Magazine article Management Today

Best Process Factory Winner: Kimberly-Clark

Magazine article Management Today

Best Process Factory Winner: Kimberly-Clark

Article excerpt

The Process Industry Award went to Kimberly-Clark, chosen from the food, drink, tobacco, chemicals sector

Process factories call for outstanding management - given that technology has to be married with a mastery of the manufacturing issues to bring about commercial success. The high standard of our two finalists in this category made it difficult to choose between the two. Detergent powder manufacturer Robert McBride's plant in Barrow-in-Furness responded superbly to the challenges of the more demanding marketplace that they operate in; while the less competitive commercial environment of Kimberly-Clark's Flint Mill, which produces industrial wipers, has undoubtedly helped it to become the manufacturing showpiece that the judges witnessed. A tiebreak had to be introduced: this involved a detailed examination of comparable areas including packaging. Following this, Kimberly-Clark was declared the category winner.

Set in a 90-acre site outside Flint, the plant - or mill as it is called by the company - performs a neat trick. 'Plastics aren't absorbent, right? Wrong,' says technical supremo Mike Kebbell, as he pours a can of Coke over an industrial wiping cloth made from 100% polypropylene. 'The secret is in making the hydrophobic hydrophillic,' he says.

But this is not the only key to the plants success. Both finalists emphasised that their process technology provided only a portion of their competitive edge. A high-quality workforce was important too. Robert McBride's general manager Ken Haselden happily admitted to 'paying over the odds' to attract and retain the best. This commitment was echoed by Kimberly-Clark's factory manager Andy Wilson.

However, their approaches differ from that point. The McBride culture is stolidly traditional, whereas Kimberly-Clark's attitude is the most informal of all our 11 finalists. At Flint Mill, titles and protocol are out, although Andy Wilson will don a suit and refer to himself as a manager on visits to suppliers or customers. Like the two others in their thirties running this [Pounds]25-million business - and indeed the rest of the workforce - he was dressed in casual slacks and a T-shirt with his name embroidered on it.

The team ethos that has been established over the last few years underscores everything at the plant. According to Wilson, it has made his life much easier. 'Before, people wanted to be told everything,' he says. Shift handovers - a critical moment in any continuous process business - now run like clockwork. …

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