The challenge: take a venerable manufacturer in the automotive industry, redirect its product line and mix, change its name, revamp its entire management structure and turn it into a Fortune 500 company. Oh, and take your time: you’ve got just a little over a decade to implement the most sweeping, revolutionary changes in the fabled history of Sealed Power. Not only was Robert Tuttle, the Robert D. Tuttle chairman and former CEO of SPX (Formerly Sealed Power) up to the challenge, but also he created it, authored it and overcame it.
Tuttle, a recipient of a 1991 Distinguished Service Citation from the Automotive Hall of Fame, directed the corporate and management makeover of SPX and has positioned the company to the status it enjoys today: a worldwide automotive service industry leader, a company at the cutting-edge of manufacturing environmentally-driven products. Specifically, the company has enjoyed tremendous success recently with its refrigerant recovery and recycling system and a new system for gas emission testing. Tuttle says his company is merely producing what the public wants.
“Several years ago, we began to emphasize the marketing function,” he said. “We felt we had to understand and be better prepared to respond to market needs. We found that there was a growing interest in ecologically sound products. “Recently, we’ve enjoyed the realization of opportunities. Our recovery system, for example, is now in use around the world,” he said. “The demand for this product is customer driven by environmental urgency.” In fact, Tuttle says that his company’s approach to market research is one of the keys to success in the automotive – and any other business. “Innovation and market sensitivity usually equals success,” he said. “There’s no secret in that formula.”
Also no secret is the way Tuttle changed the infrastructure of the company after he became its CEO. “At that time, management was very centralized,” he explained. “To better tailor ourselves to meet our needs, I felt we need to segmentize. Several other major companies, such as GE and 3M, used that management approach and proved it to work. “In a way, we were similar to those companies in that we had a diverse product mix,” he said. “And so, we tried it.”
Team management has several direct benefits, Tuttle said. “Often, you have a product that’s not yet in full flower,” he said. “But when you put a team onto it and give that team ownership and responsibility, often that product blossoms.” Another benefit of the team management approach is that it provides the opportunity to reward more people. “Additionally, it allows a company to get more people involved in the management process,” he said. “When I came to Sealed Power, a meeting of our top-level management people would have consisted of perhaps 15 individuals; today, between 100 and 150 people would attend that same meeting. This is one of the significant characteristics of our progress.”
Tuttle ‘s road to the automotive industry was not a direct one, but he said he ‘s always held the industry in high esteem. “I’ve always been impressed by the fact that so many of us are related to the auto industry, no matter what other business we’re in,” he said. “One statistic I’ve seen indicates that three out of every four people owe their livelihood to the auto industry. That’s an amazing statistic.” Other attractions to the industry for Tuttle were the rewards, both creatively and financially. “I realized there were big opportunities, well-quantified opportunities, in the auto industry,” he said. “And I also recognized the fact that there was reward for innovation.”
Certainly, Tuttle has been a master of innovation at SPX, which is now a worldwide automotive service industry leader. He led its transition from a supplier of precision engine components to the original equipment and replacement transportation industry to a diverse manufacturer of environmentally driven products for the industry. And he sees more change down the road.
“Peter Drucker once said that it takes 20 years to do anything, and I now realize the wisdom of those words,” he said. “We’ve worked our way through the first 20-year progression; now, we’re five years into the second 20 years. “Growth will continue to occur because of our expanded product lines, which come as a result of our increased technological abilities,” he said. “We can get fair prices for those products now, and in the future. And the appetite for success is infectious.” Tuttle urges young people to consider the automotive industry for a career choice. “When you elect to be in this industry, you ask to be in the major leagues,” he said. “This industry makes you stretch to your limits. It gives you personal, financial and social rewards. “And there are so many windows in this industry,” he continued. “You can pursue virtually any career track you want. You have the chance to spell out your own destiny in the automotive industry.” And the chance to meet its many challenges, just as Robert Tuttle has done.