Polydeck Screen Corporation
- Written by: Self-submission by Dennis Zeiger, senior marketing manager for Polydeck Screen Corporation
- Produced by: Dave Gushee
- Estimated reading time: 7 mins
In 1956 Manfred Freissle, a 19-year-old man born in Germany arrived in South Africa and within days, met his future business partner. Helmut Rosenbusch was a local wire weaver. Although Manfred had a working contract with Siemens, his keen eye for sales quickly picked up on the potential of his new friend’s skill set. Having an entrepreneurial spirit and seeing the potential for a screen media business in the mining and aggregate industries, the two friends’ goal soon became to open their own business. Manfred saved money from his day job and soon the pair had rented out a garage from which they launched their new company – Screenex.
The business grew slowly over the first few years but their commitment to service and quality was rewarded with steady growth. In the late 1960s, Manfred and Helmut first heard about polyurethane, a revolutionary material that they hoped would add durability to the company’s products. The partners developed a way to introduce polyurethane into their product line and proposed the material to an existing customer in the diamond mining industry, touting the benefits of this plastic product. The customer agreed to give it a try.
The company’s first polyurethane screen mat made a lasting impression. The initial design lasted 20 times longer than its wire predecessors. Manfred and Helmut knew the material would be a sure winner, but they needed to find a way to make production more viable, as casting large screen mats was cumbersome. They developed an innovative design inspired by floor tiles. The goal was to move away from the large, heavy and cumbersome wire screen sections to more durable modular components that would snap into place, making them easier to handle and safer to use than existing screen media options. The partners acquired the machinery, built the molds and began production of their revolutionary modular synthetic screen media, which received patents in many countries across the world.
Two generations strong
Dieter Egler, a Screenex employee and Manfred’s childhood acquaintance, had always dreamed of moving to the United States to start a business. In 1978, he took the opportunity to introduce this innovative screen media concept overseas, moving to Spartanburg, South Carolina, to start Polydeck Screen Corporation (Polydeck) in a warehouse. Dieter’s tireless efforts and dedication proved so successful that two years later, a plant was built and the company’s innovative screening systems began to gain acceptance in America.
Meanwhile, at home in South Africa, Peter Freissle, Manfred’s son, had spent his teenage years working for his father’s company. Peter left the company to study business, obtaining a master’s degree. Soon after he graduated, his father sent him across the world to build relationships and licensing agreements with suppliers and potential clients.
“When I returned, the country was experiencing much turmoil,” Peter recalls. “South Africa had become treacherous and violent. I had to figure out what I wanted to do and where I wanted to live. I asked God for a sign to help me make a decision. Not long after that, two men jumped out of a car at a red light and shot at my car with an AK-47. A bullet missed me, but went through the sleeve of my shirt. That was a clear enough sign for me.”
In 1994, Peter and his wife (who was six-months pregnant at the time) packed up their belongings and moved to America to work at the company’s plant in South Carolina. He worked closely together with Dieter Egler for several years and when Dieter retired, Peter became president of the company. Building on the foundation Dieter had laid and following in his father’s footsteps, Peter remained focused on quality, service and a commitment to R&D. Marc Lovallo, Peter’s brother-in-law, joined the company in 1996 and, with their leadership, the 250-employee company developed and patented several enhancements to the original product line.
Peter oversees all day-to-day operational and administrative functions while Marc focuses on strategies to grow market share, as well as new product development. The company continues to innovate, building a strong footprint in the Western Hemisphere. Today, operations have expanded from the single location in South Carolina, to include additional manufacturing capabilities and a network of regional managers, warehouses and dealers throughout North and South America.
As the only screen media manufacturer that uses an injection molding process to manufacture all its screen panels, Polydeck’s product lines provide efficiency, unmatched quality and consistency in production, while enabling the company to keep up with market demands. Their rubber and polyurethane modular screen media, screen frame systems and accessories have helped customers maintain high performance and efficiency for more than 35 years. A robust on-staff research and development team keeps the company’s offerings in growth mode, improving on existing products and adding new ones as the industry demands. As proof, Polydeck currently holds more than 30 worldwide patents on innovative screening products and systems.
The meaning of success
Despite the positive growth, a significant change to the business happened in mid-2006. Although the company was very successful and Peter felt he had reached his American Dream for some reason he felt unfulfilled. At that point a friend at church recommended a 3-day silent retreat.
During the retreat something strange happened. “I felt that God again sent me a clear message – I did not own the business, I was merely a steward on an amazing gift He had given me and that one day I would need to give an account of what I had done with His gift and how I had cared for my neighbors. I needed to change my focus from monetary value to Eternal value. This is when the concept behind our 3-by-3 matrix was born,” he explains.
“We placed a new emphasis on the well-being of our employees, their families and the community concerning their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. We employed the services of Corporate Chaplains of America (CCA) to provide an on-site chaplain. We also formed a Caring Team made up of employees from all departments. Annually, we give them 1 percent of our total revenue and they have the freedom to use that money in any of the 9 blocks of the matrix. Over the years this team has come up with very creative ways to care for fellow employees. They’ve created a car repair fund, to help employees and their spouses with unexpected vehicle expenses, as well as funds for home repairs, scholarships, marriage retreats and mission trips. This has created incredible engagement from our employees. Our ultimate goal is to enrich our employees’ lives in all 3 dimensions.
In economics, the invisible hand of the market is a metaphor used by Adam Smith to describe the self-regulating behavior of the marketplace. At Polydeck, our Core Value Statement is our invisible hand: We are a company grounded in the Christian values of humility, honesty, integrity, respect, kindness and a sense of social responsibility. Our goal is to create Eternal value by striving to honor God in all we do. This is reflected in how we conduct our business and how we care for our employees – our greatest asset.
As a result of our caring focus, employee turnover has gone from 25 percent to less than 2 percent. Employees have welcomed the authentic care they receive and feel like they are part of a family and, in turn, have increased their level of engagement and productivity.”
It is abundantly clear that Polydeck is grounded in Christian values. Peter and his management team consistently put the well-being of employees and the benefit of the company ahead of their own wallets. “We use self-generated profits that stimulate growth,” he explains. “Our profits are reinvested into what really matters – creating Eternal Value – whether that is our employees, their families, our communities, our facilities or our design process. We aren’t buying exotic cars or private jets. We’re reaching out to those in need, whether here in Spartanburg or any of the numerous charitable organizations we’re involved in nationally and around the world. I was very pleased when an employee recently told me “When I go on a volunteer project to help the needy in our community, I realize how fortunate I really am. Being part of this company has helped put things in perspective and has given true meaning and purpose to my life far beyond my paycheck, and has helped me to become a better person.”
Peter is instilling this philosophy into the next generation. His 15-year-old son, Matthew, has been working on holidays and weekends alongside his father from the age of 7. “We are a family-owned company and we are putting the time and energy in now to groom Matthew for his future in leadership,” Peter elaborates. “He spends time working with our research and development team. He spends time working with our employees. He knows that we are not here just to make money but rather to care for people in a God-honoring fashion. I could sell this company for a handsome price. A firm approached us a few months ago and told us to name our price. I asked them two questions: What would I tell my son? What Eternal value would you create with our business? The room went silent.”
Keeping it together
Profit reports are often the easy answer when it comes to gauging success; however Peter and the management team do things a little differently. The company tracks sales and efficiencies like any other, but Polydeck has established 5-year vision goals in 10 areas ranging from customer satisfaction to safety to profitability to measures of community service, employee satisfaction and Eternal value creation. Each year, the company updates its progress in each area and distributes a copy to each employee, allowing them to understand their role in helping achieve the goals and giving them purpose beyond their paycheck.
Polydeck strives to provide innovative, high quality products and services, as well as an overall experience that encourages customers to return. As a leader, Peter embraces strong Christian values which are reflected in a thriving business and consistent growth. These qualities make it easy to see how Polydeck Screen Corporation will continue to build upon a foundation of quality, integrity and innovation that will carry the business into the next generation.
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