President Gregory A. Risch wants to maintain world-class standards with Accuride Wheels and stay on top of a competitive market.
With 25 years at Accuride Corporation, first in the finance department, and since 2017, as President of its North American Wheels division, Gregory A. Risch has watched the company maintain consistently high standards in its marketspace, and he doesn’t view these achievements as any accident.
As truck and other specialty vehicle manufacturers look for increasingly lighter, easier-to-maintain, and more cost-effective solutions, Risch says he has found that the road to success is paved with constant attention to detail.
“I was the CFO during my last four years working in finance and then I ran our Gunite (an Accuride Corporation subsidiary) business for two years before taking over as President of our North American Wheels business sixteen months ago,” Risch told CEO Magazine. “The principal opportunities I saw at that point were to maintain and continue the world-class performance of our operating facilities and how we service our customers.”
Accuride Wheels is the largest North American manufacturer and supplier of wheels for heavy- and medium-duty trucks and commercial trailers, as well as for buses, commercial light trucks, and specialty military vehicles.
Based in Evansville, Indiana, and with operations in North America, Europe, and Asia, Accuride Corporation last year boasted global revenue of $1.2 billion, yet Risch sees even brighter days ahead.
“Our industry is rolling right now in multiple geographies,” he said. “The production of new trucks and trailers is really high and the last thing we want to do is to be on a list of someone who can’t supply them. If we can deliver a product on time with the right quality at a competitive price, that’s exactly what we’re going to keep on doing.”
An evolving product
Accuride Wheels designs and manufactures both steel and aluminum wheels, yet upon taking over as president for North America Wheels, Risch believed that the principal opportunity was in capacity growth in aluminum wheels as per the demand of customers who are increasingly looking for new technology in the market.
“Our customers right now are looking for lighter wheels,” Risch explained. “Whether it be for fuel purposes, for reduced stopping distance purposes, or economic payback, they want lighter vehicles, and so having more capabilities on the lighter side is good. For me, it was about a $25 million project to expand our capacity in North America for aluminum wheels. That was the biggest opportunity for growth.
“I think we’re uniquely positioned because we are the only manufacturer of both steel and aluminum wheels for the commercial vehicle market, and beyond that we also have our other product line, our braking components,” he added. “So, we’re the only ones you can come to if you want a steel wheel, an aluminum wheel, a brake drum, a hub, or a slack adjuster. We’re the one guy that can do that.”
Attention to detail
For Risch, maintaining the high standards Accuride Wheels is recognized for means keeping constant attention on the metrics that make the company run smoothly, from its manufacturing plants to its distribution and supply chain and customer satisfaction.
“The first thing we want to do is continue to maintain the great results we have,” Risch insisted. “We watch metrics every day, every week, and we share those upwards so I know exactly how every plant is doing. For example, if I look at the plant closest to me, which is 30 miles away, their scrap rate is 0.05%, so it’s going to be pretty hard to improve. It’s that way for a lot of reasons including how we run our plants and how we use our systems to do so.
“The beauty of it is how we integrate metrics on everything from supply chains to finance, and monitor what customers are saying on their scorecards,” he highlighted. “Sometimes you might get someone internally who thinks you’re doing great, but the customer may not agree. Maybe the truck got there late, or maybe the product didn’t look good when it got there. Sometimes I think we look at too much data, but I honestly believe that if we keep our eye on the ball, we won’t drop it.”
Leading the market
Risch is clear-sighted on what sets Accuride Wheels apart from its competition in North America, which includes the way the company vertically integrates its design, manufacturing, and distribution capabilities, a luxury that also shields the organization somewhat from changing international headwinds.
“One key is being more vertically integrated on the manufacturing side as opposed to solely buying from abroad,” he said, by way of example. “So there’s not an import or tax code coming from China or somewhere that’s going to throw us out. Being able to control our world is what ultimately sets us apart. We can pull whatever triggers we need, whether it’s in the US, Canada, or Mexico.
“If I look over the past 25 years, our customers have moved south. A lot of big trucks used to be made in the north. Obviously, today, there’s a lot more trucks and trailers made in Mexico. So we have the ability to push and pull depending on what our customer needs are or what regulatory impacts could come our way.”
This vertical integration strategy also presents advantages in terms of ease of supply chain integration and even research and development aspects with Accuride working with a relatively few number of strategic partners who contribute heavily on the R&D side of things.
“On the wheel side, it’s very simple. If I could show you the building materials for a wheel, there are only three things for a steel wheel: it’s raw steel, paint, and weld wire,” Risch said by way of highlighting this flexibility. “So there’s not a tremendous amount that is done for a steel wheel supply chain-wise. An aluminum wheel is even simpler: it’s just aluminum.
“The most strategic portion of our relationships would be with raw materials. We work with different producers to figure out how to get stronger and lighter alloys, and that’s an ongoing process. They have R&D going on at their place, so they may bring us something or we may take something to them and say, ‘Hey, can you look at it from this direction or from this aspect?’”
Collaborating on technology
“The other side of it would be coating,” Risch highlighted. “Steel does one thing when it’s out in the elements: it rusts. So if you can have a really good paint coating, you’re going to extend the life of that wheel for the truck driver and the fleet. Our suppliers are few in number, but it’s really important to partner with the right organization that’s bringing the best technology.
“There’s an aspect of appearance, aesthetics, but the function and the way it’s maintained is key because that keeps the trucks running rather than having to stop and fix or replace a part.”
Risch is confident that under his tenure Accuride Wheels can continue to maintain its dominant market position in North America, in large part because of the attention to detail and resulting commitment to excellence that he has put at the forefront of the company’s strategy and which he hopes will continue for many years.
“It’s about being aligned with where our customers are and where we’re going, and making sure that we’re developing the products that are satisfying them,” he stressed.“That’s how you never lose market share. If we never take our eye off the ball operationally and financially, and we’re providing the products they want, we’re never going to give customers a reason not to source from us.”