We’re all a product of our experiences, and Ron Voigt is no different.
The CEO of Hyperion Materials & Technologies has been responsible for global industrial businesses that were essentially divisions of large publicly traded companies. He’s taking that background and applying it to running a private equity-owned business, where he has more control, more influence and a broader set of challenges.
“My experience is that organizations will eventually mimic what they think the priorities are of those people who are leaders,” he says. “If leaders portray an environment where they don’t want to hear bad news, well, they will not hear bad news, and things will slip away without them even being aware of it.”
Voigt says he has had his head taken off for saying something someone didn’t want to hear, and it doesn’t take long to realize there’s no upside in being transparent.
“Companies and people ought to be all about understanding what’s wrong and use that to help frame what they’re going to go work on to make a situation right,” Voigt says.
This concept — which he calls embracing the red — has been a central message since he joined Hyperion in July 2018.
The Worthington-headquartered business, which specializes in base materials, tool maker components, engineered products and process tools and solutions, was sold to global investment firm KKR at the same time.
Hyperion began as part of General Electric, where it produced synthetic diamonds. After becoming an independent company in the 2000s, the Scandinavian conglomerate Sandvik purchased the business and combined it with its cemented carbide group. In 2017, Sandvik went through a corporate reorganization and decided to divest the business.
Voigt, who’d already been working with KKR, was drawn to Hyperion’s industrial markets and global nature — it has 11 plants around the world, with its largest portion of revenue coming from Europe. He felt he could offer value to Hyperion in terms of improvements to operations and the strategy and commercial processes.
“A lot of my prior experience was quite deep into Lean within a couple of organizations, so I felt I had the opportunity to help the company focus on the right priorities and to make sure that the pace and the depth of improvement were consistent with our expectations,” he says.
The business is still finding its cultural footing after the Sandvik carve-out and ownership change, with KKR emphasizing employee engagement, community involvement and ownership. All of KKR’s industrial companies include broad-based employee ownership; a percentage of the company’s ownership is set aside for the workforce, so that employees receive a financial reward or upside when KKR eventually exits its ownership.
Voigt has been encouraged by the energy the employees have put into making improvements in what was already a very good business.
He says, by embracing the red, Hyperion can have a clear focus. It will be able to recognize problems and challenges, take responsibility for those challenges or problems, and then work hard individually and as teams to resolve those issues.
“We want to be a company where, when a metric is red, when we’re behind the level of expectation that we’ve set for ourselves, people think about red as an opportunity to embrace and to improve, and I think that message has resonated,” Voigt says. “People across the organization have shown a strong willingness to adopt that or to operate in a way that is consistent with that philosophy, and that’s allowed us to drive some great improvements.”