There is a quote making the rounds on LinkedIn—featured in a photo of a nondescript stairwell where on the wall are printed the words, “The most dangerous phrase in the language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” The phrase is attributed to Grace Hopper, a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy and pioneer in computer programming who was known for being more interested in the future than the past.
As Plattco Corporation approaches its 120th anniversary as a leader in industrial valve engineering, its core management team takes great stock in Hopper’s sentiment. With employees in their ranks who have been with Plattco for close to half a century, a different style of manager has stepped up and assumed higher-profile leadership roles at this hidden gem in Plattsburgh. The executive management team, under the direction of CEO Douglas Crozier, now strikes a very healthy balance between experience, tenure, and tribal knowledge with new energy, talent, and outside perspectives.
Local “kids” Bob Bourgeois, Michele Derrigo-Barnes, Danielle Howard-Ross, and Kevin Guay have applied their 21st-century education and expertise to the business’ core foundation. Together, with their dedicated teams, they elevate Plattco’s stature in this community and continue to secure its rightful place in the world market, all while honoring the institution of Plattco, its founders, and the lifelong dedication of so many who came before and are still working today.
Plattco was first established in 1897 as a gray iron foundry on White Street in Plattsburgh. It manufactured drainage castings, stock valves, and other machined castings for regional industries like paper and mining. In 1960, Plattco invented the first Double Flap Airlock Valves, which eliminate leakage of dry material in many places, including in the mining industry, where it was originally used in sintering, pelletizing and handling of the cement clinker.
If sintering and clinker aren’t familiar terms to you, you’re not alone. Maybe even the name Plattco is unfamiliar, or maybe you know the name, but aren’t sure what Plattco is, what it does, or where it is, but today its valves and slide gates are used in hundreds of industries and thousands of applications.
“We have a lot of longevity here, and people are genuinely interested in what Plattco does because they’ve driven past it or seen the sign (we’re right behind Bobby’s Lounge and near Bazzano’s),” said Howard-Ross. “But they don’t know what the heck we make and they don’t have a reference point of where our product would actually be used because we don’t sell a lot of our product locally.”
Plattco has more than 1,000 end users across the country and around the world, with 30 percent outside the United States and Canada. “There are companies all over the world that use our product to handle their product,” said Bourgeois. “We deal with so many different industries. In the same week I could visit customers who are manufacturing potting soil, kitty litter, nickel, steel, plastic, or cement.” He said that every trip to a new customer is like watching an episode of “How It’s Made” in real life.
Bourgeois acknowledged Plattco’s place within the international market. What sets Plattco apart, he said, is the on-site research and development lab, test silo, and the support of an entire team of technology engineers and manufacturing experts to stand behind the product.
Guay, new product development manager on the technology engineering team, drives innovation, specifically working with customers to develop new products and add safety/performance upgrades to existing ones. He said, “The new product development world separates the people who develop products that don’t sell from the people who develop products that do sell.”
This modern adapt-and-respond system allows Plattco’s sales and engineering teams to collaboratively engineer products using feedback from the end user along the way, all the while providing customers with well-documented, formalized testing and data, and the ability to model and prototype on-site.
“Collaboratively developing it with the customer is key,” said Guay. “You can make anything you want, but it doesn’t mean anyone is going to buy it. When you bring the customer into the process, it changes the way the product is perceived.”
Bourgeois said this is the single biggest change he has witnessed in the last decade at Plattco. And it helped him land two of the top three largest sales in the company’s 120 years of business. In fact, Bourgeois and Guay are responsible for landing the three top projects in Plattco history. One of them is currently in the works at a high-profile nickel plant in New Caledonia (a French protectorate in the South Pacific, about 750 miles east of Australia). Back at home in the foundry on White Street, Michele Derrigo-Barnes keeps the entire operation running smoothly. In her 12 years at Plattco, she has helped to expertly guide the company from an attitude of “We’ve tried that before and it’s not going to work” to “It’s going to work and we’re going to come up with the process to get us there.”
To successfully implement change, Derrigo-Barnes attacks problems from within using 5S and Kaizen projects to continually improve processes and eliminate waste inside her systems. She involves employees from every department to pool ideas and ultimately increase efficiencies based on their ideas. “They’re the ones who are knowledgeable in their own areas. Why would we not call on them?” she asked. “When you get people involved, that’s when you can see that change isn’t scary.”
As operations and engineering manager, Derrigo-Barnes oversees the production schedule and engineering of the product. And because nearly every product that Plattco designs, engineers, and manufactures is customized, she manages a constantly in-flux schedule and heads up a production crew that holds customer service in the highest regard.
“We’re constantly moving priorities on the drawing and manufacturing schedule. The customer is why we’re here and we do whatever it takes to satisfy every single need. That’s what Plattco is built on and that’s a great foundation,” she said.
Howard-Ross said the success of the new management team and the new way of doing business, lies in finding a balance between the institution’s tribal knowledge and doing things the way they’ve always been done, and continually seeking process improvements while maintaining the world-class customer service that Plattco was built upon.
President & CEO
“Business performance always starts with people and the culture they create and live on a daily basis.
Plattco has many employees who, thankfully, have stayed with us for decades. And, we have been fortunate to attract many talented teammates over the last 15 years to join us. The result is a wonderful balance of long-term experience and wisdom combined with new ideas and innovative approaches in a spirit of mutual respect. I am honored to serve them.”
Doug Crozier joined Plattco in July 2002 after two lengthy careers in other industries. Although this position was a complete departure in terms of products, processes, and industry from anything he had done previously, he could not resist the opportunity to be part of a great company that was in the process of reinventing itself as an employee-owned company. He summed up his first 15 years in Plattco this way: “It was good luck that brought me the opportunity to join Plattco and I am enormously grateful. I have had good fortune and terrific colleagues throughout my working life. But Plattco has been, by far, the most rewarding working experience of my life. It is a great job.”
National Sales Manager
Hometown: Chazy, NY
Education: BS Business, SUNY Plattsburgh; MS Administration and Leadership, SUNY Plattsburgh
“The most rewarding part of my job is I get to work with customers to help them solve problems in their plant that most of the time no one else can. Customers across hundreds of different industries look to us to develop a solution that will work in their specific application. The product we bring to their plant helps improve efficiency, reduces downtime, and provides them the peace of mind that their Plattco equipment will perform better than inferior alternatives, lasting for decades all while eliminating their maintenance headaches. A product that was developed here in Plattsburgh, NY—the area I grew up in. I really can feel proud that what I am selling is a solution that makes a difference in not only the lives of our customers but also the environment (in regard to controlling emissions).”
New Product and Development Manager
Hometown: Mooers, NY
Education: BS Mechanical Engineering, Binghamton University; MS Engineering Management, Clarkson University
“Ever since I was a little kid, I knew I wanted to work on innovative solutions. That was always my passion. I grew up on a farm tinkering and building things—I always wanted to build something from nothing. I’m right where I always wanted to be, which is working on creating something that’s going to take a business from where we are to the next level.”
Operations and Engineering Manager
Hometown: Plattsburgh, NY
Education: BS Mechanical Engineering (concentration in Manufacturing), RPI; MBA, Clarkson University
“I was fortunate to know at a young age the career path I wanted to follow. As a child I was always taking things apart and them putting them back together. I was curious and intrigued with how things all fit together to make it function. Manufacturing has allowed me to pursue my childhood passion.”
Marketing & Inside Sales Manager
Hometown: Plattsburgh, NY
Education: BS Business Administration, SUNY Plattsburgh; MBA Marketing, SUNY New Paltz
“I have had many sales jobs throughout my career but this one is the one I feel good about at the end of the day, knowing that my efforts provide a real contribution to the company and the bottom line. Being part of an employee-owned company is a very unique opportunity. While it can be challenging to each wear many different hats, the advantage that it brings to our customers is that every time they meet with or speak to a Plattco employee they are meeting with one of the 70 owners. This means what Plattco brings to the table is a vested interest in providing a quality product to its customers. When you do business with Plattco, not only do you get the product we manufacture but the people to stand behind it—something not many other companies can boast. Many companies talk the talk but they can’t walk the walk. At Plattco, I can literally ‘walk’ to the engineer who designed your valve, the assembler who put it together, or the QA manager who inspected it to ask a question, giving us literal hands-on ownership.