10600 W. Brown Deer Road, Milwaukee
INDUSTRY: Architectural railings and components
When Michael Dover was considering an opportunity to become president of Milwaukee-based The Wagner Cos., there were a number of factors that pushed him to take the position.
For starters, he felt the company, which makes architectural railings and systems, along with other metal components, had a strong brand and reputation for quality that created “a fascinating opportunity for growth.”[caption id="attachment_339664" align="alignnone" width="770"] President Michael Dover and CEO Bob Wagner in front of The Wagner Cos.’
“It’s a very, very wide-open marketplace and we see tremendous opportunities for Wagner to continue to extend the products that it manufacturers,” said Dover, who joined the company in late 2017.
Wagner already touts installations around the world, from Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia to New York City subway stations to the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado.
Beyond the brand, Dover, previously president of Menomonee Falls-based Scan-Pac Mfg. Inc., said he was drawn to the passion of the people who work at Wagner. The company quietly converted to an employee stock ownership plan two years ago and Dover said having employee owners shows.
“You don’t have to do what a lot of other manufacturing (companies) need to, which is try to get them to understand the part they play in the success of the company, because now they’re an owner,” he said. “It helps from a recruitment, a retention (standpoint) but also in the continuous improvement we see on the shop floor. They understand; we all do, because we’re all shareholders in the company.”
Former owner Bob Wagner remains the company’s chief executive officer. He said there wasn’t a next generation of ownership to pass the company on to and he and his sister wanted to make sure The Wagner Cos. stayed in Milwaukee.
“It’s wonderful to know that it’s going to stay here, it’s going to stay with local control and I’m really pleased about that, and yet I’m not done yet,” Wagner said. “I enjoy creating things and serving our customers, so I’m still around.”
One of the things Wagner is working on is finding opportunities for the company to expand. The Wagner Cos. has grown from providing railing components to engineering entire systems. It’s also pushed into areas that go beyond metal work, like lighting.
In addition to growth opportunities and employee ownership, Dover said he was drawn to the company’s investment in technology. The Wagner Cos. implemented an enterprise resource planning system in 2011, invested in a flatbed fiber laser cutting system that’s connected to a press brake, and just as Dover was joining the company, added a 3D visual inspection machine. A major computer system upgrade is planned in 2018.
“To continue to invest in that is a testament to Bob and the other managers that are here that makes it easier for an outsider to come in,” Dover said.
The 3D visual inspection machine alone has the potential to save hours of time. In the past, operators used a tool to measure tubing to check if it was bent to the correct specifications. It was a lengthy process and two operators could easily end up with different results.
The new machine uses 16 cameras to take images of the part, compares it with the engineer’s drawings, provides color-coded feedback and then can adjust the setup on the machine to bend the next piece correctly.
“That type (of technology) adds to our productivity on the shop floor, but speaks to our customers, as well,” Dover said. “They now know when they get a report from us or they come and see that we’re able to manufacture product, to print, very rapidly from them.”
He acknowledged that as a custom metal manufacturer producing small to mid-size volumes, implementing some technology, like robotics, can present a challenge, but finding areas to improve is important because speed helps fend off overseas competition.
“It means we have to be a fairly nimble organization,” Dover said. “To be able to still do highly technical custom work but to be able to do it competently and fast is a core competency and a competitive trait for us. That will slow down the global penetrators here in the United States because there’s always a time delay.”
Wagner pointed out the company cannot start fabricating a custom rail system until the concrete is poured and exact dimensions are taken.
“Then they need it immediately,” he said. “That’s where we make our living.”