October 15, 2012
Shop Talk

Walking The Plant Floor Again: Q&A With Curtis Industries President And CEO Scott Nelson

Scott Nelson, President and CEO, Curtis Industries, Worcester

VIEW: Scott Nelson, president and CEO Curtis Industries

In The File: Scott Nelson

Title: President and CEO, Curtis Industries of Worcesters
Home State: North Carolina
Residence: Wellesley
Education: Bachelor's degree, Albion College in Michigan; master's degree, Southern Methodist University

Scott Nelson, a 26-year veteran of the construction equipment industry, took over as CEO of Worcester's Curtis Industries during the summer. Curtis makes cab systems and accessories for industrial and recreational vehicles, such as pickup trucks and compact tractors.

Economic numbers seem to indicate good days ahead for the construction industry. Are you seeing that as well?

The construction industry is recovering, albeit pretty slow. It's nowhere near where it was in 2006 and 2007.

So diversification, then, is a good thing.

Absolutely. You have to be diversified. That's what makes this a much healthier business.

You had executive experience in the foreign sales division of a similar company before you came to Curtis. How important are foreign markets today for Curtis Industries?

The North American market today is 100 percent of our business. For the foreseeable future, it'll be 100 percent. And I think longer term — three, four, five years, maybe — we'll look at doing more business in Europe. But at this point, it's not that important.

The problem with our business is that you really have to be closely aligned with the OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). We're the suppliers to them, so if you think about it, we're a piece of their product. Therefore, being close to them is really important. And so for us to supply to Japan or to China becomes a little difficult to manage the supply chain in terms of timing and speed to market.

When it comes to having the skills to work in the industry, what are the most important?

First of all, it's having a good idea of what your customers want. So, being able to open up whatever channels you have to your customers — whether you're counting on your distributors or dealers, or actually through your website — being able to understand what the customer requirements are, being able to customize that so you're on time. Also, having a product that the customer values.

Why is lean manufacturing important today?

It's empowering your workforce to make a difference. Lean has lots of different connotations. It's not a brand-new concept. Lean is really identifying waste and finding ways to improve your processes. Today you have to empower your employees so that they make a difference, so that they're actually looking at what we call continuous improvement, which is one of our core values at Curtis.

But that means … having visual metrics so that the worker every day knows through communication what's important, but also what they're doing to make a difference. So identifying ways, being more efficient, visual management, a clear understanding of what is success: these are all basic things. But if you think about the old days, you have a production floor that — let's say — is 100,000 square feet. You can do that same production in half of that just by eliminating the waste, finding areas of opportunity, delivering more of the material line side.

What's the most rewarding part of leading a company such as this one?

I worked for a company that I saw go from $100 million to nearly $3 billion. And while that was a lot of fun, it also got you further and further away from the business. And what I like about this is, we're just shy of 150 employees. I can walk our plant every day —and I do — whereas in the old days, I'd have to get on a plane. (We have) faster decision making, it's not decision making by committee. We can make a decision and move on, so we're pretty nimble.

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