Salem's New President Shares Challenges, Plans for Salem Glass
July 28, 2010

Michael Willard

The 47 employee-owners of Salem Distributing Co. in Winston-Salem, N.C., appointed Michael Willard as the company's new president earlier this month (CLICK HERE for related story). Willard brings 25 years of glass sales management experience, the last 11 years as Salem's national sales manager and executive vice president to his new position. He recently sat down with™ to share his vision for the company and some of the challenges he's facing in his new role.

USGNN: What do you expect to be your biggest challenge in your new role as company president?

MW: The biggest challenge in my new role here is making sure our employee ownership culture maintains that passion to move forward. I think if employees have a lot of passion for the business, they will perform at high levels. That's one of the core values we definitely want to instill here at Salem with our 45 employee owners. On top of that, obviously Salem participated in the recession last year, just like everybody else, and we know we came out standing strong. We're looking forward to the future and growing the business and continuing to serve our glass customers.

USGNN: How do you plan to handle these challenges?

MW: We're looking to expand our field sales network. Right now, we have 14 sales reps calling on customers. It's our intent to hire more sales reps. We are looking at adding additional lines that have value-added machines and also support to expand our sales presence in the United States.

USGNN: What are your long-term goals for the company?

MW: I want to diversify the business even more. We want to reach out and expand our presence in the float glass market. We represent such a wide array of supplies for the market, and we're looking for ways to change the dynamics in the marketplace as far as how customers process glass. We're always looking for ways to reduce the number of steps our customers have to go through.

USGNN: What would you say is special about your company?

MW: Everyone here at Salem has an employee-stock ownership in their name. Employees want to be here for the long haul, they want to see that share to increase every year, so that when they retire, they have a nice lump. I think we're a very unique company.

USGNN: What role in the industry do you hope to see Salem playing ten years from now?

MW: We want to expand our presence. I'd like to see our sales double within ten years.

USGNN: How do you think the glass business has changed since you first began in it?

MW: I started in the glass industry about 24 years ago, and the industry has changed drastically, [with] vertical integration with fabricators. It has changed tremendously and will continue to change. I think we all need to wake up every morning and expect change to happen.

USGNN: What kind of advice would you offer someone just starting out in this industry?

MW: Expect change. I think for anybody new coming into the industry, you've got to continually reinvent yourself, improve your skills and look towards the future and see what skills are needed to adapt to the landscape.

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