Human Resources, Manufacturing, and Small Business & Startups

‘Diversity is a strength’ at metal stamping plant

Jireh Metal Products credits the company’s ‘No. 1 asset’ for a successful 35-year track record.

November 16, 2018
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President and CEO Michael Davenport and Jireh Metal Products recently won an EPIC Award from the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. Courtesy Mercantile Bank

At a time when manufacturers are “dying” for good people, Jireh Metal Products says it has tons.

Michael Davenport is president and CEO of Jireh, a local tier-two and tier-three metal stamping company that employs 93 people between its locations at 3635 Nardin St. SW in Grandville and 864 Productions Place in Holland.

Davenport co-owns the business — which turned 35 this year — along with Andy Otteman and his friend and investor Greg VandenBosch. Former sole owner Ron Wierenga also has retained a minority stake since the others came on board in 2015.

The company makes industrial hardware — including steel door frames, locks and hinges — along with furniture and automotive components, on 60- to 600-ton die presses.

Jireh Metal Products recently won the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce's EPIC Award for Minority-Owned Enterprise of the Year and, earlier this year, was named one of the 2018 Michigan 50 Companies to Watch by Michigan Celebrates Small Business.

The program celebrates small business excellence among privately held Michigan companies with six to 99 full-time employees that generate $750,000 to $50 million in annual revenue or working capital from investors or grants.

Criteria for the award include growth based on number of employees or sales, “exceptional” entrepreneurial leadership and sustainable competitive advantage.

Jireh’s annual sales over the past four years have been in the $20-million to $50-million range.

Davenport said he believes his company’s commitment to its people was the top factor that earned it the 50 Companies to Watch recognition.

“When I first came in (to Jireh), I started looking around and asking, ‘What’s the difference-maker? Other companies have presses; other companies have all of the things we have. Why are we doing that better than most?’ You quickly come down to it’s the people we have. Our intent on being good to our people, that probably showed through,” Davenport said.

“If you take care of those that take care of you, then you’re going to be in a good place.”

Jireh’s leadership team considers all decisions through the lens of how it will affect employees, customers and the company.

“If you do two of those things well, you’re not a great organization. If you do one of those things well, you’re going out of business,” Davenport said.

“In order to be a great and growing company, you must do all three of those things well. It is a tough balancing act.”

The website Jireh hired Grand Rapids-based Fairly Painless Advertising to build in 2015 is one example. People — “who we are” — is the first item in the menu bar, and a good chunk of the copy on that page is dedicated to praising the employees’ work.

In the “careers” tab, the company lists an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission statement that is broader than required by the state of Michigan — that in addition to the usual categories, it also won’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, mental health or “military status or unfavorable discharge from the military.”

Davenport said Wierenga initiated the company’s diversity hiring practices, and he is committed to carrying them forward. Currently, 28 percent of the company’s workforce are minorities, including African-American and Vietnamese workers.

“When I think about organizations, I think about how the Bible talks about heaven. There will be all peoples there — all shapes, sizes and colors — everything,” Davenport said. “If we are a good organization, we should be reflective of the communities we’re in. People should want to work here.”

Davenport said using a typical margin of error of plus- or minus-3 percent means if 14 percent of the community is black, then anywhere from 11 percent to 17 percent of the workforce should be black, without any special outreach efforts made.

“If your organization is anywhere from 11 percent to 17 percent black, plus- or minus-3 percent (assuming the community is 14 percent black), you’re probably not doing anything,” Davenport said. “If you’re above that, you’re doing something to attract, and if you’re below that, you’re probably doing something to exclude.

“We think diversity is a strength, and we’re looking to be strong.”

Although Davenport said “people are our No. 1 asset” at Jireh, the company also has long prioritized sustainability as the third part of the triple bottom line, along with people and profits.

“This facility has zero impact on the landfill,” Davenport said. “Everything is recycled or incinerated. … If I tell you my job is to make my people’s lives easier and think about what they need and want, part of that is thinking about our environment and what impact we have on that. As a business, we impact that. We want to be good to our people, our customers and the environment.”

The scrap metal left over from the metal stamping process is collected throughout the day and moved next door to Padnos, a recycling and scrap management company that melts it down for reuse.

Jireh also reduces and recycles paper waste, uses recyclable wood pallets in some cases and “plastic knockdown crates” in others, which last five or six years and help save trees.

“We try to balance all of that and get to a place where it’s cost-effective, but whatever route we choose, we want to make sure we are still being good to the environment,” Davenport said.

Jireh’s goal in the next few years is to align itself more closely to where customer demand is headed.

“What we’re hearing from the customers is they want fewer suppliers, and they want those suppliers to do more,” Davenport said. “We look at our core as being metal stamping, and so we’re looking at the full continuum of what that would look like.”

Whatever happens, the executive team believes its edge in the market comes from maintaining a “servant leadership” approach, where their job is to remove obstacles for the employees, meeting their needs and making their lives easier so they can be more productive.

“That philosophy gets into everything: what kind of benefits do we provide, what are our wages, what is our vacation time, what’s the culture. The ability to be a servant leader gets you into all those arenas, which ultimately makes this a better place,” Davenport said. “Our people have choices. They can go work for lots of folks. We’re proud and happy they choose to work here.”

Davenport made a career transition from banking to manufacturing at the age of 45. He said he believes today’s job candidates also can enter the industry successfully if they possess a few key attributes.

“Organizations, we’re dying for folks that are conscientious, show up, work hard and ask good questions. If you’re one of those people, we want you,” he said.

“How cool is it that if you are a person that has those attributes, you will soar in an organization?”

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