C.A. Lawton’s Flexibility Leads to 135 Years of Success

By C.A. Lawton | August 25, 2014

C.A. Lawton’s flexibility leads to 135 years of success

Green Bay Press-Gazette
Monday, August 25, 2014
Richard Ryman, Press-Gazette Media

Jim Matthews Photo

DE PERE – Press-Gazette Media talks to business leaders in its Monday conversation. Alex Lawton, the most recent member of the founding family to run De Pere’s C.A. Lawton Co., talks about what is required to make a company successful for 135 years.

Q. C.A. Lawton is 135 years old. Give us a brief history of the company?

A. The C.A. Lawton Co. has almost always been an industrial company with an emphasis on manufacturing and engineering that is mid-sized, family-owned, and Northeastern Wisconsin-based. The exact offerings have varied a fair amount over the years, but not the foundation.

You can see our website for a more extensive history.

Q. Which services do you offer today?

A. Our primary business today is providing a better casting-buying experience. We do that in a host of ways:

  • Our unique integrated solutions: engineering, patterns, castings, machining and related value-added services from one source, and predominantly one location/campus, versus the several that are usually required.
  • Best-in-class quality and delivery, things the foundry industry struggles with.
  • And first-rate technical services. Among other items, design and re-design support, such as with new product development and value analysis/value engineering consulting, and a multitude of certifications.

And while we include a lot of service in our manufacturing business, we also are formally venturing into the services business, most notably via our new subsidiary, Datum Services LLC.

Q. How have you repositioned your business in the last 10 years to remain successful?

A. While we might seem complex relative to standalone foundries, we spent most of the last 10 years trying to simplify the business in an effort to better achieve focus and excellence as an engineered-component manufacturer.

It’s important not to confuse simple with easy. It has a taken a ton of hard work and investment, as well as some divesting of business lines and acquiring of others. We’ve had to get much more agile to deal with the ever-shrinking lead-time requirements and significant cyclicality we experience.

All of that while trying to grow the core offerings in the face of a generally shrinking marketplace for domestic production, thanks to recessions, offshoring and technological changes, such as the paper industry shrinking because of the internet.

The culmination of all those efforts — many wins but several losses as well — now has us positioned as an elite casting supplier and unique casting-solutions provider of integrated components with a phenomenal customer service culture. From this foundation we are now actively looking and working to grow the business.

Q. Which is the biggest part of your business?

A. Producing castings — engineered parts; gray and ductile iron; and large pieces, 500 to 20,000 pounds — is the core of our business. The largest markets we serve are compressors, especially in HVAC; oil and gas, and mining. Those are three of the more than 10 markets we serve.

Q. Have you gotten into any new areas in recent years? And why?

A. From a markets perspective, we added wind energy several years ago, and then agriculture, and more recently gas turbines.

From an offerings standpoint, we continue to evolve and enhance our capabilities. That includes types of metal in the foundry, increased diversity and complexity of both machining and pattern making, more robust technical services and equipment, and so on.

And, as mentioned earlier, we also are moving into the services business.

Q. Is there anything I didn’t ask about you’d like to add?

A. If you were to ask me what makes us special?, I would say it’s our people, though I’m sure that sounds cliché, – as CEO answers often do.

There are lots of things that are important to our business that make us exceptional, such as our integrated offerings or our proximity advantage or our well-honed processes and systems, or our specifically chosen equipment.

And all of those types of things at Lawton and other companies are great and important to a sustainable and successful business. However, at Lawton, we are a low- to medium-volume job shop in a very competitive and difficult industry. That means we can’t merely get something figured out once and then apply it over and over, but need to constantly be figuring things out and re-winning business.

I personally am driven by building relationships and solving problems and believe that taking the difficult path or contrarian path can be good business. But it’s the people at Lawton that time and time again rise to the challenge and get it done for our customers or ourselves.

I am often humbled by the dedication and skill I see displayed, especially given that our society or economy or whatever you want to call it has treated heavy manufacturing, and a lot of the jobs that populate it, poorly for far too long. Despite difficult working conditions for many, the people of Lawton are professionals in every sense of the word. I would put their collective character and skills up against anyone. They aren’t “lucky to have jobs”; it’s those of us in leadership and ownership that are lucky to have them on the team and watching our backs. This drives me virtually every day to ensure that we are improving the company.

Alex Lawton

  • Title: President & CEO
  • Business: The C.A. Lawton Co., 1950 Enterprise Drive, De Pere
  • Office hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Mondays through Fridays
  • Production: Three shifts, Sunday nights through Friday evenings
  • Telephone: (920) 337-2470
  • Website: www.calawton.com

— rryman@greenbaypress gazette.com and follow him on Twitter @RichRymanPG or on Facebook at Richard Ryman-PressGazette. Contact him at (920) 431-8342.

Photo: Jim Matthews/Press-Gazette Media

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