People power

Written by By Corinna Petry

Above: Champagne Metals has hired people with extensive mill experience, adding knowledge to the rest of the company.

Building a team with a broad and deep knowledge of product, processes, technology and customer requirements opens up possibilities

November 2019 - Now in its 23rd year in business, Champagne Metals’ growth has been epic. President and CEO Mike Champagne says now is the time to take the most capable employees within the aluminum service center and processing company and turn them into leaders. “The second generation is coming in. We are building an incredible team,” he says.

Brandon Champagne, vice president of operations, explains that the company has hired experienced people from several mills. “Some have 20 years and even up to 50 years of experience. It’s important we know our product and know the capabilities of each of the different mills. We are processing material for mill customers. These new hires are bringing more knowledge.”

The former mill people, and others who have been with Champagne for a long time, serve as mentors. “We have people with experience, but they will eventually retire. We must keep sharing our knowledge within the company because customers like our expertise and we want to remain consistent in the future,” Brandon Champagne says.

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Company leaders view broad and deep training as an investment rather than as a cost. For the complete package, the best people are critical, says COO Darren Hayes.

Darren Hayes, chief operating officer, says it has not been difficult to find qualified candidates for a wide range of openings at the company. “There are people seeking out opportunities with us. As Champagne Metals is a significant presence in the aluminum industry, many who have substantial experience are seeking to come to us and are sending us their resumes without solicitation.”

Even family members are taught virtually every aspect of the business in order to move ahead. “When Brandon joined us, he did every job in the company. He is VP of operations now, but over the years has loaded trucks, run the crane, run the shipping and receiving offices, run the leveling and cut-to-length lines,” he says.

The “Champagne Way” is to put employees through broad training, “to spend time on the floor, in receiving and shipping, account sales, to learn what customers expect. Watch the metal run and be able to talk about our processes with firsthand knowledge.

“A lot of it is showing them and living the life of everyone in each position. That provides mutual respect,” Hayes continues. “When you work in each department, you understand what it takes to complete the job. It helps each department know one another. I encourage our team to be on the floor, regardless of title or level of responsibility.”

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In-house training

The majority of training Champagne Metals employees receive is given in house. “The training is customized to the employee, based on what experience they already have,” says Hayes. “But everyone is assessed for background. We tailor it to the individual and create a three-month, 12-month or 18-month plan.

“Say we have a new account manager. Depending on their prior experience, he or she may need to spend time extra time with a quality manager. So later, when a customer calls in, they have the experience to know what the standards are.”

Company leadership views this broad and deep training as an investment rather than a cost. “At Champagne, we invest in the best facilities and the best equipment. If we are going to be the complete package, the best people are just as critical,” Hayes says.

No one needs to be pigeonholed at the company. “We bring in people we expect will grow,” Brandon Champagne says. “We have people move from the plant to the office and into different positions.”

Hayes adds, “We don’t limit people. Some of our vice presidents started as machine operators.” They were promoted “because they showed the right aptitude, work ethic and attitude, but Champagne provided the right opportunity.”

“I use the term lateral movement,” says Champagne. “You might be in accounting, but you may get an opportunity in sales. We might need someone who can do everything and be able to open a new plant.  You learn more and more about the company with lateral moves.”

Today, Champagne Metals has processing centers in Glenpool, Oklahoma, and Middlebury, Indiana, as well as distribution locations across North America.

“We always attempt” to place employees in positions to succeed, says Hayes, “but in cases it isn’t the right fit for the company, or if the employee decides the position is not for them, it’s usually not an endgame. There may be another place for you. It’s not a one-way street.”

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Champagne Metals’ reputation includes having the widest aluminum processing lines (leveling, cut to length). Customers include rolling mills, service centers and OEMs.

University connection

Jake McGlothlin, vice president of sales and marketing, says he is “always actively looking for the right people, even if the position is not open yet.” He meets people at suppliers, at customers, at competitors and at trade associations.

McGlothlin also is in contact with the Industrial Distribution program at Texas A&M University. “We have found good talent through that program—eager, sharp and hardworking students. I came out of that program and know it is well tailored to our industry.”

Students in the program “know what they are getting into. They understand the industry and career prospects, which makes it a good fit. I will continue to nurture talent, including career fairs and summer internship programs. We look for those people with the right aptitude and the attitude. If I could double my salesforce with the right people in the right places, I would do it. We want people willing to go out and make it happen.” And with such talent, “we will continue to grow,” McGlothlin says.

Hayes says the company has fostered a reputation as a great place to work. “Champagne Metals has built something people want to be part of. Mike [Champagne] will be involved for years to come,” which means employees get exposure to a successful entrepreneur whose goal is to pass along a legacy to the next generation.

McGlothlin credits Mike Champagne with designing the company culture “around teaching and informing. He brings people into meetings so they can learn how a certain account developed or how we earned the trust of a supplier. The point is to utilize the knowledge and bridge it toward success.”

McGlothlin’s previous experience includes work at three mills. “I had the best salespeople as bosses and owe my success to them. I have been with Champagne for six months, and I am still learning from one of the best.” MM


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