Sic Lazaro U.S. Inc.
7044 N. Teutonia Ave., Milwaukee
INDUSTRY: Elevator and heavy equipment counterweights
When Ed Samera first arrived at Sic Lazaro U.S. Inc.’s 130,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in August 2017, there was upward of an inch of dust in some places, machinery maintenance had fallen behind and employee morale was low.
“The machines weren’t operational to do productive work,” Samera said. “They’d let it deteriorate to that point.”
Samera, vice president of management and operations for Cedarburg-based sales consulting firm Vx Group Inc., was brought in to help turn around the Milwaukee-based U.S. subsidiary of Spanish counterweight manufacturer Sic Lazaro. After more than a year of work, the company has reached a point where Samera says it is primed for growth.
To that point, Sic Lazaro hired Ken Rawson late this summer to serve as general manager. Rawson took control of the company’s operations while Vx Group turned its focus toward generating new sales.
Rawson, who has worked in metal fabrication throughout his career, said he feels like the company has a strong foundation to start moving forward.
“We also have a great facility to diversify and expand into large fabrications,” he said. “Really, it’s just a matter of growing.”
Sic Lazaro established U.S. operations in 2011, one of a number of Spanish manufacturers to set up shop in Milwaukee around the same time. The business focuses on making two types of counterweights: those used in elevators and those on heavy equipment, like cranes. The counterweights are made from concrete, steel or in some cases, both. They help provide balance and stability, giving an elevator a smoother ride and keeping heavy machinery from tipping over.
When a major customer on the heavy equipment side of the business left the state, taking a substantial amount of work with it, Sic Lazaro started to run into trouble. Demand from elevator markets was steady, but not high enough to fully use the capacity of the plant. The combination of sliding sales and the departure of senior leaders put the company on a bad path.
Samera and the Vx Group had two tasks when they arrived last year. The first was to clean the place up and get machinery working again. The organizational systems put in place over the past year almost make it hard to imagine what kind of condition the plant was in.
The second task was to generate new sales. Proving the company could meet delivery and quality expectations was one part of the equation, but Samera said Sic Lazaro has also found success introducing concepts from the elevator business to the heavy equipment world, including high-density counterweights that pack more weight into a smaller space.
“You have to do both,” Samera said of improving the business’ fundamental operations while also chasing new sales.
Samera said the U.S. company made clear to its Spanish parent that if it was to be responsible for its own profit and loss, then it would also need the autonomy to control its own fate. The two organizations are still connected and can collaborate with some international customers, but the Milwaukee operation is self-sufficient, he said.
Sic Lazaro is also turning what could be a liability, a lack of work for its plant, into an asset.
“With the shortage of welders, we have weld capacity that we’re getting more and more work for fabrication,” Samera said.
The company is expanding its operations beyond just the counterweight business as it adds fabrication and welding work. The pieces of heavy equipment Sic Lazaro makes counterweights for rest on large frames. The amount of space the company has allows it to take on that work.
Samera has also placed an emphasis not on having the absolute lowest price, but on being cost effective for customers. He pointed to Sic Lazaro’s ability to paint pieces after welding them together, delivering them straight to an assembly line and eliminating a potential bottleneck in a customer’s production. It also doesn’t hurt that Sic Lazaro’s painter paints custom cars in his free time, so the work comes with a high-quality finish.
Samera said it was important to tap into the skillsets of the company’s employees. While everyone has to take on multiple roles during the turnaround, it is also crucial that employees contribute where they are strongest.
“We’re trying to be more diverse in different industries so we can have a more sustainable business moving forward,” Samera said.