Bundy Knows People

March 12, 2007
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HOLLAND — There is a small stack of Coke coupons in a corner of Bill Bundy’s desk. Later in the day, the new Trendway Corp. president will distribute these to employees as anniversary presents.

“I give these to a person when they have an anniversary with the company,” Bundy explained. “They’re nothing, really; it’s just a reason to shake their hand and thank them for their hard work.”

Bundy flips through the stack as if he were showing off a collection of baseball cards. There is Theresa, who just capped off three years with the company. Phil manages some of the paint booths. Don is celebrating 27 years in the purchasing department, while Wayne — whose son played on the same high school soccer team as Bundy’s — is a new hire.

“I know every one of them; the first names, at least,” said Bundy. “When I come into work everyday, I believe in what we’re doing and I’m passionate about it. … I recognize there are 350 families who are counting on us to make good decisions.”

Some day, the 30-year manufacturing veteran hopes to write a book about his experiences, with lessons on how to treat people and behave in the business world. He has a working outline that would make Stephen Covey (author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” and a Bundy influence) proud. Having lived through a cataclysmic downturn in two different industries, he’s got plenty of material.

As a young engineer out of OhioStateUniversity, Bundy led a group of engineers tasked with turning around a John Deere factory. The $22-billion manufacturer of heavy-duty vehicles and equipment was fighting for its life. Analysts were questioning whether the American icon would survive the 1980s.

“When leadership went to the rank-and-file factory guys and said things are tough, they were thinking, ‘No kidding,’” Bundy said. “So we sat them down and told them how tough things really were.”

He cited a specific example that drove home his point to the United Auto Workers Local: Salesmen had just completed a bid for 75 motor graders for the state of North Carolina. Seven other companies were competing to supply the dirt road grooming equipment. John Deere’s bid was 45 percent lower than the dealer price, but it wasn’t low enough.

The engineers and UAW grunts worked together to completely redesign the factory, creating a model operation that is still running and profitable today. Bundy developed an enviable relationship with factory representatives, so much so that when he was promoted to a position in Iowa, the union representatives did something the company never expected.

“I got a call from someone I hold in enormously high regard, and he said, ‘Bill, I’ve got something in my hand that I’ve never seen before. I’ve got a letter from the guys on the factory floor asking that we not transfer you out of here,’” recalled Bundy.

In 1987, shortly after adopting his second child, Bundy began looking for a place to raise his family and also avoid any further transfers and relocations. On the advice of a former coworker, he took a position at office furniture maker Herman Miller and moved to Holland, where he lived until his children graduated from high school.

It was a great time to be in the office furniture industry. The company grew immensely, and Bundy rose to the position of senior vice president of Miller SQA (simple, quick, affordable), with oversight of 1,600 employees, two manufacturing sites and the North American Distribution Center.

After a peak in 2000, the bottom fell out for the entire industry. In Bundy’s last year with Herman Miller, the company eliminated two of his reports, a plant in California and a truck fleet. When he joined Trendway in 2002 as vice president and general manager of the systems building unit, the Holland manufacturer had cut a third of its work force.

“When the company shrinks, it is difficult for everybody,” Bundy said. “Downsizing is no fun for anyone. Don Heeringa (Trendway majority owner and chairman) knew everybody. Today, I know everyone. In a company where the people aren’t strangers, where you know a bit about their families, it’s harder.”

In 2004, Trendway began hiring in its Holland factory again. When Bundy took over as president in January of this year, he told employees that he was not going to promise any numbers for the year, but he did promise to do everything he could to grow the company.

Over the past two years, with former president Mark Groulx at the helm, Trendway began a series of significant changes, many of which are still underway today. Recently acquired seating company CompuChair is fully integrated into the company, and a design partnership with Hong Kong furniture company POSH is picking up steam.

The company last year implemented an “On Time Or It’s Free” service guarantee, and longtime owner Heeringa sold a third of the company’s shares into an employee stock ownership plan.

Among Trendway’s priorities for this year are to enhance its product line with some offerings likely to launch in the coming quarter, to educate employees on the benefits of ownership, and to strengthen the company’s relationships with its dealers.

Over the past few months, Bundy has taken time to personally call all of Trendway’s top 50 dealers.

“I’ve heard some very reassuring things about their confidence in the company, and also identified some areas we need to take a look at,” Bundy said.

“I think our dealers appreciate that the president of the company is taking the time to call and thank them.”

Also on tap are a series of workshops designed to improve the financial literacy of employees, including lessons on profit-loss, balance sheets, cash flow and other areas that determine the success of the company.

“They’re all owners now,” Bundy said. “I’m a firm believer that if you understand what affects the finances of the business, you’re more likely to think like an owner, and you’re going to make better decisions.”    

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