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Earlier this spring, publisher Tom Brown and I were invited to attend the Grand Opening of Reliance Worldwide’s new global headquarters in Atlanta. Many of Reliance’s executives from around the world were in attendance, including president Michael Williams and his wife Anne — both of whom were instrumental in designing the new offices. It was such an impressive facility, and really signals the investment and emphasis that Reliance is putting into the North American market.
Williams warmly greeted guests, and gave a short presentation during which he shared some insight into the growth of Reliance and its North American operations. With his Australian accent and witty humor, Williams also recounted his first visits to the Cullman, Ala., operations of Cash Acme — and how the “Down Under” and “Down South” cultures have melded together.
He graciously agreed to an exclusive interview with The Wholesaler, and following are Williams’ responses to a wide range of questions I presented him.
MJM: Please give us some insight into the history of Reliance Worldwide?
Williams: Founded in 1949, the company originally specialized in the design and manufacture of valves for the control of pressure, temperature and flow used in the installation of water heaters and water heating systems. RWC has introduced many industry firsts, such as tempering and thermostatic mixing valves, pressure limiting valves and other products. Our many global brands such as SharkBite, Heat Guard, Cash Acme, TubeFit, RMC and Auspex are just some of our success stories.
Today, under Cash Acme and SharkBite brands, RWC is a leading supplier to wholesale distribution with production of several series of regulating valves. Cash Acme also serves the general plumbing and heating industry with a solid and well-regarded product range including pressure regulators, relief valves, backflow prevention devices and general plumbing and heating controls. The long-respected brand name has been well accepted by the professional trade. The humble roots of 1912 that A.W. Cash laid in the U.S. market have led to innovation of the largest T&P manufacturing operation in the world spanning three continents.
MJM: What have been the key strengths of the company that has brought it to such a global presence?
Williams: Strategic planning in:
• R&D and global product development
• Acquisitions of strategically aligned companies
• Large investment in automation facilities
• Strong working relationship with customers and understanding the customer needs.
MJM: What originally interested you in the Cash Acme acquisition?
Williams: In a word — synergy. The parallels between Cash Acme and the original RMC business in Australia were remarkable. There was a synergy in products, customers and market position with our other global brands. The Cash Acme acquisition also allowed us to utilize the distribution network to launch both new and established global brands as an entry to a wider range of products. The marriage of the two companies seemed inevitable — the similar histories brought them together as engineering and product development specialists.
MJM: When was that finalized, and are you pleased with the transition that has gone on since that time?
Williams: Taken over by Reliance Worldwide in July 2002, Cash Acme is poised to take an even more prominent role in the North American market. The resources of Reliance have made Cash Acme a stronger player in North American market while leveraging the efficiencies that now make Reliance the largest T&P and thermostatic valve manufacturer in the world. The expertise on all ranges of safety valves continues on four continents and in 12 different countries.
MJM: Please share an overview of the entire Reliance Worldwide organization today?
Williams: RWC proudly adheres to global industry standards and the company markets its products on a world platform, maintaining manufacturing and distribution in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, South Africa, France, United States, Canada and United Kingdom.
As part of the GSA Group — which employs over 1,500 worldwide, with an additional 100-plus new jobs coming to Atlanta — RWC is wholly Australian in both ownership and philosophy, and is delighted to be a new member of the Atlanta business community.
MJM: And could you give us a detailed look at your North American operations in particular, including the manufacturing facilities?
Williams: RWC’s core North American manufacturing base is in Cullman, Ala. In this facility we manufacture our full line of T&P valves and pressure regulators, along with a wide range of associated products.
Adjacent to the manufacturing facility is our Distribution Center, which was opened in September 2009. In this building we undertake the packaging of the Australian-made SharkBite product. We had anticipated that this facility would serve us through 2014, but we are already at capacity. As a result we are just about to open a new, larger DC in Cullman. This new facility will serve as our distribution hub and Customer Service center.
We are also ramping up a new facility in Canada, and have additional DCs planned for other parts of the U.S. in the next 12 months.
MJM: Congratulations on the grand opening of this fantastic new facility in Atlanta. Why did you feel that Atlanta was a good location for your new global headquarters?
Williams: This move will allow Reliance Worldwide Corporation to further develop its global strategies into the U.S., U.K., Canadian, South American and European markets, as well as broaden their relationships with growing American customers. Atlanta has a vast pool of highly educated and skilled people, which will inevitably help us grow and service our customers. It also allows us to have frequent access to our own global divisions with the international airport servicing all ports and a central location the close to our major customers. But its not just about connection, Atlanta provides a great culture with quality restaurants, hotels and entertainment, that we can share and enjoy together.
MJM: How many will be employed here? And which key departments of the organization will be here?
Williams: We anticipate 75 new in the short term, making 150 staff in the RWC corporate office. Key departments here are Cash Acme administration, SharkBite Global sales, RWC global marketing and global finance.
MJM: This is such a beautiful facility; would you please share some of its high-tech features that are designed to make communications, meetings, and even networking among employees more effective?
Williams: Of course, with this new facility we took the opportunity to install state-of-the-art communications facilities. Fully leveraging our global expertise and resources is a key to our success and so we see efficient internal communication is a strategic advantage. We have equipped each boardroom with video conferencing technology with allows efficient face-to-face communications with our global offices, suppliers and customers. Our networks have been increased for better project and file sharing that connects to each office worldwide ensuring we stay ahead of our customers needs. We have created Marketing facilities which include a studio which allows us to quickly meet staff and customer digital and print media and presentation needs. The actual office facilities themselves have been designed to promote better office interaction and team building, with the break room lounges that lead onto balconies against the backdrop of the Atlanta skyline.
MJM: You are very loyal to the wholesaler channel; please describe your efforts to strengthen those bonds with our readers throughout North America?
Williams: First and foremost, we are committed to ensuring we have relationships at all levels with our wholesale partners. This allows us to have a 360-degree view of what their needs are and how we can help them achieve their growth and profitability goals. This can only be accomplished by getting as close to their businesses as possible. We feel it is incumbent on us to stay abreast of the dynamic nature of the wholesale channel and we will continue to be active participants and members in industry associations such as ASA. We view our product quality is one of our greatest assets. There is no greater value to our trade partners, and we feel it is our responsibility as a manufacturer and a supplier to ensure that our wholesale partners are promoting and selling best-in-class products.
MJM: Being such a global organization, do you see many differences between the U.S. wholesaling channel and that in other countries or regions of the world?
Williams: The U.S. market is more structured. There is a robust and established network. The corporate groups are more disciplined in following their central purchasing strategies, and the buying groups are more cohesive than we have seen in other countries.
MJM: Please describe your efforts to stay ahead of or adapt to changes within the industry as a whole, especially in areas such as product development and electronic technology that streamlines ordering and customer communication?
Williams: As a market leader, our customers look to us to keep producing new innovative products and provide them ahead of the industry requirement, i.e. new lead free laws. To achieve this we have a substantial investment in R&D, which allows us to develop products and respond to technological changes quickly. We have invested significantly in our ERP system to ensure maximum levels of service with an efficient inventory level. Of course, we also utilize the latest EDI processes, bar-coding and scanning systems and associated technology.
MJM: Talk about the tremendous efforts that go into R&D to develop and launch new products?
Williams: I’m glad you used the term “tremendous efforts,” because that is exactly what it takes to launch a successful new product. Our SharkBite push-fit system is a great example. Many thousands of hours have gone into the development and manufacture of this product. This effort was backed by a significant marketing campaign. Nothing in this product happened by accident; it is all carefully considered to ensure the highest quality and longest life. Every detail matters, down to the material specification and profile of the stainless steel grab ring, the material used in the o-ring, the specification of the polymer for the cartridge and of course the DZR properties of the brass body. So we’re proud of this product, but we’re not resting on our laurels. We need to keep ahead of the followers. And we have some great developments in the near term that will ensure we do just that!
MJM: Will you discuss the reinvestment that you have made within the company and why this is so critical to your success?
Williams: Definitely advancing in new technology has put us ahead of the game as a market leader. As a private company, it has always been utmost important to reinvest capital expense to make our costumers leader in their specific markets.
MJM: Describe your leadership philosophy? Do you like to be hands-on with all aspects of the company?
Williams: I have in-depth knowledge of all aspects of the company, however, it is important to this company to have a great pool of highly skilled people. I encourage them to take responsibly for the growth of their departments and respective employees, which in turn grows the company. You’ve got to give your team the trust and confidence in their strengths.
MJM: What types of programs do you have to hire, train and retain quality employees at all levels of your company?
Williams: We take great care to hire the right person for the job. We not only look for the skills and experience, we also look for the right personality to be successful within our organization. We also do our best to take care of our employees; that not only refers to the compensation and benefits, but also the relationships among all employees. We are more than a company, we are a family. As a result, we have an incredibly loyal team. Virtually all the Cash Acme employees that came across to Reliance with the acquisition back in 2002 are still with us. We have more than doubled our staff since then, but we are still seeing the same level of loyalty with our new people.
We are working at a great pace, and pushing ahead strongly in the market, but we make sure we enjoy ourselves as we go along. I think we have brought to our North American business the “laid back” approach for which Australians are known, while at the same time remaining very focused on what we’re trying to achieve. We hope to retain this combination as we move forward.
MJM: Are you comfortable sharing your projections and growth plans for the near term?
Williams: Over the past 20 years we have historical grown an average 25% per annum and our aim is to continue to do so.
MJM: What do you believe sets Reliance/Cash Acme apart from its competitors?
Williams: The ability to adapt to constant change ahead of the market, with the goal to lead the industry.
MJM: And what has been your greatest satisfaction at the helm of the company?
Williams: To see the global growth of Reliance, becoming a true international company, is a great highlight that still continues today.
MJM: Will you share with us any information going forward on your strategic long-range planning? What are the key focus areas of the plan?
Williams: We’ll continue to do what we’ve always done — invest in technology, develop high-quality innovative products, undertake extensive training for our internal associates and our external partners, and strive to push the market forward.
We’re very excited about the future of RWC. We are working on some new developments for our SharkBite system that we believe will catapult us even further ahead of the competition. We also have some tremendous sustainability initiatives underway right now. In the near term we will be implementing a range of new products that will combine these two initiatives to deliver products that are both water saving and time saving. We believe we can continue to create new products categories, in much the same way we did with SharkBite, to meet the needs of everyone in the supply chain. Of course we’re also excited about the possibilities offered by social media and new communication technology. And behind the scenes we are improving every day on our manufacturing and supply chain operations to ensure the highest possible level of service to our wholesale customers. So we will be busy, but we’ll also be having fun and driving the market forward!