CEO Spotlight: Q&A with Karl Glassman
NAJI met with Karl Glassman, President & CEO of Leggett & Platt, Inc., to learn about his leadership style and the company’s 133-year commitment to innovation, quality products, protecting intellectual property (IP), and creating jobs. Here’s what he had to say:
Q: What drew you to manufacturing?
A: I was born into it. My father managed a bedspring company in Southern California that was owned by my mother’s family. I started working on the factory floor when I was seventeen.
Q: How did the company get started?
A: The company was founded, in 1883, by J. P. Leggett and C. B. Platt. Inventor J. P. Leggett initiated the partnership after developing an innovative bedspring. Lacking expertise in manufacturing and production, Leggett recruited his future brother-in-law, C. B. Platt, whose father owned and operated Platt Plow Works.
Q: What new products are you bringing to market?
A: We are constantly bringing innovative new products to market in our primary business areas: automotive, bedding, and furniture. Many of our customers depend on us to innovate their new product introductions.
Q: What is one of the biggest challenges facing Leggett & Platt today?
A: Cautious global consumers. Government over regulation.
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY & INNOVATION
Q: Leggett & Platt’s first patent, entitled “BED SPRING,” was issued in 1885. How many patents do you hold today?
A: Today Leggett & Platt has 653 active patent families. Things are often not as simple as it was back in 1885. In today’s environment, a single patent on a single product is not very effective. Now we develop families of inter-related patents to protect our products.
Q: Beyond patents, can you tell us a little more about your IP portfolio?
A: Leggett & Platt has a growing list of Trademarks to protect our corporate identities and our individual products. Even though Leggett & Platt does not often market directly to the ultimate consumer, we are finding that it is increasingly important to protect our corporate and product names domestically and overseas.
Q: Can you give us three examples of where weak IP protections have hurt Leggett & Platt workers in domestic plants?
A: I can give you one example that comes up repeatedly in Leggett & Platt’s varied industries. Leggett & Platt maintains U.S. and foreign patents in different technologies–mostly on components for larger products. Our U.S. patents are considered the most effective, but they still have a flaw. Leggett & Platt cannot enforce its U.S. patent against a foreign competitor when the competitor’s infringing product comes to the U.S. assembled inside a customer product. We are limited to enforcing these patents against the customer. This makes for a very difficult decision: whether to pursue patent infringement against a customer or to forgo enforcing Leggett & Platt’s U.S. patent. Either choice can lead to lower volumes of products produced by Leggett & Platt domestically. With lower volumes, we have fewer workers.
Q: What is the worst case of IP theft you have seen or experienced?
A: A few years back a Chinese competitor knocked off one of Leggett & Platt’s patented designs for an automotive lumbar system. That is not an unusual event. What made this an example of a worst case, is that the Chinese competitor had gone to the Chinese Patent Office and obtained its patent protection in the form of a utility model. The competitor was using this utility model to warn customers to switch to its knock off design instead of the original Leggett & Platt product.
It required a lot of effort to convince the Chinese Patent Office to cancel the competitor’s utility model. We were ultimately successful in this effort.
Q: How many additional employees could you hire if the U.S. protected IP more vigorously?
A: Without question, that number would be significant, but it would be difficult to estimate.
Q: Why do you support NAJI?
A: Leggett & Platt supports NAJI so that domestic manufacturers can have a voice and influence over the changing Intellectual Property environment in the U.S. and overseas. We have seen numerous changes in U.S. IP laws over the last several years. U.S. manufacturers have not always had a key role in participating when these changes are being discussed and implemented. High-tech industries, pharmaceuticals, and biotech companies have all been influential in these changes. These companies do not always have the same priorities as manufacturing companies. Since it is difficult for any single company to have much impact on these issues, Leggett & Platt looks to NAJI to be its voice.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you do?
A: Know your customers. Invest in your people. Focus on long-term strategy. Get involved in industry associations. Be a student of industry and the world.
Q: What is one characteristic that every leader should possess?
A Passion for what you do.
Q: With 130 manufacturing facilities in 19 countries, how do you ensure that product quality is maintained or improved?
A: We invest heavily in continuous improvement techniques and quality systems.
Q: Rumor has it that you don’t use executive suite restrooms when visiting manufacturing facilities. Instead, you use the restrooms on the shop floor. Why?
A: I have found that it is an indicator of how the facility manager views the factory floor people. People win wars; they should be respected and empowered.
Q: What’s next for Leggett & Platt?
A: More of the same. Profitable growth, driven by innovation and investment in our employees for the benefit of our customers and shareholders. We are a 133-year-old company. We manage with long-term vision.
Leggett & Platt, Inc. is a global leader and manufacturer of residential, commercial, industrial, and specialized products and components that can be found in most homes, offices, and vehicles. The company, founded in 1883 in Carthage, Missouri, is made up of 17 business units, 20,000+ employee-partners, and 130 facilities in 19 countries. Leggett & Platt, an S&P 500 diversified manufacturer, is committed to helping customers enjoy more comfortable lives. http://leggett.com/