When still in her 20’s, Susan J. “Suzy” Ganz walked away from a Wall Street job and took over the running of Lion Brothers Company Inc., the Owings Mills, Md., company with world leadership in the manufacturing and distribution of embroidered and appliquéd emblems.
You could say her career hung by a thread, given the perilous state of the company in the late 1980s after her father’s sudden death, the garment industry itself and the twin forces of globalization and technology. But Ganz says she fell in love with the factory floor, as much as the people working the yarns.
“You know the best period of time was spending time on the factory floor, there were about 350 people and they were some of the most knowledgeable, kindest people one can imagine and they sold me on Lion,” Ganz told citybizlist’s Edwin Warfield in an interview. “I fell in love with manufacturing and it was probably falling in love with people that did it,” she added.
Ganz, who earned her MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and worked initially for Merrill Lynch, turned around the fortunes of Lion Brothers. For her leadership, she has been inducted into Maryland’s Circle of Excellence and thrice ranked in Baltimore Business Journal’s Maryland’s Top 100 Women.
In the interview, she talks about taking operations to China and many other parts of the world, embracing new technology, and building partnerships with the Girls Scouts, NBA, NFL and Nike.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Can you share with us your guiding principles for economic, environmental and social sustainability?
SUSAN GANZ: If you have good practices and you are looking at what is next and you are incorporating those principles, chances are in terms of, if you are in the manufacturing business, it is going to have a smaller footprint versus a larger footprint, it is going to be digital versus analog. It is going to be something that moves people and the planet forward so you have to be able to use less resources. It is not whether you want to, it is a mandate to, how do you? I think the whole approach is that how one uses resources whether it is, because of, it is going to be technology-led or because it's going to be lean, in terms of lean practices, I think this becomes a challenge of, you know, how one is going to really create value in the future.
EDWIN WARFIELD: How do you drive innovation at a company that was founded in 1899? Can you tell us about the R&D team?
SUSAN GANZ: We have incorporated principles of lean (manufacturing) for probably about over a decade, but not only lean manufacture but the question is, how do you operate in terms of lean thinking within your life. You know, how do you incorporate these principles, which actually have you using less and creating more value for people. The objective was one, to grow the company, and in order to grow the company we needed talent and in order to have talent we wanted top talent.
EDWIN WARFIELD: In 2011, you appointed Steven Walton, who had been CEO of Gieves and Hawkes, as executive director of Lion International.
SUSAN GANZ: I had known Stephen for many years. He was a colleague in the industry and it is actually not his Gieves that is the most impressive thing about him. It is that Stephen is Scottish by background, has spent many years understanding and working within the European markets, was the youngest executive of Marks & Spencer and ran a trading company that then supported Marks & Spencer. The company was then bought out by Wyn Tae, one of the Asian conglomerates which owns Gieves & Hawkes and he ran the apparel division of Wyn Tae, so knows more and lived in Hong Kong for the past 20 years.
If we are looking at somebody who brings a global perspective to the company, Stephen brings an unmatched global perspective. His knowledge of, you know, the European industry and Asian industry and culture, and now to America has been phenomenal and real plus for us.
Stephen Meinhart came from Avery Dennison. In our industry, there is a 600-pound gorilla and Avery makes all the interior labels, many of the interior labels for the global brands and Steve is, he is an engineer's engineer. I call him the orthopedist because if one gives him a job he will just crunch it out until that job is complete. He is a remarkable trusted resource and he is also British. So it has been fun working with two guys and a great team, some of which have funny accents and you know again they are just wonderful, wonderful colleagues and the speed at which we have been able to bring Lion forward the past few years has been a rapid clip of change.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Can you tell us about partnership with the NFL, NBA? Are there any other partnerships that you can highlight?
SUSAN GANZ: We have been producing goods for the NBA, designing and producing goods for the NBA for many years. The relationship was with Adidas in terms of who was the past licensee. As the relationship transitioned and the licensee becomes Nike, we have become the primary producer of identity for the NBA both on-court and the authentic, the promotional as well as the replica.
What you will see on the NBA jerseys that are Nike is largely Lion products. So we are proud of this and the interesting part was our R&D team and the jobs that they have done in terms of commercializing new technologies for the NBA. New types of adhesives, new types of materials, new types of processes, it’s really been a phenomenal effort. It has been about a year in the making and we are thrilled that Nike selected us to be their partner.
In 2013, we were a vendor to a company that produces uniforms for the federal government, which is VF Corp. In 2013, there was a contract that was held up and it was based upon the machinations of all that was going on in the world of global sourcing related to wars in Afghanistan and Federal procurement. It is interesting because it really suggests how the world works and unintended consequences, and so the goods that we produced in the United States at that point were insignia for Federal government agencies such as border patrol.
The government decided to produce its border patrol badges on the other side of the border, which was an interesting decision and for us the decision meant that we had people that had worked here for 30, 40 years what to do. We knew that two things were considerations; one was that we had people that we really genuinely cared about and the second was we knew that new technology was coming and our objective was to maintain the glue long enough to allow us to then transform domestic operations. With that going away we had a choice do we shut down domestically forever or do we figure out what is going to be the next generation of things.
EDWIN WARFIELD: In 2014, Lion opened a new manufacturing operation in Maryland. Tell us about that decision?
SUSAN GANZ: We reached out to our old friend, the Girl Scouts, and asked them if they would consider allowing us to redesign and re-shore products from Asia back to the United States, and enter into a collaboration with us to do this.
We said what we will do is, we will use some automation here, we will use things like textile lasers and we trained people so that the people who are doing these tasks in an analog way can now run equipment and machinery that is digitally based, and they said yes, and we opened this facility in January 2015 and it has been wonderful and it is really quite a unique place.
We co-located R&D here so that as girls pass through they can see the new innovations that are done with material science and digital technology, and all sorts of things, we created this area, which is in essence a living classroom for kids and people can learn all about the next generation of making things and I love this place and more importantly I love what it represents, which is (that), with a little bit of grit one can create the next generation of things instead of harping on the last generation of things.
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