Five months into her job running PPG Industries’ $5 billion industrial coatings business, Shelley Bausch was wearing a lab coat, protective eye goggles and a hard hat as she examined huge metal tanks where workers mix and customize batches of paints in a Springdale production plant.
Since being hired as vice president, global industrial coatings, for PPG in January, she had already spent a week touring facilities in China and this month was headed to a plant in Cieszyn, Poland, that she expects will eventually become the hub of the Pittsburgh company’s industrial coatings business in Europe.
But this recent visit was her first to the Springdale site that hugs the Allegheny River in a small borough 18 miles northeast of PPG’s Downtown headquarters.
Because the plant makes coatings for auto parts, building materials and consumer goods ranging from cell phones to golf balls, it’s an ideal setting for Ms. Bausch to make her pitch that industrial coatings “positively touch people’s lives every day.”
Among the unit’s most high-profile jobs right now is supplying exterior paints for the new 104-story One World Trade Center in New York City. Two shades from PPG’s building products coatings line — Bright Silver and Ozark Shadows — will cover an 11-story structure designed to protect the skyscraper’s lobbies and mechanical levels.
“It’s a really exciting area and why I was interested in joining PPG,” the 48-year-old said of her decision to leave silicone products giant Dow Corning after a two-decades-long career that included leading a Dow unit in Shanghai.
Last August, she and her family were comfortably ensconced in Midland, Mich., where Dow is based, when a recruiter sent her a job description from PPG. “I was halfway through reading it, shut my iPad, and said, ‘That sounds perfect.’ ”
Besides what she perceives to be “clarity of vision” among PPG’s top management team and a “culture of yes” throughout the company’s ranks, it didn’t hurt that the job was in coatings — the segment that PPG, founded as a glass maker more than a century ago and now touts as its primary business.
Industrial coatings accounted for $4.8 billion, or about one-third of PPG’s total global revenues of $15.1 billion in 2013.
The Pittsburgh company is a leader in the sector where competitors include DuPont, BASF and Valspar. Growth in the business through 2018 should be driven largely by demand from emerging countries — including India, China and Brazil — said a recent report from Dublin-based Research and Markets.
Though European markets continue to lag, the industrial business has been a strong performer for PPG in North America as the economy rebounds and demand heats up for coatings that cover car parts, farm equipment and heavy construction vehicles, said Ms. Bausch.
In her new job, she oversees more than 4,300 employees at 20-plus plants, laboratories, research centers and technical support sites worldwide. A $60 million facility under construction in Lipetsk, Russia, is scheduled to open in 2015.
At the Springdale plant that has been in operation since 1947, about 200 people work in the production facility and another 200 in an adjacent research and development center.
PPG invested $4 million at the site last year on improvements such as technology to produce specialty inks and coatings for electronics used in cell phone antennas, heated car seats and touch screens on cell phones.
Plans include a display room inside the plant that will showcase real applications of PPG’s products, such as coatings for wood floors and metal-framed furniture like shelving and lockers. In response to the surge in business since the recession, Bill Cramer, plant manager, said he is hiring operators, lab technicians and engineers. The plant operates 24/7 when demand peaks in the busy construction building season.
The facility turns out customized paint orders that can be as large as 5,000 gallons for big users such as Whirlpool, General Electric, Electrolux and other appliance makers; Harley-Davidson motorcycles; and heavy machinery maker Caterpillar.
Small batches of one to 350 gallons are typically specialized mixes that include copper or silver and are used to coat electronic products made by customers including computer maker Apple and military equipment supplier Bell Helicopter.
The diverse range of customers for PPG’s industrial coatings — or its “fragmented market,” as Ms. Bausch describes it — is among the top challenges she faces. “You take Springdale and you multiply it by 20-some sites. How do you organize to serve customers?”
One solution may be the “extremely team-oriented and inclusive ” management style she’s operated on throughout her career.
“I have two mantras: One: Nothing is impossible. Two: It’s all about encouraging the heart … to me, that’s when you win.”
A native of southeastern Ohio who enrolled at Alma College, a small liberal arts school in Michigan, with plans to become a doctor, Ms. Bausch changed her career track after she spent time observing a surgeon on the job during her junior year and realized she wanted a different kind of life.
“My dad was angry,” but he came around after she worked as an intern in a Dow laboratory and landed a full-time position in the company’s marketing department after earning undergraduate degrees in biology and business. She also holds an MBA from the University of Michigan.
During 26 years at Dow, Ms. Bausch held nearly a dozen jobs and quickly became accustomed to being one of the few women in management. “Dow is a Midwest engineering company, so usually I was the only female in the room,” she said.
That scenario could likely play out again at PPG, where just a handful of women have risen to top executive positions. Only one currently sits on the 10-member operating committee: Cynthia Niekamp, senior vice president of automotive OEM coatings.
Having turned down some promotion opportunities at Dow to focus on raising two children, Ms. Bausch said balancing family life has always been a priority for her and it doesn’t have to prevent women from getting ahead in their careers.
When she was offered the job at PPG, for instance, her youngest child was about to start her senior year of high school. Ms. Bausch opted to commute to Pittsburgh so her daughter would not be uprooted. The family now plans to relocate here and her husband has been hired by PPG in its protective and marine coatings business.
“We’re excited to explore Pittsburgh. We will root for the Steelers, unless they are playing the Packers.”
Joyce Gannon: email@example.com or 412-263-1580.