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Member spotlight: Argus Industries

Published by CME Manitoba on September 08, 2017

Cutting edge since 1962, Argus Industries is headquartered in Winnipeg with a branch plant in Pickering, Ontario. Argus custom manufactures rubber molded products, die cut & CNC cut gaskets, seals and more; enabling customers to leverage success by delivering cutting edge materials and servicing markets from agriculture to aerospace. Three companies – Argus Industries, Argus Metals Division, and TerraCab – share synergies and resources offering innovation to help customers achieve their goals and objectives.

Continuous improvement is the mantra at the Argus group. Making tomorrow better than today is their philosophy and how they get things done. Argus has earned a global reputation for its tribal culture, processes and systems, and offering the highest level of service built on LEAN principles and continuous improvement.

CME connected with Mike Easton, President & CEO, on culture, change management and skills development:

You’re involved with CME’s programs and services as an executive, but also at a company level. You also sit on the board of directors. Can you tell us more about the power of the network and how you and your companies have benefited?

The CME and Argus connection goes way back to the 1980s, when my father was on the board, and even the Chair at that. We’ve been connected to the strength and support that CME provides through generations of leadership. We know that CME pulls in opportunities and connections that you sometimes just cannot make on your own. The LEAN training alone, with Ian Marshall and his team, has allowed me to take LEAN manufacturing to a whole new level inside my companies. Being on the board opens up dialogue and starts to build a community of manufacturing business leaders that you get to know, including shared insights on market trends. The round table discussions help you learn and grow like nothing else I belong to. 

How important is people-development in your organization and what tools, programs or techniques do you use to foster skills development?

One of our core values is to “Grow the Tribe”. It’s all about training our staff to be not just smarter, but expand their understanding of the world around them. When we do training events, we’re not just focused on their job responsibilities. We also educate our employees on many disciplines to expand the depth of their knowledge. We do this in many ways – for example, one way we share is through Kaizen events. We pick the improvement team from many areas of the company. Case in point, for a purchasing Kaizen, we bring together a cross functional team of people and a bunch that know nothing about purchasing; which makes the Kaizen team ask a lot of questions about what is going on and why. The best innovations are sparked from these folks. You can have a purchasing guru who can’t see the mess they’ve been living in, and yet a new set of eyes sees it like an elephant in the room. I always say “a fish cannot see the water is swims in.” Through these cross-functional teams, you get growth in individuals and also continuous improvement in the company – a real win-win.

It’s been a very busy two years or so for you. You have Argus Industries, Argus Metals and now you purchased Terra Cab in Morden, MB. Your journey is accelerating quickly! How did you merge three cultures together so quickly and successfully?

Our tribe at Argus is the critical mass of culture and influence for all of the companies. When we bought EPT manufacturing, now Argus Metals, they had a survival-based culture with some negative vibes. We moved them down the street from Argus and pulled them into every event, project and culture-based activity we could. Quickly, they started to engage in the culture and the direction of the business. We knew that the systems and processes that are part of the foundation of our leadership had not only helped the Argus culture thrive, but would allow us to flip the new Metals culture to a more positive and respectful work environment. 

Once I purchased Jodale Perry, now TerraCab Industries, we started down the same path as Metals. We met the new tribe, shared our values, our mission and our vision for the new TerraCab company. We were met with “we’ll believe it when we see it” from the majority. We knew our work was cut out for us, but we just hit them with Kaizen event after Kaizen event. We transitioned the company from random acts of manufacturing, to predictable and repeatable manufacturing. We changed flow, people’s understanding of their roles and broke down a mountain of rules, and old culture, into a world of respect and positive interactions. We’re by no means perfect and we still have lots to do, but we are miles from where we started and that is what continuous improvement is all about. The tribe at TerraCab is happy, healthy and a fantastic group of people to work with and know. To say we are successful, well time will tell. But if you ask me, I’d say that we’re having fun and I have a team that is successful in moving us forward.

I’ve had an opportunity to meet with individuals from both companies and they’re passionate about their work and their organization. What’s your secret? 

Our Serious/Fun Tribal Culture is the source of the passion and engagement that our people display and it’s the same way for all three organizations. Our supportive leadership model is one that flips the traditional hierarchical organizational pyramid on its head. We carry that supportive leadership throughout the entire organization putting me, the president, on the bottom and supporting the leadership above. The real heroes are the folks who actual touch and produce the products the customer is paying for. As far as my thoughts on my role, I’m really just overhead. In so many organizations the CEO is touted as the hero. At Argus, we’re just putting the value and celebration on the people adding value to the customer. It’s not that being a leader in a CEO role is unimportant to the success of a company – it’s just a more focused view through the customers’ eyes, not the egos of titles. We feel so strongly about this “upside down pyramid” theory of supportive leadership that we even put it into each of our logos.

It can be tempting to look at downturns as setbacks, but you’ve made a point of seeing them as opportunities. Can you tell us more about your Kaizen push during your last slowdown? 

Well, if you’ve been in manufacturing the last couple years, you know it hasn’t been the most booming of economies for your bottom line. Added for me, two months after purchasing TerraCab (formerly Jodale Perry), my top two customers started making their own cabs internally and turned off 50 per cent of my new businesses sales. This was a tough pill to swallow and forced my hand at doing things I hate doing… laying off people. Trying to turn around a business is one thing, but trying to do it as your sales are walking out the door is another. I seriously have an amazing executive team and strong Blackbelts leaders with solid LEAN skills. Even with all of this unfortunately, while we weren’t able to keep everyone, we decided to keep more employees on than were needed at the time – people are the backbone of our operation and we try to respect that even during trying times. So, when you have little work to produce, we just took the remaining labour hours and put them into Kaizen events to “make tomorrow better than today”, which happens to be our corporate mission statement. After months of focused Kaizens and team-based cleaning, painting and moving stuff; we seem to have things in a great state to take on the future sales of TerraCab. We currently have a few cabs we are designing and prototyping for some large OEMs, it is nice to see a bright future ahead, we just have to get there. 

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