Superior Roll Forming – Planning for the Future Based on a Strong Past
Superior Roll Forming, has been in business for over 75 years. Purchased by Welser Profile in 2018, The company joined a business with over 365 years of history. Made in Medina County sat down with President and CEO, Bill Johnson, to talk about the past, present, and future of SRF. Members of his management team also joined the interview.
MiMC: Superior Roll Forming, a Welser Profile Company, has been in Medina County for almost 30 years. Can you share a little about the history of both organizations?
Johnson: SRF was a third-generation company specializing in the automotive industry when Welser Profile acquired it. It was started 75 years ago as a tool and die maker for the roll forming industry. They specialized in the coal and construction industries producing long collector plate filters that went into coal-burning plants to catch particulates.
The third generation diversified the business into automotive. They were well-known for being experts at forming complex High Strength Steel, unique, one-off applications. They focused on niche work and not commodities.
I have been in the industry my whole career and had known SRF for 15-20 years. When Welser wanted to launch a North American presence, they brought me on board to head that up. I spoke with Tim and Kevin Synk and here we are today.
The Welser Profile company has a long history in metal working. They began in 1664 as a foundry and some of the original foundry is actually still in use. Headquartered in Austria, much of the family, who still owns the company, lives on the original property. They are now run by the 11th generation CEO, Thomas Welser.
MiMC: Wow – that is an amazing history! To what do you attribute that longevity?
Johnson: Welser Profile has a strong focus on strategic planning and looking at the long term. In speaking with one of the senior family members recently, I asked him what he’s thinking about and he said how his grandchildren’s children would run the business. His grandchildren are just barely in their 20s. The management and family are very thoughtful about the long term success of the business.
MiMC: It seems like a long-term focus like that would open up interesting opportunities. What do you see coming from it?
Johnson: When that’s your focus, and you build your systems from that long-term perspective, you handle challenges differently. With COVID-19, we didn’t have shareholders who got hung up on short-term thinking. We were able to make good decisions based on our culture.
MiMC: How do you describe your culture?
Johnson: We have an acronym – TRAIT – Transparency, Respect, Accountability, Integrity, Teamwork. And we live that in everything we do. To respond to COVID-19, we knew we needed to close the plant and make the environment safe for people to come back to work. We paid everyone for 5 weeks of shut down and were able to bring people back as the work required.
MiMC: So, you weren’t considered an essential company?
Johnson: We had customers who wanted us to stay open, but we didn’t think that was right. If the customer couldn’t understand, well, they weren’t a good fit with our culture, obviously. Our employees know we choose their safety as our first priority.
MiMC: It sounds like you value your team about all else.
Johnson: You have to if you want to be successful. The most important aspect of any business is the people and taking care of them is job one. They have the knowledge and the skills to move the company forward and provide what the customers need. It isn’t just running a machine; it is understanding what you are making and why it is important.
MiMC: What kinds of processes are you bringing from Austria?
Johnson: Typically, when a company launches in someone’s garage, equipment is added as it is needed, based on customer demand. That may mean different manufacturers, different styles of equipment, etc. Over the years Welser Profile has been able to identify the best equipment and the best tools in the industry. And they stay on top of technology. It is vital to have current tools that can get the next job done. So we have been able to make a large investment in standard machinery and equipment.
It is also important employees aren’t siloed in their jobs. You don’t run just one machine to make one part. You need to understand the bigger picture. That part you are making is part of the seat structure for a Jeep Cherokee or a Dodge Durango, for example, and knowing that helps everyone feel pride in their work.
MiMC: I would think so! Have you seen that pride in your team?
Johnson: We do a family day where the families can come in and see the work we do. One person’s 14 year old came up to me and thanked me for bringing her in to see what her father did. She knew he was proud of his work, but seeing it made a big difference to her.
MiMC: We hope you offered her a job! And speaking of which, how are you finding the workforce in Medina County?
Johnson: A good point! We work closely with MCEDC and their workforce partners. We are also getting involved in our local school programs. In Austria, Welser Profile actually provides all the English books to the kindergarten in the town where they are located. As we become more involved in the community, we can see programs coming that will benefit everyone.
MiMC: And speaking of benefiting everyone, thank you for including your management team in this interview. Cary Frame, Director of Technical Services, James Mason, IT Manager, Tobias Obenaus, Engineering Manager, Scott Shorrock, Vice President of Operations, Tasha Wright, Director of Human Resources, and – great to meet you! What are some insights you would like to share about SRF?
Team: We have built a solid, diverse management team as we come from all over the country. We bring different industries and experience to the table and get to add that to the years of experience brought to us through Welser.
Getting to solve new challenges for our customers every day keeps us on our toes and helps us keep our eyes on the future. We all live TRAIT and it is great to work for a company that committed to culture.
MiMC: Tobias, we have to ask. Coming from Austria, what has been surprising coming to Ohio?
Obenaus: There is so much to do! I was very surprised to find green spaces and parks so abundant. That isn’t what we hear about in Europe.
MiMC: That is good to know! So you have a great team, strong product lines, and great strategic planning. What does the future hold for SRF?
Johnson: COVID-19 was definitely a challenge, but in terms of our plan it is only a speed bump. Welser has weathered every kind of challenge in their history and know there will be more. We do want to diversify our markets so we are in the process of targeting new areas where our expertise can fulfill a need.
We are also excited to be in Medina County, Ohio, and the United States. We want to grow here and eventually replicate the facilities they have in Austria. They have one million square feet under roof and one thousand employees, and I could see that happening here.
For more information about Superior Roll Forming, a Welser Profile Company, visit: ww.superiorrollforming.com/