from his high school football coach still resonates with Rich, which he applies to his professional career. “I remember my coach saying, ‘First to hit, or be hit’. In the world of business, you need to be competitive at all times and be on top of your game. He also used to say, ‘Complacency stifles progress’, meaning that you can never be satisfied.
“In the world of business, you need to be competitive at all times and be on top of your game.”
And finally, ‘Don’t read Saturday’s newspaper, worry about the next game’, which means, don’t be looking back all the time and patting yourself on the back. Always look forward and don’t be complacent.”
Recognized by Forbes as one of America’s best places to work, the company’s ‘ONE Southwire’ culture is driving its employees forward to meet its ambitious goals. “Our culture centers on three major objectives: build organizational capability; drive operational excellence; and accelerate growth.”
Rich adds that the company is heavily invested in its employee resource groups (ERG) for veterans, LGBT employees, people of color, women and millennials, as well as for an overarching manufacturing group. “These ERGs are so important to our culture and are driving the ‘ONE Southwire’ approach,” he says.
“When I talk about the ‘ONE Southwire’ approach, I’m talking about a culture that is focused on empowerment, trust, consistency and inclusion. These groups help us work towards best-in-class inclusivity and forward-thinking ways of running the business. We’ve spent a lot of time on the culture, and I think it’s extremely important as our company progresses, with more than 7,500 people, so there is a consistent culture going forward.”
Culture is certainly important when you’re the number one wire and cable manufacturer in North America, producing half the cable used to transmit electricity throughout the States, and powering half of all new homes built in the US. The company is also delivering power to millions of people globally but, for Rich, there’s still a long way to go.
“Our 2022 strategic plan is based on three concepts: being the very best in our field; diversifying our portfolio; and leveraging enterprise systems,” Rich explains. “We are number one in North America by far, and globally we’re number three. We have our sights on being a much bigger influence and player in the industry.
“Our focus is around what I call a ‘six and four’,” he says, referring to the company’s six growth and four operational goals, “which will drive our ability to be the number one wire and cable company in the world”.
The six growth initiatives look at vertical markets, “from driving specification to EPCs and contractors through to agility and being market competitive”. Regarding agility, Rich says, “It’s where we will make whatever the customer needs in a very short time, what we call ‘Southwire Speed’.”
Of the four operational goals, Rich explains, “one is around a focus on safety and quality, striving to have zero incidents”. He continues, “Next is operational process transformation, which is mainly around modernization, footprint utilization and optimization.
The third is leveraging enterprise resource planning systems, or ERPs, with SAP and new systems, from material to transportation systems. And last, in the operations world, standardized tools.”
It is these programs that Rich suspects will help differentiate Southwire in the marketplace. “Relative to growing market share, we have to always differentiate ourselves, provide the best products but also the best solutions,” he insists.
“Beyond products, there are different solution sets that we have developed, and the point here is to have the best value proposition in the marketplace, so we need to be best in class with service and quality, backed by our strong brand name.”
He adds: “We have to be consistent in everything we do, from the people, to the products and solutions, and provide the whole customer base with differentiated best-in-class products that have high quality, as well as great service.”
With this, the company is looking ahead to steep growth. “We have a goal to diversify our portfolio. The strategy is to acquire bolt-on acquisitions to our tools and assembled products.” Why? “It helps us to grow our tools and power component solutions business over the next four years.” Fair enough.
“And over the next four years, we want to grow the wire and cable business to over US$6.5 billion.” Still talking figures, he adds, “When we started, we were about US$4.8 billion, growing to US$6.1 billion this year. Over the next three to four years, we plan to get to US$7.5 billion.”
Southwire’s recent investments in five smaller, bite-sized companies since 2016 “went extremely well and the integration was right on, in line with what our expectations were,” Rich enthuses. Acquiring Garvin Industries last year, and the United Copper Industries in 2016, among others, supports the company’s aggressive growth strategy and strengthens its commitment to remain generationally sustainable “for 100 years to come”.
In scaling up so quickly, Rich doesn’t look past the importance of megatrends, and observes that “the digital age and the Internet of Things is changing the world”. He maintains that Southwire has the necessary innovation to keep up with changing technologies.
“We are focused on keeping our eye on megatrends, both market trends and technological transformation, that could affect our core and would provide us opportunities to get into new businesses,” and adds, “It’s important to try to get ahead of these technological changes and look at them as opportunities; to understand where megatrends are going and be opportunistic in finding ways to grow within this new world.”
One of these is a focus on renewables. “We are working with numerous EPC contractors, mainly with solar and some with wind,” Rich says. “I believe that, with battery technology and solar cells becoming more efficient, micro-grids will be a bigger part of our world, with distributed generation in localities. I also believe that the electrification of transportation is a great opportunity for us.”
As well as having “some of the best engineers in the world” and “continuing to improve our technology”, Southwire has set up a ‘Spark Center’
at Tech Square on the campus of Georgia Tech, working in collaboration with academics on numerous technology programs.
“We’re continuing to up our game, so we can stay ahead of the industry and differentiate ourselves from everyone else, and for our products to be number one, used in the industry above anyone else’s.”
When asked what the future looks like for Southwire, Rich is confident. “We need to continue to implement our 2022 strategic plan around the ‘six and four’ because that puts us in the right direction in being the best in wire and cable, as well as keep doing acquisitions in the tools and assembled products business and, last, stay on track with the megatrends.
“For the most part, we’ve been running effectively, and we feel good about going into the year with momentum.” He adds, “The company was started in 1950 and we are looking for another great 100 years and going forward beyond where we are today.”
Southwire produces half of the cable which transmits and distributes electricity throughout the US and wires up half of new homes built in the country. The electrical wire and cable manufacturer also carries power to millions of people around the world.
As well as providing wire for residential and commercial properties, Southwire delivers power to various other markets across North America, including mining, renewable power and original equipment manufacturers.
It also plays an important role in the production of other products, from automotive wiring harnesses to electrical motors.