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At Viking Plastics, success is spelled p-e-o-p-l-e

Clare Goldsberry

March 11, 2016

4 Min Read
At Viking Plastics, success is spelled p-e-o-p-l-e

Being in the injection molding business is a balancing act. Just ask Kelly Goodsel, who joined Viking Plastics (Corry, PA ) in 2000 and in August, 2006, purchased the injection molding company which had been in business since 1972.  As the 10-year anniversary approaches, Goodsel, President and CEO, talked with PlasticsToday about how strategic planning and balancing key leadership attributes promoted growth.

Goodsel admitted that purchasing an injection molding company just prior to the Great Recession wasn’t exactly the best move, but the company held its own for the next three years, as Goodsel and his team began putting in place a strategic growth plan. The effort has paid off.

Viking Plastics CEO Kelly Goodsel leads a class at Viking Academy.

Success comes down to two primary attributes. The first is a “balanced leadership style,” which means that good management at Viking involves hiring, enabling and then getting out of the way, Goodsel explained. “Our success over the last six years has been founded on a group of solid individuals—team members, engaged employees—who are not just making parts but who are contributing in many ways to Viking’s culture of continuous improvement.”

Developing this culture at the company didn’t happen overnight. Part of the process involved the company’s unique educational program, Viking Academy, in which Viking employees learn about business and how the company operates. Everyone in the company is eligible to sign up for these classes, which meet in small groups of 10 to 12 people. Since implementing the program four years ago, more than half of Viking’s 120 employees have taken the class. Viking Academy is not your typical apprentice-type program.  At Viking Academy, the employees are trained in business practices.

“These classes, consisting of eight to 10 sessions of one to two hours per session, take people out of their comfort zone,” explained Goodsel. “We pull the curtain back on our business and give them an all-access education in how the company operates.”

Classes include the financial aspects: How to read an income statement and balance sheet, as well as learning about cash flow and why the company uses debt to finance the business. One class consists of an hour-long session with Goodsel, in which the students can ask him questions about the company, such as: “Why are we in China? Are we there to service customers? Why are we in Brazil? Where are we going next?” Class members have access to CFO Cathy Pitts; Tom Valentine, Director of Sales and Marketing; and to Goodsel. Having this type of access to upper management helps break down barriers that sometimes exist between the front office and the production floor. 

“The next time I walk through the plant they have a higher sense of confidence that they can approach me and ask a question or present an idea. They’re in a more comfortable position from which to interact,” said Goodsel.

“We have an aggressive growth strategy, and this opportunity to meet with employees in this setting [makes for a] really interesting session,” said Goodsel. “The employees are required to read one or two books and make a presentation—an improvement idea and how to implement it—to the management team. It’s a mini-MBA program for every employee, no matter what their position within the company. It’s amazing how many people have skills and ideas far beyond their daily jobs. The presentation allows them to demonstrate a real gift for an area in the business that we never considered them for otherwise.” 

The second key to Viking’s success with respect to its growth is “balancing the demands of the customer” versus the need to grow at an effective rate, Goodsel said. “It’s about balancing the aggressiveness you need for growth with the reality of being mindful of people,” he commented. “You can’t grow so fast that your team can’t properly support the customers, and/or you outstrip your cash resources.”

When companies fail to keep an eye on their key metrics, even good companies start losing their edge on important measures such as quality and start cutting corners when launching programs because they’re not properly staffed. And they make poor pricing decisions. So how does Viking handle this?

“We do something on a monthly and quarterly basis that helps guide us,” Goodsel said. “We look at our performance on a job-by-job basis and review each customer individually to examine specific issues. Those jobs and/or customers that are not performing financially as well as expected are reviewed as candidates for process improvements or [opportunities] to review pricing with the customer and/or the direction of the relationship. It’s been a successful strategy for us in how we’ve serviced and supported our customer base.”

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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