Johns Manville has long been synonymous with building materials. Today, one of the world’s leading specialty-products companies provides technologically advanced products for commercial, industrial and residential applications. Come see what April Terreri discovered about this giant.
Remember those bottles of soda you consumed last summer to keep you cool? Well, those glass bottles just might be keeping you warm this winter, especially if your house was built with Johns Manville insulation. “We are very proud of our ComfortTherm® insulation, because a lot of what goes into this product is recycled glass,” says Sarah Tholen, manager of advertising and public relations for Denver-based Johns Manville Corporation. “We are acknowledged as the innovator in the insulation industry because we take what might be considered a mature product and we enhance it.”
Johns Manville is a household word in America. Anyone who has ever built a house, or knows of someone who did, knows the name of one of the best-known manufacturers of insulation in the world. But the company manufactures significantly more than that. Johns Manville is No. 1 and No. 2 in most of its market segments, including insulation products for residential and commercial buildings and equipment; commercial and industrial roofing systems; and engineered products that include high-efficiency filtration media, fibers, fabric and non-woven mats used as reinforcements in building and industrial applications.
Through the Roof
The H.W. Johns Manufacturing Company began manufacturing fire-resistant roofing materials in New York City in 1858. In Milwaukee, the Manville Covering Company was manufacturing asbestos as a heat-insulating material in 1886. The twocompanies merged in 1901 to form the Johns-Manville Company in New York City. In addition to the products each company manufactured, the combined company began manufacturing automotive sheet packing for cylinders, as well as cement, acoustical and magnesia products. Throughout the years, the company has continued to advance the industry, leading in manufacturing new products for a wide range of industrial applications.
ComfortTherm® insulation is one of Johns Manville’s most popular products, and is engineered to offer warmth without the itch. “It’s encapsulated with a plastic covering, so it’s much easier to install and there’s less dust and less itch,” says Tholen. “From an environmental standpoint, we are very proud of this product, which is most representative of the consumer side of our market.”
Ever want to get rid of that noisy dishwasher? You might want to consider buying one with Johns Manville insulation. This is another important business segment for the company – the OEM market. “Here is where we get involved in the highly specialized fiberglass insulation that’s used in appliances,” says Tholen. Stoves, furnaces and air conditioners are just a few of the appliances using the company’s engineered glass. “Dishwashers are especially good examples of how our dual-density insulation is used as a thermal insulator and an acoustical insulator as well,” Tholen says. “So our insulation in this application works to substantially reduce the noise level of the appliance.”
Of Airplanes and Air Ducts
Johns Manville’s mechanical insulation group manufactures insulated duct systems for large commercial applications. “These products are used in air-handling and air-conditioning applications,” says Tholen. “They are either in pipe form – that is, the fiberglass is molded or fabricated into the shape of a duct – or it is shaped into a product that can insulate a pipe or duct.”
Another business segment is Johns Manville’s exotic fiber group. “We are the No. 1 manufacturer in the world of aircraft fuselage insulation.
So as you are sitting in an airplane, between you and the sky is our insulation,” says Tholen. These fibers are made of fiberglass. “What makes them unique,” Tholen adds, “is that they are very, very fine fibers which we call flame-attenuated glass.” This means that the process by which they are produced generates an extremely fine fiber. “These very fine fibers create very small air pockets that give a very high-performance insulating quality to the fiberglass,” explains Tholen.
“We are probably the most broad-based manufacturer in the world because we offer a wide variety of membrane and insulation systems from which to choose,” says Tholen, referring to Johns Manville’s commercial/industrial roofing systems business segment.
The company offers total systems solutions. “This means we don’t just sell a few products and make the building fit to what we have to offer,” says Tholen. “If there’s a roof going up in Maine, our technical people know exactly what specs that application would need versus an application in L.A., so we don’t try to force a customer into buying something to fit our offering. We try to understand and fit their exact needs. And we can back that up with 20-year guarantees. That alone distinguishes us with major building owners.”
Johns Manville also manufactures products to help rectify the “urban island effect” in large cities, where large amounts of heat are generated because of the density of buildings. “We produce reflective white roof membranes made of PVC, called UltraGard®, to help dissipate the heat that is generated,” says Tholen. “These are state-of-the-art systems offering efficient thermal insulation for long-term energy conservation.”
“The first thing we try to do is to understand our customers’ needs,” says Tholen. “Not only do you have to have excellent products, but you also have to offer superior customer service, which the Johns Manville name, our brand, stands for. Our approach is really a partnership kind of attitude.”
The company’s governing e-council is composed of managers of all of Johns Manville’s operating divisions, in addition to executive staff. “So when we look into the new world of e-business, we are ready with a proactive leadership council prepared to examine how that will all unfold,” says Tholen. “It’s a multidisciplinary effort, and we are studying that way of doing business from a lot of different perspectives.”
Because Johns Manville operates huge manufacturing plants – some 55 facilities worldwide, employing more than 9,700 people – the $2.2 billion (1999 sales) company has adopted a strategy of incremental capacity additions for some of its business segments. “This means that we have expansion capabilities in a modular sense if we need to build additional capacity in our facilities,” says Tholen. “This concept represents the creative, capital-sensitive approach we take in our manufacturing plans.”
Proactive, Not Reactive
What lies ahead for the 143-year-old company? “We will take a leading role in trying to understand what the industry’s needs will be in several years, so that we can prepare to meet those needs and so we can invest in being capable of producing solutions for those needs,” says Tholen. “We don’t just sit back and watch things. There’s a high level of energy and proactiveness in our management team.”
Johns Manville will continue to look for new opportunities for acquisition, and Tholen notes that the company grew significantly over the past five years through a continuing trend of acquisition. As an example of adding other diversity, the company acquired new positions in wall coverings and spun technologies.
Johns Manville itself will soon be acquired by Berkshire Hathaway of Omaha. “We cannot be more delighted and that will give us a lot of credibility and financial stability – and that will make a big difference in our long-term investment strategies, particularly capital investments,” Tholen continues. Johns Manville will operate as a subsidiary and will go private, she adds: “We will differ from many of our competitors because we will have the luxury of having a visionary owner.”