An interview with Xinyi President Henri Tam
By Tara Taffera
Henri Tam leads Xinyi Auto Glass (XYG) in North America as the president of this global glass maker. When he started here in the middle of 2002 he immediately fell in love with the auto industry and says he can see himself “doing this forever.” That’s quite a statement given the challenges of this business, but Tam will continue to take them on and position the company for additional growth.
Once he joined the glass maker, he quickly worked his way up the company chain. He completed his MBA while working there “hoping it would help him professionally.” It has.
This glass executive with a strong penchant for business, says he especially enjoys being in the plant. In fact, when he travels to Asia to visit the Xinyi facilities you can find him alone in the off hours looking over the production facility, just observing how things are done.
The plant is not the only thing Tam watches closely—he keeps a close eye on the numbers as well. Xinyi Glass Holdings reported total revenue in 2018 of $2 billion USD. The company also reports selling approximately five million windshields in North America last year. Tam says the company has come a long way since he started, but he still has big plans for future growth.
Serving at the helm of this global company makes it important to unwind at the end of the day. You may find Tam reading a book, playing a game of ping pong or doing something involving his love of cars. In fact, you may just find him looking for the perfect pickup truck he plans to buy in the near future.
But when AGRR editorial director Tara Taffera interviewed him in February, alas our focus was on his plans for Xinyi in the years ahead.
AGRR: What continues to challenge you?
TAM: The competition is driving me–I like to work in a competitive environment, and I enjoy the industry. Being in it for so long I can see myself doing this forever. I think it’s a great company with a great culture and I think we are in a good position where we are today. I am hoping I can continue to help us grow and be more successful.
AGRR: What does a typical day look like for you?
TAM: Every day is a little different as there are different challenges to manage. Our manufacturing facilities are in Asia, and I am responsible for sales and marketing in North America. So my typical day is looking at the daily issues from the manufacturing side. We have re-ports coming in from the factories, and I go through that each morning and see if we have immediate is-sues to attend to. Following up and solving problems is a major role of mine. I need to make sure that our customers’ issues are resolved quickly and attend to anything our plants need us to do.
AGRR: What are the biggest changes you have seen in the auto glass industry in that time? Do any of those really shock you?
TAM: Some of the consolidation that has taken place was a little unexpected. We had a period of five to ten years with some companies exiting and others being sold. All that change happened rather quickly, and some of those were surprising. The timeframe that the consolidation took place was happening quick-er than I thought.
AGRR: What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment at Xinyi so far?
TAM: Collectively, for us as a whole, our products today are much more accepted by the market than they were 20 years ago. I still remember before I joined the company, it was difficult to enter. We received a lot of pushback and it was tough. Over the years we have worked hard, customer by customer, so today we have much more acceptance in the market. We have made good progress and I am very proud of that.
AGRR: What had you hoped to accomplish but perhaps did not and why?
TAM: Our goal in the marketplace has been the same–to be the preferred supplier of glass in the market. To achieve that I don’t know how far we have come relative to others and it’s something we always look to and strive for.
AGRR: What makes your auto glass and/or your company unique from others in the market?
TAM: We put a strong focus on making sure the customers have a good experience doing business with us. We believe in delivering good value on a consistent basis. We put the customers’ needs first and solve their problems. We make sure they have success with our products. When we look at what we can do better there are a few areas where we see improvement. We always strive to offer more choices and convenience by expanding the product offering. The customer can always come to us to find what they need. This is something we always look at and put a focus on. From the delivery standpoint we try to deliver when we say we will so we become a consistent supplier. Companies can count on us as far as delivery, etc. We also maintain a high focus on making sure the quality of the product is there–that is a given. But overall for the customer experience, we want customers to find it easy to do business with us. We work to figure out what we need to do better.
AGRR: What are your biggest plans for the future of the company, for example, market growth, etc.?
TAM: As far as growth, we are looking to continue to grow our presence in the marketplace. We don’t have a fixed number—that changes every year, and it de-pends on a lot of things. We want to be the preferred manufacturer. That could be number one in market share and customer satisfaction. We don’t want to just be the biggest, but be the one the customer wants to deal with. We want to be in that position.
For XYG as a whole, we are definitely looking to expand our manufacturing footprint globally. All of our manufacturing facilities [not just for auto glass] are in Asia, so we are looking at different places.
AGRR: You had planned for a plant in Guelph, Canada, but that is not happening now due to some issues you had there. Were you surprised at how that all unfolded?
TAM: That was the first place we had picked, and we are currently looking for a new location in North America. Obviously it was disappointing, as we had invest-ed time and resources to develop that site. So knowing at the end we were not able to proceed with it was dis-appointing. But we are not stopping. We have moved on and looking elsewhere for a location that would fit our needs.
AGRR: What are your plans now for a North American plant? Did what happen at that plant prepare you while searching for a new site? TAM: Yes, there were some things we learned. Constructing a float plant in Asia is different than constructing one in North America so we have picked up a few lessons.
AGRR: What are the biggest challenges you face today in this industry?
TAM: Competition is very intense at all levels from manufacturing to distribution. Our competitors are good companies so that is always a challenge and puts pressure on us to become better. The competitive nature of this business is an opportunity and allows us to grow.
AGRR What do you enjoy most about this industry?
TAM: I have always been in the automotive part of the world so auto glass is something that caught my attention. The love of the product and the experience I have had working in this industry and people I have come to know and come to work with is what I enjoy. I have participated in the change as a whole, but there are still a few more opportunities ahead. I would like to continue to participate and see how the industry plays out.
AGRR: When you and I spoke at Auto Glass Week 2018 you told me you would need to pass the cost of auto glass tariffs on to the customer. Have you had to do this?
TAM: So basically they went into effect when we met, and since then we have passed on the additional costs of bringing our products to the U.S. market. We had to pass this on to customers who are passing them through as well. Everyone is paying higher prices, so it had a real and immediate effect. The market adjusted to it pretty well. Everyone seems to have accepted the increase and moved on.
But the government is looking at a next round of tariffs, so we don’t know what is going to happen. That is still a big uncertainty.
AGRR: We recently reported on a significant court case and Xinyi was one of the defendants named in that case which alleged a boycott of certain auto glass businesses. Do you have a comment on that or can you tell me when and if your company plans to file a response with the courts?
TAM: We are aware and will be working with legal counsel to respond.
Tara Taffera is the editorial director for AGRR magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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