ALTIX INDUSTRY CHAMPIONS INTERVIEW
One on One: Discussion with a Global Industry Champion: Deceuninck North America
Each quarter we sit down with industry executives and thought leaders to discuss the trends, challenges, and best practices that are transforming their businesses.
Today, we are with Joren Knockaert, CEO and President at Deceuninck North America, to discuss how Joren and his team are successfully developing the North American business for a Belgian Industry Champion.
Joren, can you please introduce yourself and your company Deceuninck?
I am an electromechanical engineer, and I started my career in Belgium, where I was born and raised. I started my career working first for Solutia, a U.S. company in the chemical industry and then joining Bekaert, a Belgian company in the steel wire and coatings industry with a global footprint. This is how, early on in my career with two industry champions and globally operating companies, I acquired my taste for international assignments. In 2014 I took on a first international assignment for Bekaert as GM of a recent acquisition in China. It was a turnaround mission, which was very interesting, with lots of challenges, and exposure to a new environment and culture. It was a very fulfilling challenge and everything I hoped for. Then Bekaert moved me to the US, in Georgia, where I was responsible for all the operations for their vinyl business. I managed a couple of plants and started up a new facility. Then in August 2020 I moved to Ohio and joined Deceuninck as CEO and President of Deceuninck North America.
Deceuninck started in 1937 in Belgium and in the 1960’s specialized in the vinyl profile extrusions for the growing fenestration business. In the 1990’s Deceuninck built out its operations in Europe and entered the U.S. market through a number of acquisitions. Today Deceuninck is truly a global company with 17 production sites around the world, of which 2 are in the USA, one in Monroe Ohio and one on the West Coast. The group has 3,700 employees globally, of which 630 in the USA. The group is a public listed company.
We are living and operating in a VUCA world – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity. How have Covid19 and Global Supply Chain constraints impacted Deceuninck in 2021 and what do you expect to change in 2022?
This is indeed interesting if you think about our business. On the topic of volatility, our company has been growing very successful over past 10 years with a proven product solution and service package. When covid came around in 2020, the initial shutdowns impacted heavily our business. The whole construction industry slowed down, and while we were still adapting to the new reality, the construction market restored itself. Demand was quickly back and even overshooting the demand pre-covid. In a short time, we experienced a big dip, followed by a quick restauration and then a big shoot. The big question we had was – will it last. In 2021 the demand remained strong, month after month. And personally, I don’t expect any difference for 2022.
Uncertainty is definitely around with raw material shortage, labor shortage, transportation challenges. In 2021, we invested a lot in the business, to increase capacity and support market growth.
How would you describe the industry patterns known in your specific business, is it more a cyclical business linked to trends in construction or are the market demand and cycles fairly predictable?
We definitely experience the seasonality of the construction industry. However, in the past year we have not seen as much fluctuation because there is so much additional demand. Another interesting evolution is that if we look to the mid to long-term, the gravity point of the construction industry has moved to the South where we are not so much subject to the seasonality. Regarding long-term effects, what we currently see is that it’s only now that the residential construction market, is back at levels that were established in the US before the 2008 financial crisis, and we are catching up to the more traditional patterns of family investing in single-family house.
Taking on the leadership of a company, a site or any organization is a complex mission. How did you approach your first 100 days and your first one to two years?
Obviously, before joining a company, you think about it and you develop plans and tactics. But I also joined the business right at that moment when we were confronted with this unseen demand and supply chain constraints. This resulted in me being very boots-on-the-ground with people in the organization, and with customers. Those 100 days went by so fast as I had to learn very quickly every aspect of the business. By the end of my 100 days, which coincided with the start of the new year, I could see the priorities, setting up the vision, ambition, strategy – to write down a solid plan for the new year. That was very interesting.
The Leadership is key to support the new Captain in the execution of his vision and strategy. How did you proceed to get the leadership team on Board and behind you?
When I arrived, there was a lot to do, many challenges, but also a lot of strengths. The leadership team was very committed and very receptive to new vision and strategy. Together, we have been very effective at detecting opportunities, reconfirming the identity of the business, and having a vision on how we move forward.
The performance of an organization is intimately linked with its people, its organization, and the culture the company can achieve to develop. What has been your approach to work on these important dimensions?
The company in North America has a long and successful history and a solid culture. It has very experienced employees who know what they are capable of, what they can do together, and they have self-confidence. My approach is to make sure we are bringing new people who can be part of that culture. Though very valuable, a strong culture alone does not make a business run. It requires an effective organizational setup too. I spent a lot of time listening and learning, in order to ensure the organization was aligned with the business vision, the new market and demands and where everyone was very clear on their roles and how we would collaborate as a team.
How can strategy, organization, culture, and communication help to resolve the critical challenge of workforce and labor shortage? Have you been improving Deceuninck´s ability to attract and retain talents?
Our ability to attract talent starts even before they join the company. You need to be able to clearly articulate what the company stands for, what the culture is, where the business is going, and the role they are about to take that will contribute to the success for the business. That is key to attract the right talent. I have worked very closely with HR, and the marketing team, developing our employer branding with a clear, transparent, and attractive brand messaging and our hard work is showing positive results in our ability to attract and retain talents.
What importance do you attach to continuous individual and organizational learning? Is Deceuninck investing in training, learning, and education?
Those are key elements to grow as an organization. We focus a lot on the training of the new hires, and we also focus a lot on upskilling our existing workforce, building a career path with continuous training. We have put in place a detailed program, a dedicated team, and we have a smooth process to teach and train for positions on the shop floor. For 2022 we are now working on company-wide career progression so opportunities for advancement exist within the company, which is our best way to keep people on board.
For example, our supply chain organization used to be part of the operational team. We had schedulers but we had to build out other critical processes and functions as well. Now that this team is in place and effective, they identify opportunities to intensify their impact and get to advanced results. Which we encourage as an organization and support by offering internal and external training and learning opportunities to keep enriching and broadening their experience and skill level.
Companies tend to not grow to the level of their ambitions, but they fall to the level of their processes and systems. Which priority did you Joren give internal processes and systems on your transformation journey so far?
This is a key priority to be able to take us into the next era. The company had a lot of established ways on how the people were cooperating, how the systems were working. But, with new dynamics, you need to be very agile. We needed entrepreneurial spirit and we needed to actively work on it. With today’s challenges, we also saw new opportunities to innovate and uncover new business models. For example, with the supply chain issues, we paid particular attention to learning more about how balanced inventories should look like across our supply chain. This acquired knowledge is now being built into our automated systems to plan out productions and establish stocks to better serve our customers.
How much innovation do you believe can companies achieve for the benefit of their customers, employees, and shareholders in focusing on process and system innovations?
Process and system innovations are strategic skills which will help move the business forward and there are always areas of improvement. There is a lot of complexity in the product offering which is very specific to our business. Managing that well is a competitive advantage. So we explore intensely ways to innovate and change-overs processes with SMED techniques, our planning methods with cutting-edge IT tools and we continuously leverage real-time information in those innovations.
Doing this are you following any method or manufacturing philosophies? If yes, please explain why you particularly like it and how first got exposed to it.
These days it is all about demand and supplies, getting those aligned, and doing more with limited resources. The proven techniques of S&OP and Lean Manufacturing are established concepts, which we tailor to our specific needs. There is also an abundance of data. Making sure we use the data, and that data drives our business decisions, leading us faster to the right answers and solutions. This is vital in reacting adequately to fast-changing conditions and constraints.
Thank you so much Joren for sharing all these steps on your journey. Would you mind sharing your vision for next challenges you are addressing in the coming 2 to 3 years?
We are definitely preparing for the next round of opportunities. Today, the construction industry is all about getting material. The desire, however, for more sustainable, energy efficient solutions is still out there. Soon, as the current situation and the market ease-out, sustainability priorities will pop up again. Deceuninck is all about sustainability by offering products with superior insulation performance as well as how we produce our products with a reduced carbon footprint. We are working hard to contribute to meeting the global climate objectives.
As a leader, you are challenged in many ways – how do you personally find your balance and keep your energy level high and a positive/forward-thinking mindset even in the most difficult times?
Since the day my family took on the adventure of the ex-pat life, it feels that we are on a non-stop journey to discover the world and to interact with people in that world. This is what fuels me. That is something I really enjoy and there is always more to explore which drives me intensely. We love to travel, discover and interact with other people.
What is the one thing that could make a big impact on your time management and allocation and free up some time for high-quality investments?
Having a pause button. That button for me is travel where you can take some distance again from everything that is happening in your daily life. It is important that you can get distracted and disconnected and then when you get back you look at your day-to-day from a broader perceptive, triggering many new insights and improvement ideas. I enjoy every travel I do, and I enjoy as much getting back.
Thank you again Joren for being with us today and allowing for this Champions Interview! We are excited and honored to feature you and Deceuninck North America in the Altix Access Newsletter and Industry Champion Interview!
ABOUT DECEUNINCK: Deceuninck North America, LLC is an industry-leading fully integrated design, compounding, tooling, lamination, fiberglass pultrusion, and PVC extrusion company that produces energy-efficient residential and commercial window and door systems. The company is committed to developing high-performance products and has customers that produce over 7 million windows and doors annually. Its headquarters are in Monroe, Ohio, with a facility in Fernley, Nevada. Deceuninck Group employs 3,700 people servicing more than 4,000 customers in 91 countries with worldwide production facilities. For more information, please visit: www.deceuninckna.com
ABOUT ALTIX: Altix is the middle-market international industrial champions’ management consulting partner, providing business strategy, technology and innovation, and operational excellence support, in the world of advanced manufacturing and international supply chain. www.altixconsulting.com