Concrete Products

FEB 2018

Concrete Products covers the issues that attract producers of ready mixed and manufactured concrete focusing on equipment and material technology, market development and management topics.

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50 • February 2018 www.concreteproducts.com Anybody who knows Smith-Midland Corp. President Ashley Smith could easily guess where the incoming National Precast Con- crete Association chairman would focus his acceptance remarks: on people. Upon taking the helm at the group's 52nd Annual Conven- tion last October, he spoke about developing a workforce where innovation, continuous improvement and attention to detail are the building blocks for quality precast concrete production. LIFELONG PURSUIT Smith brings a certified track record to his role as NPCA chairman when it comes to expe- rience in the industry. He started working full-time 40 years ago for Smith-Midland, the family business headquartered in Midland, Va. Before that, he worked part-time during the summers and weekends as a youth paint- ing, cleaning the plant and doing anything else his father, company CEO and Chairman Rodney Smith, had on his list of chores. Ashley Smith worked his way up, toiling through various production jobs. He advanced to hauling sand & gravel and delivering prod- ucts, and eventually joined the management team. This culminated with his promotion to president and chief operating officer in 2009. In that capacity, he works alongside broth- ers Jeremy, Matthew and Roderick Smith as they lead the company into the future. He is the third in his family to take the reins of the business started by his grandfather, David Smith, in 1960. He's also following his father in association leadership: Rodney Smith served as NPCA president in 1980. CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT As a lifelong precaster, Ashley Smith has spent his career experimenting and learning, with the goal of continually improving his family's business. Throughout this pursuit, he estimates he has visited more than 400 precast plants, not just in the U.S., but in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Japan. It was in Japan that he had an experi- ence that changed the way he looks at his own business and the precast industry. There, Smith became enamored with lean manufac- turing as embodied by the Toyota Production System, which emphasizes building people before building cars and craftsmanship with exquisite attention to detail. "If you ever visit Japan, you'll see it," he says. "Every little detail is important. At Toyota, contin- uous improvement and attention to detail are driven by the employees on the plant floor, and it shows in the end product. I want our plant to be like that, and I want the precast concrete industry to be like that too, because it is vital to our future success." Implementing the principles of lean manufacturing is anything but easy, and Smith-Midland has worked on it for years, through ups and downs, forging a path to more efficient manufacturing. Smith notes that lean manufacturing adoption is not a quick fix or an easy win for the team, but "if you're seeking meaningful change and are in it for the long haul, it may be the right fit." "Lean, like most things in business, is all about people and everyone needs to be invested," he notes. "We now have people on the floor who take ownership of our pro- cesses and results, and who are empowered to make adjustments. That's huge because it frees managers up to work on other things." PIGGYBACKING ON NPCA Precasting is a tough, competitive busi- ness that requires ever-increasing levels of quality control and craftsmanship. The pace of the daily grind can make it difficult to devote time and resources to develop- ing employees, but it is crucial to success, Smith believes. "The challenge for the precaster is, how do I find the time? I'm making precast. I've got customers calling. I'm taking orders. We have problems we have to deal with. How do I find time to get these folks trained?" he says. "That's where I kind of piggyback on what NPCA has. There's Leadership NPCA, Production and Quality School and the Master Precaster program, and all the education available online. We use the NPCA webinar series for lunch and learns. There's a whole history of webinars on the website so you can go back and view old ones. It's a huge resource. If you're a small precaster, or even a mid-size or larger company, it would be hard to offer all that by yourself." In addition, Smith regularly takes a group of his top performers to The Precast Show for in-person training, plant tours and time on the trade show floor. "There's nothing better than The Precast Show to get them excited and motivated," he says. "They're learning that the company is investing in them. It pays off. People are going to be more loyal if they know you are invested in their future and want to make them successful." Smith has heard the argument that if you spend time and money training your employ- ees, they'll be more marketable and seek better jobs outside the company. He doesn't buy it. "Would you rather train somebody and take the chance that they'll leave, or never train them and have them stay? It's a risk we're willing to take." Personal connections made through NPCA are also one of the keys to continued suc - cess, he believes. "Networking is one of the main things. Whether you're a president or an owner of a company, if you're in safety or HR, or if you're on the shop floor, there's always somebody you can meet and learn from—whether it's at classes or at the trade show talking with another precaster between events," he explains. Continued on page 52 CHAIRMAN'S REPORT BY NPCA STAFF A Passion for People and Precast 2017-18 National Precast Concrete Association Board of Directors Chairman Ashley Smith is focused on employee development as the key to unleashing the unlimited potential of the precast industry Ashley Smith

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