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Challenges: Opportunities in disguise

Challenges: Opportunities in disguise

Hiner became chairman and CEO of Owens Corning in 1992. He joined Owens Corning after spending 35 years with The General Electric Company. From 1978 through 1991, Hiner served as GE's senior vice president responsible for plastic businesses in Pittsfield, MA. Before assuming that position, he managed GE's plastics business in Europe, GE's Specialty Motors Department in Fort Wayne, IN, and GE's Vertical Motor Department in San Jose, CA. Hiner holds a B.S. in electrical engineering and an honorary doctorate in science from West Virginia University.

Glen Hiner believes change is another word for opportunity. And if that's the case, there will be plenty of opportunities for all hands at Owens Corning in the years to come.

Design News--In large firms, how important is loyalty to the company on the part of engineers and other workers?

Hiner: Loyalty is an issue under a lot of scrutiny today, because loyalty goes both ways. Individuals are asking, "how loyal is the company to me and why should I be loyal if I can't expect loyalty from my employer?" Loyalty is important, and it's important both ways, from the company to the engineer and from the engineer to the company. And we need, to build trust so that loyalty can become a stronger element of the relationship between employer and employee.

Q: How can large companies win and retain the loyalty of their employees?

A: One of the ways is making sure that we keep all of our people contemporary. We must invest more, not less, in training, and make sure that people in our organizations are given opportunities to continue to expand their horizons, and to expand their technical competencies. They, as individuals, must feel like they're on top of their learning curve, as opposed to getting stuck in ruts.

Q: How much danger do political and technical changes pose for today's large companies?

A: There's a lot of challenge coming through technical change and political change. But I believe these are opportunities. We're putting in systems today that give us the ability to transfer data and information in more scope and more detail than we've ever thought imaginable. And the way that we use data transfer and the way that we keep our people contemporary are opportunities for improvement, as opposed to challenges.

Q: How important will the international market be to Owens Corning by the turn of the century and ten years from now?

A: We look at the world market as one market. And the U.S. market is just one segment of the world market. So the international market is vitally important. But if you want to look at it statistically, in 1995 our business outside the United States was about 24% of revenues. This year we think it'll be 27%. And ten years from now that proportion ought to be 40%. So the importance of non-U.S. markets and non-U.S. sales increases year by year.

Q: What will offshore production mean to U.S. employment?

A: The plants that we're building now in China--we have two there and we'll have three in operation in Mainland China by the end of this year--are put there to serve the Chinese markets. Our plant in Africa is 100% dedicated to serving Africa. Products like ours that are not easily transportable--transportation is a major contributor to their cost--will not come back into other markets. Offshore plants will serve markets in their regions. So I don't see that being a problem with our industry.

Q: What is the importance of Miraflex(TM) fibers to product design engineers?

A: We have to develop the processes and applications that give design engineers the opportunity to use Miraflex. We've utilized the fibers in our insulation business. We have a lot of work going on to characterize these fibers so design engineers will have the opportunity to use their inherent UV resistance, chemical resistance, and solvent resistance in other applications. Those data ought to be available early in 1997.

Q: What types of new materials or coatings can engineers expect from Owens Corning in the next few years?

A: We're going to continue to work very heavily in polymer-related areas--what can glass fibers do to enhance the properties of polymers? We're still in the infancy of the art of pultrusion as a process. That process represents a lot of opportunity for us. We continue to work on how we can experience less abrasive wear on extruders in processing--perhaps by using better coatings on fibers. So what they can look for from us are different ways to coat fibers, different ways to use fibers, and different ways to process fibers.

Q: What skills must today's engineers develop to succeed?

A: More and more, engineers must be good communicators. Working on communications skills is very important. The other thing they must make sure they do is keep in shape intellectually and be contemporary technically. Engineers coming out of college today are much more adept in today's computer skills than are people in industry. They have a leadership position; it's of utmost importance to them that they maintain that position. And they must continue to challenge them- selves to stay ahead and not fall into one of the ruts that I talked about earlier.

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