CEO Q&A: Jay Gould, American Standard

American Standard's Jay Gould talks about improving staff morale and how the company's philanthropic efforts help increase sales.

Explain the company’s approach to marketing and communications.
Our PR agency is O’Reilly DePalma and we work with 22squared on broadcast advertising. We have been able to demonstrate that marketing works for our business, so we are significantly growing our investments in marketing, advertising, and PR.

You previously helped reinvigorate brands such as Coca-Cola, Pepperidge Farms, and Rubbermaid. What attracted you to American Standard?
A great sense of responsibility developed into a passion for plumbing. I knew I had to save this company. When I joined in January 2012, we faced three crises: strategic, financial, and cultural.

My first week on the job, I was really nervous, and I got more nervous in the first couple of months because things went south before they got better. But when I started learning more about the culture of the company, and what we could do – saving lives around the world – I became optimistic.

And by the end of summer 2012, I was confident we could not only save the company, but also lead the industry again.

How do you keep employee morale out of the crapper?
My predecessor had a tendency to reorganize three times a year and downsize twice every 12 months. Frankly, there was an atmosphere of fear when I joined. So, I brought in an external company, Denison, to help measure the company’s culture.

In May 2012, we scored in the lowest quartile of all companies measured in Denison’s 30-year history. When I reported the results of the survey in a town hall meeting, I told staffers, "I have to be clear about where
we are headed and how we are going to get there. I need your help and I will be back to you within 60 days with a clear roadmap of where we are going." And that is what I did.

Even while we were having financial challenges, I reinvested significantly into staff initiatives by reinstating development programs, salary increases, and making sure every employee in the company was on a gainsharing program. People started feeling like they were part of the team again.

Sales of your most expensive toilet brand, Champion, increased by 62% last year. How did this happen?
When I joined, I was shocked to learn 2,000 people die every day because of a lack of access to sanitary conditions. We sent engineers to Bangladesh to try and solve the problem.

They invented a system that goes onto open-fit latrines, which keeps insects – which spread disease – from flying in and out. We field-trialed the sanitary toilet pans in Bangladesh and it helped save lives.

This inspired the launch of our Flush for Good campaign in 2013 to raise awareness of how plumbers protect the health of the world.

For every Champion toilet sold, we donated a sanitary toilet pan to a developing country.

We also asked our customers and stores such as The Home Depot and Lowe’s, as well as big wholesalers such as WinWholesale, to participate with us and get the message out to people. How do you attract staffers?

Young people today want to join companies that are not only financially successful, but that can also make a difference.

Our purpose involves engaging constituents through efforts such as Flush for Good and Plumbers without Borders – an organization that connects volunteer plumbers with groups that are working to increase access to safe water and sanitation – to make a difference, while we continue to create value.

We used to struggle to bring in talent two years ago. Now, because of these efforts, I have a lot of resumes coming in.

How do you use social media?
We are very active on social media. We have about 8,000 followers on Twitter and 135,000 likes on Facebook. We believe social is key, because it is real engagement.

Also, I personally use social to amplify the brand. For example, last year Matt Damon was trying to bring awareness to the global sanitation crisis and decided he was going on a toilet strike. I recorded a video (below) to engage him and we posted it on our social sites. It got approximately 50,000 hits and garnered a lot of discussion. We’re gearing up for World Toilet Day in November, so we hope to do something with him then.

This is American Standard’s 15th decade of doing business. How are you marking the occasion?
We are in the midst of launching a new brand extension, DXV by American Standard, which stands for decade 15. It is built around four big design movements in the past 150 years. We are creating buzz on social media, before the campaign launches in September, by collaborating with a group of six designers – all influential bloggers – to create six individual drawings on the DXV portfolio of products.

They will blog about their projects, which will be published in our Decade 15 magazine, as well as on the DXV website. 

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