TIDI a new name in Valley

By Peter J Adams. Originally printed in the Appleton Post Crescent, March 15, 2006

NEENAH -- When it comes to local industry, TIDI Products isn't a name many people immediately recognize.

Until last April, the company was Banta Healthcare Group, one of the largest manufacturers of medical and dental paper products in the United States.

When Fidelity Capital Investors of Boston bought the business last year, it could have been just another leveraged buyout, draining corporate assets and local moral.

Instead, the past nine months have proven to be a period of growth and renewal at TIDI -- a name drawn from the manufacturer's principal brand line.

"We're basically a new company. We have new ownership, including some key managers, and we're really trying to establish a new culture at the same time," said president Kevin McNamara. "It has forced everyone of us to grow professionally and that's really been exciting."

The company generates $100 million in annual sales out of a single 500,000-square-foot plant on Enterprise Drive. The plant turns out everything from disposable examination gowns and table papers, to dental bibs, gauze and thermometer sheaths.

"The business has been a solid, consistent performer," said McNamara, one of the continuing members of the leadership team. "It's a good market sector to own businesses in."

Originally established in 1970 as Ling Products, the company was acquired by the George Banta Co. in 1973 as part of a major expansion program.

More recently, Banta refocused on its printing and fulfillment activities, which made the sale of the healthcare division desirable.

"There really wasn't any synergy with healthcare," McNamara said.

A more significant change, perhaps, has been in the area of corporate culture that grew out of its change in status as a corporate subsidiary.

"In a traditional manufacturing company, the expectation is that you drive productivity by making the employees work harder," he said. "Now the employee will have a responsibility to contribute to every part of the process."

Toward that end, TIDI partnered last year with the Fox Valley Technical College to conduct a needs assessment for additional worker training.

The process also identified a number of operational changes that have since produced a fairly sweeping overhaul of production, resystemizing everything from tool handling to inventory management.

"It's really to help us grow the assets of the company, to create more value to the employees, the owners, managers and everyone involved," McNamara said.

For example, machine operator Chuck Kelley now maintains at his station a supply of spare parts that he knows when to reorder by the color-coding on the seal

"A lot of times you'd run out and you're down two or three days," he said. "Now we know when to order stuff. This system works much better."

Now poised to begin a training program with the help of a Wisconsin Workforce Adjustment Training grant, all 250 employees will spend the next eight months improving their teamwork, communication and organizational skills.

"It's a cliche, but people are our greatest asset," said Mary Felton, vice president of human resources. "If you don't invest in them they're not going to appreciate. They're going to depreciate like any other asset. You've got to make them feel good, and you've got to invest in them and you've got to empower them."

From McNamara's perspective, developing TIDI's human resources is also an essential part of remaining competitive in a global market.

"We really don't have a choice," he said. "We have to keep improving or it's going be difficult to improve the business."

And that won't happen by focusing on traditional cost-cutting measures.

"It's very difficult on a sustainable basis to save yourself into prosperity," he said.

Peter J. Adams can be reached at 920-729-6622 ext. 31, or by e-mail at padams@newsrecord.net.