Breaking down the wall

    Since buying Max Weiss Co. Inc. at the start of the year, Dan Weiss, president of the company, has instituted some big changes at the Milwaukee-based metal bender.

    Weiss bought the company from his father, Ray Weiss, in January. The company was founded in 1946 by Weiss’ grandfather and has been in the family since. And like many family companies, decisions were traditionally made by the owners. Employee communication was not a top priority for most of the company’s existence.

    But since taking control of Max Weiss, Dan and vice president Paul Schulz have created an open-book policy, employee incentive program and meetings and message boards where company information is shared.

    “We have an open-book culture with pretty much everything,” Weiss said. “We share our financials, which are connected to our (employee) gain sharing program. We have employee involvement meetings every week, where we communicate what is going on in the company and ask how we can support the people on the floor better.

    “We don’t make decisions without everybody being involved.”

    Max Weiss Co. is a former of structural steel, creating arched beams and architectural features from large steel I-beams and other standard stock. It also performs fabrication and hot forming for heavy equipment and mining original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

    Aside from its weekly employee involvement meetings, the company also holds special meetings for its operations and senior management teams. The results of those meetings are shared on three different types of message boards, which communicate the company’s financial performance, on-time delivery, scrap and productivity rates.

    “We want our people to feel like they are all owners,” Weiss said. “I spend a lot of time out on the floor, and I’m constantly pushing and preaching communication. Our sales force and shop need to talk, and we need to make sure our people feel like they’re on the same team. In the past, there was a wall between the shop and the office.”

    The change has paid off over the last two years, when Weiss and Schulz took over most day-to-day operations at the company. Sales have doubled over the last four years and have risen 42 percent over the last two years.

    Max Weiss Co. has 30 employees. The company has been able to hold its employment steady because of its lean manufacturing principles, over the past two years. However, the company will likely need to hire several new workers next year because of its sales growth over the last few years, Weiss said.

    “We can’t handle the orders (coming into our forming department),” he said.

    The company now has four apprentices that it hopes to turn into full time employees eventually.

    Max Weiss Co.’s open book policy and increased communication with employees has significantly decreased employee absenteeism and changed the way some employees think about the company, Schulz said.

    “By Dan going through the shop floor, he’s creating an understanding of business decisions to our operators,” Schulz said. “And by talking about our gain share program and how attendance affects productivity, some of our biggest naysayers have become leaders. Once a guy gets turned around and sees that Dan is serious, you can see the results.”

    Dave Palmer, lead in Max Weiss’ forming department, agreed.

    “Employees are now more involved, and we never were before,” he said. “Now employees are making decisions in expenditures. We’re talking about capital investments. It’s done a lot.

    It makes people feel involved in the company.”

    The change at Max Weiss Co. has made the company a better place to work, Palmer said.

    “It’s tremendous – I bumped heads with management quite a bit in the past,” he said. “It’s a much more relaxed atmosphere around here and it’s made things much better for everybody.”

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