Thirty-two-year-old Zach Weiner had no interest in getting into the family business, a glass manufacturing company based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But, somehow, fixing the tiles on the ceiling of his dad's executive office led him to the presidency of Colonial Glass — and some revolutionary changes for this 78-year-old company.
When Colonial Mirror & Glass Corp. president Zach Weiner first started driving his dad to work in 1996, the last thing he was thinking about was taking over the family business, a flat glass manufacturing company started by his grandfather Benjamin in 1932. As Weiner recalls, "My father's health was failing, and he couldn't see very well, so I started driving him from his home in Far Rockaway to [the Williamsburg section of] Brooklyn. I had majored in psychology in college, and wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do, but in all honesty, my plans were not leaning toward the family business. But I remember a pivotal moment: I noticed the ceiling tiles in my father's office were discolored, and some of them were missing. I said to him, ‘Dad, you're the president of the company. This makes a horrible first impression on people who walk in here — you need to replace these.' So I got on a ladder and started fixing his tiles. That's where it all began." It didn't take long for Weiner to start noticing that other things were amiss as well. The factory floor had been compartmentalized, with lots of "hidden areas," and workers had created a small gymlike space for themselves, complete with weights, where they were working out instead of working. Weiner also noticed workers wandering in at 11 a.m., while other employees would be covering for them, punching in their time cards at 7 a.m. The factory floor had little or no supervision, and as Weiner observes, "It's human nature in those cases to start to slack off, but clearly something needed to be done.
"It's a tough call, when your father and your uncle [George Weiner, the company's CEO] have been preoccupied with the company for all those years, and then you step in and start getting into more tangible things. But, luckily, I had my father's blessings to go ahead and fix what needed to be fixed." Now 32, Weiner can't remember the exact moment he became president of the company (his father passed away in 2002); it "just sort of happened, bit by bit and piece by piece."
And bit by bit is how Weiner started. His first big goal was to revamp the layout of the factory floor, opening up the space so that there were no more hidden areas. Then, after hearing an expert in "lean manufacturing," John Rotchford, speak at a conference in 2000, Weiner hired him as operations manager. "I was intrigued by the whole notion of lean manufacturing, cutting down on waste, and changing things like our lead time," enthuses Weiner. "Before John, our lead time was three weeks. After John, we were able to knock that time down to five days, and for an upcharge someone can have their order in one to three days."
Rotchford's lean manufacturing model also helped streamline and upgrade Colonial's operations division, turning the "order takers" into "real customer service employees, developing relationships with our customers and making sure they were happy," says Weiner.
Zach Weiner's transformation of Colonial's culture and his lean efficiency philosophy extended into every facet of the organization, including the company's energy needs. In 1999, Weiner made a huge change when he switched from using the local utility provider to co-generation. "Like most businesses in the area," he recalls, "we were dependent on the local energy company for our electricity, meaning we were being asked to use a lot less energy during heavy power drainage months such as July and August.