Team philosophy takes precast company from the backyard to the big leagues
By Michael Cook
U.S. Concrete — Precast Group, San Diego, Calif., is not your typical company. Throw out your stereotypical notions of a boss in a business suit hovering over his employees’ shoulders. Gone are the days of the “us” versus “them” mentality that plague much of corporate America. You won’t find that here.
No, this company is different in just about every aspect imaginable. From the design of the plant, to the water it uses, to the way the company is run.
The pre-game ritual
It’s 10:30 a.m. and about six employees are huddled around a break room table devouring homemade leftover shrimp tacos from the night before. In their plant uniforms, they sit sharing stories about their day. It’ something you’re probably likely to see at just about any company on any given day, except for one exception: There at the table sits Doug McLaughlin, vice president of U.S. Concrete’s Precast Division. He’s stopped in for a moment to chat with his employees, or team members as he calls them, while walking through the new plant with Todd Ebbert, the plant’s general manager.
This is not a group of employees and bosses sitting at a table; rather it’s a cohesive team working to advance the industry through quality precast products. Ebbert refers to it as the “Winning the Game” philosophy, but it has always been a part of this company since the beginning.
More than 30 years ago, the business (formerly known as San Diego Precast Concrete) started with a few friends making precast stepping stones in a back yard. They never imagined they would be where there are now; from its humble beginnings with a handful of employees to a new 18-acre lot with more than 80 employees.
While the numbers are impressive, even more remarkable is the fact that management goes out of its way every day to ensure that each employee genuinely feels like he or she is a part of the team.
A winning playbook
McLaughlin says that a team mentality has been the cornerstone of the company’s success through the decades.
“We’ve always felt like our company was a team since the beginning,” McLaughlin explains. “Tom Vildibill started San Diego Precast more than 30 years ago and was very team-oriented and very open-book. He shared everything with every employee from the top on down. That was our upbringing and where we learned the values of our team philosophy.”
U.S. Concrete acquired San Diego Precast in 1999, and it was important to management that they’re team mentality carried into the new organization.
Ebbert goes out of his way every day to ensure that all employees know they play an important position within the company. He shares the numbers generated by the company and explains the goals. “The base foundation of the teamwork philosophy was just the way we did business. When it comes down to it at the end of the day, it’s about the people and the communication. Call it open-book management, call it a team mentality — ultimately it works.”
It does work, and the proof is on the face of each employee from the plant floor to the front office. The management has made a point to go out of its way to make all employees feel they have ownership in the company.
“It’s more than just having the chance to buy stock in the company,” Ebbert said. “We’re treating everyone here as if they are partners in the business, so that we’re all business partners. We have never been big on the ‘I’m the boss’ style of management. We know that the dollar is important to people, but job satisfaction, job recognition, job advancement and being included in a winning organization are all on that list. U.S. Concrete has always been very supportive of that.”
A successful team
With new orders coming in every day and more and more employees joining the company, it became apparent a few years ago that things were getting overcrowded at the company’s seven-acre site in Santee, Calif. Since the acquisition eight years ago, the company has grown 2.5 times its previous size and has never experienced a year of revenue that lagged behind the previous year.
Management decided it was time to begin looking for a bigger area to grow its business. The company eventually decided on a site directly along the Mexico border in an industrial area of San Diego.
The move placed the company nearly 30 miles south of the Santee plant, adding a significant amount of time to employee commutes in infamous California traffic. With that in mind, a legitimate concern for management was getting employees on board with the move.
“They spend so much time at work that it had to be something each and every team member would be behind and supportive of,” McLaughlin said.
Knowing that many employees would be making a sacrifice for the company, McLaughlin and Ebbert knew they had to have 100 percent support from their team members.
“We didn’t lose one person with the move down here,” Ebbert said. “I think that’s because of our open communication. There were no secrets. We sought input from every single team member when we were designing this new plant. We built this plant with the point of making jobs easier by being more efficient, and I think that they respect that.”
By asking for input from each employee when designing the new plant, management effectively made each employee feel as if he or she had invested in the new facility.
“This was not designed by one person or group,” McLaughlin explained. “We felt it was important for them to invest up front, put their time into it and kind of buy into it. They were all involved in the setup and layout, and made multiple trips down here to see the plant going up. We did not lose one person from this move, because the team members all knew that they were part of this company.”
Some employees even decided that their commitment to the company was strong enough to move their families and homes to be closer to the new facility. “There are people who actually moved so that they could be closer to here,” McLaughlin said. “They made a decision together as a family to make the commitment to be a part of this company, and we couldn’t be happier about it.”
When it finally came time for the company to break ground on its new plant, employees and their families were invited to come down for the event. “If that meant taking a half day off work to be there for the groundbreaking, they did it,” Ebbert explained. “By that time, we had the support of every team member, and they were just as excited as we were about being able to grow our business together.”
The big move
Knowing firsthand the pains associated with a growing business in a small facility, they knew that the new plant had to be something they could continue to grow into. With that in mind, management decided that the San Diego plant would need to be big enough to accommodate the expanding business for at least the next 20 years.
“The plant was set up for efficiency,” Ebbert said. “In Santee, our guys would have to make 15 trips from the production facility to the storage yards when a truck came in. Now we have a tractor with a special hydraulic lift on the back that will actually pick up the trailer and pull it into the yard.” When the loaders have time, they can load it and place it in the yard at their leisure. “We were so bottlenecked before because of our size, so now we can increase our production and sales because of our efficiency.”
Nearly every aspect of the final plant was designed to be efficient, both for the employees and for the environment.
The design of the new plant, along with an environmentally friendly product, helped the plant earn U.S. Concrete’s EF Technology certification. “When we designed the plant, we knew that we would have to plan for environmental concerns,” Ebbert said. “Our goal was that nothing would leave this site and have to go to a landfill.”
Everything from excess water, to the sand used during sandblasting, to leftover concrete was considered and implemented in the final design.
The water runoff from inside the plant collects in a shallow trough in the floor. The trough winds its way around the interior perimeter of the plant, eventually making its way outside before being recycled back into the facility.
Outside, there’s a fully enclosed building specifically for sandblasting architectural precast products. The heavy sand particles fall into grates in the floor while airborne dust is sucked into a vacuum intake. Once collected, the leftover sand is scooped up into a vertical conveyor and deposited into a bin. The particles can later be recycled for further sandblasting or even as a fine aggregate.
The plant is also working out a deal with a nearby company to crush leftover concrete so that it can be used later for road bed or some other material.
“We promote fly ash and concrete that is environmentally friendly as well,” Ebbert said. “That thought process is behind a lot of the design decisions we made as well. Three percent of our roof over the plant is skylights, so we don’t need to leave the fluorescent lights on most of the day and waste energy.”
Winning the game
When San Diego Precast was acquired by U.S. Concrete, the management team knew there was a possibility of opposition from within the company. McLaughlin and Ebbert attribute the easy transition to the fact that U.S. Concrete allowed them to keep their same philosophy.
“We’ve had a lot of rapid growth here in the last few years,” McLaughlin explained. “U.S. Concrete has not only encouraged us to keep going with the teamwork mentality that we have, but they’ve given us the tools to promote it and to keep moving forward with it. It’s providing great opportunities, and it shows in the attitudes of the people here and the longevity of those who have been here for decades. U.S. Concrete was a perfect match for us, because they knew that ultimately it’s about the people on the production floor who are getting the work done. It’s important not to forget that.”
The Numbers Game
U.S. Concrete – Precast Group’s new facility is impressive in both its size and design. Here are a few of the numbers that accompany the new facility:
- 80,000 sq. ft. production facility
- 68,000 sq. ft. under crane access (versus 18,000 in prior plant)
- 10 overhead cranes (ranging in size from 50-ton capacity to 5-ton)
- Two crane bays (80 ft. by 510 ft., and 60 ft. by 330 ft.)
- Five buildings on 18 acres (the Santee site encompassed seven acres)
- 4,500 sq. ft. employee break room (complete with new locker room and computer access to training programs)