by Gigi Wood

IOWA CITY – He’s a sweet guy.

Phil Burns has worked at a Jiffy peanut butter plant in Kentucky, for Duncan Hines in Ohio, at the Sunny Delight plant in Georgia, managed the Pampers baby wipes factory in Delaware and most recently, spent the past five years running a beauty products plant in Bangkok, Thailand.

After working for P&G for 28 years, he is now the plant manager at Procter & Gamble Hair Care, P&G’s largest North American beauty products factory, located at 2200 Lower Muscatine Road in Iowa City. Mr. Burns started his new position Aug. 1 at the plant, which produces Pantene, Head & Shoulders, Aussie and Herbal Essences shampoos and conditioners; Old Spice, Olay, Ivory and Zest body washes and Crest Pro-Health and Scope oral rinses.

The factory is separate, but collaborates with, the P&G-owned Oral B Laboratories at 1832 Lower Muscatine Road. The Oral B facility is the world’s largest toothbrush factory, producing more than 1 million manual toothbrushes daily. Leadership from the two sites recently began discussions on how they can become more adept by possibly sharing health, safety and environmental resources.

“I think that’s really an opportunity for us in the future of how we can better leverage the scale and the size to make us better and more efficient,” Mr. Burns said.

During the past four years, 2200 Lower Muscatine location has hired 300 employees as it added P&G body washes and oral rinses to its production schedule.  “Now, as we approach our customers (grocers and other retailers), we come to them with an entire oral care lineup,” he said. “We’re one of the few (oral care manufacturers) that can come out and talk about toothbrush, dental floss, toothpaste and of course here, what we produce here is mouthwash. So when we go back out to customers we can talk about an entire lineup of every oral care product that you can imagine, whereas other competitors only have two or three of those different product offerings.”

The ability to offer that complete lineup is part of the reason why the Iowa City plant is expecting a 15 percent to 20 percent increase in volume demand for its oral care production this year.

“We’re taking market share away from our competitors, which in this area, North America, is particularly challenging because our competitors are first-class, top notch Colgates of the world doing a very nice job,” Mr. Burns said.

Product innovation
Another reason for the increase in demand is product innovation, which is largely developed in Iowa City.

“We’ve added some new products to the market and our oral care business and I think we’re very excited about what’s in our innovation pipeline to come,” he said. “The beauty-care field we work in, the (customers) are always wanting something more, it’s a dynamic field. So we work with our research and development partners at how we’re able to bring that to a large scale in terms of our manufacturing operation.”

A third of the plant’s employees have more than 20 years of service and are constantly using their engineering and mechanical expertise to create new and improved products.

“There’s a lot of in-depth mastery and experience here and there’s not a lot of problems that our people have not solved,” Mr. Burns said. “And our technicians are sought after around the globe. Two of our technicians just returned from North Carolina to help them start up a labeling operation. We’ve been over to Europe on some of the other plant startups.”
The Iowa City plant invests $25 million annually in research and development. It pursues a major product innovation each year and pursues small initiatives quarterly. Last spring, the plant completed its formula change of Pantene products. During the last part of the year, it launched its formula changes to the Herbal Essences line.

Meeting the technical skill expectations to work at the plant is no easy feat. P&G works with Kirkwood Community College on electrical, instrumentation and mechanical training for employees. The more-experienced P&G employees also mentor the less-experienced ones.

“I think the expectations to pass as an employee at Procter & Gamble right now; the technical mastery is quite a hurdle,” he said. “The technical schools here, even the high schools, help quite a bit.”
Factory longevity
P&G has made a commitment to keeping the Iowa City plant operational, as opposed to moving it to another region or country, Mr. Burns said. The plant, he said, is one of P&G’s most productive.

“The plan is to be here another 50-plus years,” he said. “We run some of the most strategic brands. We’re the largest beauty care facility for the company. We generate over $2 billion in sales from the products we produce here. We’re very strategic to the company’s plans for growth in the future.”

To ensure the factory’s longevity, Mr. Burns works daily to improve its performance.

“If you were to ask me at the end of the day where our competitive advantage is, it’s in the skills and capability of our people,” he said. “And that’s one of the best things about working at Procter & Gamble. You work with some of the best people you could ever imagine; very talented and very skilled. Here at this site, I’m very fortunate to work at a site that’s very mature. We’re over 50 years old. We have and are recognized by the company for our in-depth technical mastery. Leveraging that mastery and making our processes more effective, more efficient, is our rather straightforward (goal). It’s challenging but our people, at the end of the day, will be our long-term competitive advantage.”

About 4 billion people each day use P&G products. The company aims to increase that number to 5 billion during the next three to five years.

“We take that from the company’s purpose and then bring it home to Iowa City,” Mr. Burns said. “We have our plant vision, which is real simple. It’s ‘redefining best everyday.’ We want to make today a little better than yesterday. And we want to make tomorrow a little better than today.”

To achieve that mission, employees at the Iowa City plant work on three objectives. One is meeting P&G’s standards for health, safety and the environment at the plant, as well as quality measures. Next, employees work to out-innovate P&G’s competitors. And the third objective is streamlining the plant’s supply chain.

“We have partnerships with our suppliers, where we’re working on our supply side, the inbound side to make that more cost effective, better quality materials coming in and obviously within the four walls of our plant, we’re looking at our manufacturing operations everyday and how we can make those more effective, more efficient,” he said. “With commodity prices and oil prices on the increase it’s even more important that we eliminate losses across our entire supply chain so we can keep our pricing affordable for consumers.”

Factory technicians do a rundown of the manufacturing processes each day to keep the plant efficient.

“We look at what were our losses, when were our stops, what were our breakdowns and how can we make those processes more effective and better quality,” he said.

New leadership
Mr. Burns’ goal as leader of the Iowa City plant is to meet P&G objectives and create the workplace to achieve those goals.

“I think the leaders establish the capability and the culture of the site,” he said. “I think the most unique thing I can bring to the party is how we develop with the vision and culture that we want of how we work together and how we can leverage the skills and capabilities of every employee to the fullest extent.”

The P&G plant is very connected to local resources, he said.

“I think we have a very productive, collaborative relationship with our external resources outside the plant,” he said. “I’ve met with the city folks, with the chamber (of commerce), with the government folks, folks at ICAD (Iowa City Area Development Group). I’m very impressed with, as I’ve met with some of those groups at how customer-focused they are and what they’re willing to do to help. I see that as another nice thing to have in the community.”