Wells Engineered Products

Executive Interview: Greg Burneske, Vice President of Wells Engineered Products

Tell us about your journey to become the Vice President of Wells Engineered Products?

I spent most of my career, until came to Wells, in the contract electronics manufacturing and product development space. My background is focused on helping customers who need a new product and providing that service to get it done in areas where they may not have the expertise or resources.

To me, it’s very customer-centric and collaborative, because it’s about trying to understand what the customer needs. Because of my engineering background, I understand electronics, product development and manufacturing.

At my last company, Wells was a customer of mine for a small project, and so that’s how I discovered Wells. And when I saw their manufacturing capability and met some of the people, I decided that I wanted to work there, to work for an OEM and be on the other side of the table for projects. What I saw with Wells – including the manufacturing facility in Reynosa, Mexico – was highly differentiated capabilities with a lot of opportunity for growth because no one knew about it. That’s what attracted me to Wells.

You’ve been with Wells for nearly 7 years now. What has surprised you most? What do you find the most challenging? What excites you about the future? What are your priorities for the future?

When I first started with Wells, the thing that surprised me most was the fact that many prospective customers who are relatively close to us – in the Midwest, who need our products and services – didn’t know about us. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gone into initial meetings with customers, and they look back at us and say, ‘How did we not know about you?’ Over the last couple of years, we’ve focused a great deal on marketing, getting our message out there, and it’s getting much better now, but that was certainly a surprise to me initially, as well as a challenge.

When I think about challenges and the future for Wells, it’s two sides of the same coin: electrification. Wells is really strong with internal combustion engine technologies. There’s nothing we can’t do in terms of the number of technologies and product categories that we’re able to design and manufacture for internal combustion engines. We have a long history of solving customers’ problems there. But in the last year, we’ve engaged in an initiative surrounding electrification and are developing sensors used in electrification. A little over a year ago we launched our new, award-winning Rotary Position Sensor – a proprietary technology and product that senses the exact position and speed of the rotor in an EV motor. Electrification is happening, so we’ve pivoted because we have the technology and understanding to be successful there, too.

When you think about Wells Engineered Products, what is the first word that comes to mind? Why?

Collaboration. It’s the essence of what we do. Customers call us and say, ‘I need one of these, I need it just like this’ – that’s always where we start. We listen, but we always ask questions to get to the heart of the problem. At the end of the day, we understand that the customers just want a part, but when we ask questions and get them to explain the system, process, or challenge they’re trying to solve, sometimes it yields a different solution. They’re always very receptive to that. Of course, there may be some initial angst from engineers about why we’re asking so many questions, but once you get passed that, 95% of the time – we come to a better solution. Even if we come back to the original part they asked for – it will probably be custom, because there are things that we can add to make that part work better for them than something simply off-the-shelf, and at a value point that they can’t pass up.

Another word is, Value. Obviously there has to be value. People think that if something is custom it’s going to be expensive – because there is likely to be new tooling, lead times, some risk because this isn’t something that’s been done before. But Wells excels at managing and delivering on all of that. We do it so often that we can do it quickly and we’re willing to make investments on our end to provide products that meet the customer’s price and performance points. We have a lot of automation in our plants that allow us to manufacture customized products in North America at an attractive price. In the end, it usually works out – to the surprise of the customer – that we can create custom products competitively.

What do you see as the value of Wells Engineered Products for OE manufacturers? Why?

We’re going to provide solutions that some of our competitors may not provide because we’re more flexible. We’re willing to tool-up for products with lower order volumes. For many of our customers we’re local. Some of our competitors may need to fly someone in from another continent – where we can be there in a matter of hours by car. Those are some intangible things that are outside of the price and performance of the product, per say, and that’s the feedback that we get from our customers. At the end of the day, we’re all selling a widget at a price, but it’s the things that we do to help our customers get where they need to be that differentiate us from the others.

What do customers need to bring to the table with Wells Engineered Products in order to be successful?

They need to be open with us about what they’re trying to accomplish. That’s a little bit different sometimes when they’re used to picking a part out of a catalog. We don’t have a catalog. So sometimes that initial call can take some time because it’s different than how they’re used to operating. They have to make a bit of an investment in time and energy to share with us where they’re at. We try to take some of that workload upon ourselves – asking the right questions, visiting them – and they have to understand that it’s part of the process. If they’re not used to that, it’s a bit foreign to them.

When you look at the Engineered Products Group as a whole, what do you do exceptionally well?

Honestly, it’s a multitude of things: power electronics, thermal management, sensors, low-cost manufacturing for low- to mid-volume orders, and flexible manufacturing. We manufacture thousands of SKUs, and if you look at any given production line in our facilities, each line probably produces a couple hundred different parts, so the changeover times are quick and building a few thousand pieces of a SKU is not unusual for us. It’s rather easy for us to do that, which is a surprise to a lot of our customers. Not only are we collaborative and able to develop custom products, but we can deliver that value for low- to mid- volume orders as well.

Is there anything that you look forward to changing/enhancing to help Wells Engineered Products achieve additional growth and success?

Expanding our knowledge and capability with software, microprocessor-based products that communicate with the rest of a vehicle. That is largely an untapped market for us.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received that you wish to pass along to others?

Listen to your customers, but don’t always follow them. Your customers are telling you what they want, and while they’re telling you what they want – if you listen carefully and think creatively – you can hear what they really need, and that’s different. It’s something they may not even be thinking about at the time. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day. But if you really listen carefully about where the customer is headed, you may be able to come up with a better plan and better products to meet their real needs.

What does the future of Wells Engineered Products look like to you?

I want Wells Engineered Products to be the first name our customers think of when they need a new electronic part. Whether it’s an electronic module, or sensor, or a problem solved with a future technology from an R&D aspect. I want them to think of us and say, ‘I don’t know how to do this, but I wonder what the team at Wells would have to say about it.’

Of course, we can’t solve every problem. But we want our customers to feel strong enough about our partnership and our capabilities that they are willing to make that call and bring us in on day one of the new project – because they know we have the talent and capabilities to help them solve their problem – that’s the vision.