The New Presidents Speak

© 2000 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Winter 2000
Author: Tom Wadsworth
Pages 20-21

The New Presidents Speak

In the year 2000, new presidents emerged at three of our industry’s largest firms, as all three also took leadership roles on the board of directors at Door & Access Systems Manufacturers Association (DASMA).

In February, Hidetoshi Ichihashi became president of the newly established Door Systems Group at Overhead Door. In June at Windsor Door, Phil Sawyer became the president when Howard Burns was promoted to president of Entry Systems, a division of Magnatrax, Windsor’s parent company. At Clopay in August, Gene Colleran replaced Bill Sachs, who had been serving as interim president since last November when Bob Caulk took a CEO position with another firm.

For this story, each new president responded to the questions below. We appreciate their participation in helping us take a closer look at three leaders in our industry.

Quick Sketch

Gene Colleran

Born: Scranton, Pa.

Education: B.A. Grove City College (Pa.); M.B.A. Case Western Reserve University.

Age: 42.

Career: Gene spent nine years with Newell Rubbermaid, where he most recently served as president of the BernzOmatic division, a worldwide marketer and manufacturer of gas torches and accessories. Prior to Newell, he spent 10 years in the building materials industry with USG Corporation.

Hidetoshi Ichihashi

Born: Tokyo, Japan.

Education: B.A. Dokkyo University, Japan; M.A. in Public International Law from Meiji University;

IMD, Lausanne, Switzerland; INSEAD, Fontainebleau, France.

Age: 50.

Career: Toshi’s management background is in field services, marketing operations, general affairs, and human resources for Apple Computer, Nihon KLA, Schindler Elevator, and others. He served three years on Overhead Door’s management team and board of directors.

Phil Sawyer

Born: Memphis, Tenn.

Education: B.S. in Industrial Technology, Tennessee Tech; M.S. in Engineering Management from Murray State University.

Age: 50.

Career: Phil worked for 13 years as industrial engineer and plant manager at Johnson Controls’ Automotive Division in Murfreesboro, Tenn. He then went to Windsor Door as director of manufacturing from 1986-92. In 1992, he became president of Ceco Entry Systems, and returned to Windsor in 1995.


1. The culture of a company is often similar to the personality of its leader. How would you describe your personality and your management style?

Sawyer: I like to be involved in every aspect of the business, but I generally try not to dictate how things get done. Rather, I focus on setting pretty tough goals and then make sure that the resources are available to achieve those goals.

I prefer to be a team builder, and I’ve made it my goal to bring together the best people, best strategies and ideas to position Windsor as a market leader and a great place to work. I believe that to be an effective leader, you have to have the vision to look beyond today and focus on what’s best for the company, employees, and customers for the long term.

Colleran: I’m extremely competitive, focused, hands-on, and driven to succeed.

Ichihashi: I am a team builder. Before making a decision, I consider as many options and opinions as practicable. I respect the contribution of each individual I work with. This enables me to formulate goal-oriented plans and take decisive action in a timely fashion. I understand that, in the final analysis, the responsibility for effective problem-solving rests with me.

In addition, I take my responsibility to establish a vigorous – but consistent – business agenda very seriously. Our team must stay on target to achieve our bottom line goals.

2. What’s in your background that brings some advantages to your company?

Colleran: Most of my experience has been with companies that differentiate themselves with superior customer service. No matter how good you are, you can always improve your customer service.

Ichihashi: I have had an active involvement in business planning, reviewing, and forecasting in my former positions. I have also had extensive involvement in field challenges such as installation and maintenance for both high-tech equipment and manufacturing facilities. Those experiences position me to successfully straddle the challenge of keeping manufacturing, sales, and distribution in line with investor expectations.

And, of course, since I was with Overhead Door for three years as a member of the management team and board of directors, I have developed a more intimate understanding of the strengths and challenges of our organization and the needs of our customers.

Sawyer: Since I’ve spent the last fifteen years in the garage and entry door business, I don’t have to spend a lot of time understanding the business. Rather, my focus is on how we improve everything we do.

I began my career in the automotive industry and learned that cost at every level has to be tightly controlled, the quality of your products has to be reliable, and the needs of the customer must be your paramount concern. These same principles increasingly apply in the door business as the market gets tougher and the competition more aggressive.

3. All of you have experience in other industries. Can you name one way your former industry had become more professional or advanced than our industry?

Ichihashi: At Schindler Elevator, we made significant progress in cutting down installation time, parts shortages, and damage in general by developing efficient pre-assembly processes. As a result, we improved product reliability for our customers while cutting distributor installation and maintenance costs.

I believe at Overhead Door there is an opportunity to improve our distribution efficiency. We can benefit our distributor partners by focusing on customer service, product quality, and streamlined business processes.

Sawyer: The automotive industry is a highly engineered and regulated environment with a stringent set of federal safety standards and OEM design requirements. While it’s a highly competitive environment, everyone competes on a level playing field.

In our industry, with no such government regulations to bring discipline to the competition, the consumer can’t just rely on price in the buying decision. The new DASMA product certification program is a great first step toward addressing this issue. The consumer will benefit as this program gains acceptance.

Colleran: From what I have seen so far, my previous industries did a better job measuring and delivering superior customer service and satisfaction.

4. What is an important key lesson you’ve already learned about the garage door industry?

Sawyer: The door business is changing rapidly. I’ve seen the market change from predominantly wood doors to non-insulated steel and now almost half the market is insulated product. Marketing channels have changed with the advent of manufacturer-owned distribution centers and installation companies.

The “big box” retailers and lumberyards have also had a big impact on the traditional dealer. Leadership in most of the larger manufacturers has changed, several have had ownership changes, and many of the remaining family-owned companies have passed the torch to a new generation.

Colleran: Our dealers are sharp businesspeople who demand nothing but the best from us. They take great pride in their business and in the industry.

Ichihashi: This is a business built on partnerships. Those partnerships, with customers, vendors, and associates, are the most valuable resource for improvement and growth.

5. How do you see sales in the residential and commercial sector over the next 12 months?

Colleran: Consumer confidence and GDP growth are nearing three-year lows and trending downward. Our industry needs the predicted “soft landing” to materialize quickly if we are to experience any near-term growth.

Ichihashi: Our projections show stable growth patterns for next year, even in a softening economy.

Sawyer: We may have a rough market in 2001. The forecasts for residential housing starts are down, and the commercial construction outlook isn’t much better. With this weak outlook, we’re all going to have to focus on cost control, effective marketing, and the overall performance of our companies, and we have to help our dealers with the same issues.

6. If you could give a typical garage door dealer one piece of helpful advice, what would you say?

Ichihashi: Call us! Your active and on-going input and feedback is THE critical link to solving problems and achieving better service.

Sawyer: I think it’s important for door dealers to focus on constantly improving their skills in managing their business. We see far too many dealers get in trouble financially simply because they outgrow their ability to control their business.

The IDEA certification program is a great way of improving the professionalism and credibility of their business, and I would encourage every dealer to get involved in the program. I would also urge them to be aligned with not only a good reliable product supplier that can provide technical support and marketing help, but trusted legal and financial advisors as well.

Colleran: Take care of your customers.