Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Reflections from a Safety Industry Giant: Applause and Tributes as MSA's John T. Ryan III Prepares to Step Down

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Reflections from a Safety Industry Giant: Applause and Tributes as MSA's John T. Ryan III Prepares to Step Down

Article excerpt

May marks the end of an era when John T. Ryan III retires as chairman and CEO of Mine Safety Appliances (MSA, Pittsburgh, Pa.).

Ryan has been with the company since 1969 and is the third generation of Ryans to lead the company. He has held the position of chairman and chief executive officer since October 1991. Ryan's grandfather, John Ryan, and George Deike--two rescue engineers for the old U.S. Bureau of Mines--founded the company in 1914 with the help of Thomas Edison.

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When MSA's management succession plan was announced, Ryan noted, "After my retirement as an executive, I plan to keep a deep interest in MSA and to be active as a shareholder and director of MSA's board. Since our founders, all of the CEOs of the company, who were fortunate to live to age 65, retired from this position at that time and likewise it seems sensible for me to do so also." William M. Lambert, the current president and chief operating officer of MSA, will succeed Ryan as chief executive officer when Ryan retires. Lambert also serves as an MSA director.

Commenting on Lambert's impending promotion, Ryan noted: "One of my particular satisfactions at this time is the breadth and skill of our management staff at MSA which we have built up over the recent decade and a half. Bill Lambert will have an excellent team with whom to work in the years ahead, both at the executive level and at all positions throughout this organization in the many countries in which we have operations."

Proudest Moment for MSA

Ryan has had his share of moments of achievement in his 39 years at MSA. One of those moments, said Ryan, "was how our team performed on 9/11."

Events on 9/11 showed the stuff MSA is made of. "What does MSA do in emergencies? We grab products that people need and get them to the location where people need them," Ryan told EHS Today.

"We had people who were specialists in the field and the fire service, who thought, now, if you were on the ground right there, what would you need? So we packed up a lot of breathing apparatus and respirators, firefighter hats and more, and got it on three trucks.

"We were kind enough to call one of our competitors in town and say 'Hey, do you have stuff that they need at the location,' and they did, so they brought a truck over, and the four trucks were escorted by the Pennsylvania and then the New Jersey state police right to Ground Zero," Ryan remembers.

"We had one quarter of our sales force in the U.S. in New York City for the next few months at the scene, training people on how to select the right respirator, and how to use and maintain the respirator. The devotion that MSA people had was something great," explained Ryan. He describes his own visit to the 911 scene, two weeks after the event, as "an extremely sobering experience."

Another proud moment for Ryan was seeing the MSA factory in Murrysville, Pa. (20 miles east of Pittsburgh) survive and thrive. The plant, whose productivity had fallen to 75 percent, was destined for closing after MSA lost a major military contract.

Ryan assembled a team to turn around the Murrysville facility and correct its manufacturing inefficiencies. Ryan gave the plant's managers a year to meet high, but doable, goals or face closing the plant.

MSA introduced Six Sigma and lean manufacturing standards and started monthly performance evaluations for employees, who were reviewed on quality, productivity, safety, delivery and attendance.

By 2000, Ryan and his team completed the transformation, with the Murrysville plant winning an Industry Week Best Plants award as one of the 10 best manufacturing facilities in the United States.

"So, from almost being shut down to be one of the best factories in America, there was a lot of satisfaction in what we did at Murrysville," said Ryan.

MSA Hits a Rough Patch

"The 1990s were our most challenging years," remembers Ryan. …

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