Owens Corning’s impact felt throughout the worldWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | email@example.com
Growing up in Ohio, Paul Wei never dreamed he’d one day be living overseas as an executive for a major international company.
For the past two years, Wei has lived in Shanghai, Owens Corning’s Asia Pacific headquarters, where he is vice president and managing director for glass reinforcements in China and North/South Asia.
“We run a pretty diverse business, providing glass reinforcement and composite solutions for customers in the entire region,” said Wei, who primarily covers China, Japan and Korea.
Wei has been with Owens Corning for eight years, starting in sales. He was based in Toledo for his first six years with the company and now travels to Toledo four or five times a year.
“I joined because I knew it was a global business, but I never thought I’d ever have a chance to move as fast as I did,” Wei said. “Owens Corning definitely gives people a lot of opportunities. My story is not unique. You really have a lot of chances to do things with your career.”
Wei was born in California and raised in North Canton, where his family moved when he was in second grade. Wei learned Chinese at home from his Chinese parents, but didn’t have much opportunity to practice. Now that he lives in China, he said his Chinese has greatly improved.
Wei said his favorite part of working in Shanghai is the “diversity and growth.”
“There’s still a lot of untapped opportunities and markets here, whereas in the U.S. things are pretty mature or specified,” Wei said. “Here, a lot of things are left to be developed. There’s a billion people here and they just have a different set of needs.
“It’s still evolving and still growing. There’s a chance to position something new here and to have a chance to be the first on the market is exciting. Things move a lot faster here. There’s a lot more going on, but it’s also rewarding.”
The most challenging part is the competitiveness, Wei said.
“Owens Corning is the No. 1 composites company in the world, but Nos. 2, 3, 4 are all Chinese companies,” Wei said. “The challenge is you have to stay ahead because the competition is always chasing us.”
Wind energy is an important market in Asia, Wei said. Fiberglass is a key component in wind turbine blades.
“Our customers tend to be very energy-based,” he said. “China is the largest wind energy market in the world.”
Other fast-growing Asian markets include electronic devices and pollution control applications, such as coal scrubbers and compressed natural gas tanks, Wei said.
“Pollution is a big deal here,” Wei said. “Compressed natural gas is starting to be mandated by a lot of commercial vehicles, like taxis or buses, to moderate air quality, especially in large cities, because it costs less and it’s clean. Since it’s a pressurized tank, glass reinforcement quality is very important, and so safety is very critical in that application.”
Owens Corning is a globally recognized brand, Wei said.
“In North America, we’re an established brand leader. Everyone knows the Pink Panther and the Owens Corning brand. We’re a recognized brand and people trust Owens Corning because we have a history for developing solutions,” he said.
“Here in China, we’re still the brand leader, but we’re not the biggest company. Customers and competitors have a high respect for us, but we’re not the biggest. We’re not as established as in the U.S., but people recognize us for being the innovation leader and the brand and safety leader.
“Even here in China [Owens Corning] means quality, safety, environmentally friendly,” Wei said. “I think those give it lasting power. Our motto is ‘Innovation for Living’ and I think that’s really true. It’s really about creating better applications and things that are really sustainable.”
A 75th business anniversary is almost unheard of in China, Wei said.
“Seventy-five years for a business in China is an eternity. It’s not often you see that. There are a lot of changes here,” Wei said. “People here are proud to be part of Owens Corning. Most have never been to Toledo, Ohio, but they know the story and the history of Owens Corning. I think most people in China, even our competitors, could only dream of having 75 years of a profitable, innovative company. It creates a lot of inspiration and a lot of pride. It’s a big milestone.”
Wei credited Owens Corning’s success and longevity to its employees.
“It starts with the people,” Wei said. “The culture at Owens Corning has always been focused on its people and having strong leaders and having a good approach with teamwork and talent — generation after generation of strong talent. It’s always had very strong products and very strong technology. I think those combined have made the company what it is.”
With 15,000 employees in 27 countries on five continents, Owens Corning is the definition of a global company. It reported total sales of nearly $5.2 billion last year.
Kim Howard is another global executive with ties to Toledo.
Howard is vice president and managing director of glass reinforcements for the Americas, which includes North and South America.
Howard is based in Toledo, but travels about 50 percent of the time, visiting customers and manufacturing facilities in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Latin America. She has been with Owens Corning since 1996, and in her current position since July 2012.
Howard moved to Sylvania near the end of high school because of her dad’s job at Owens Illinois. She graduated from Sylvania Southview High School and the University of Toledo.
“Our building material business has a strong presence mainly in North America, while our composites business is very global,” Howard wrote in an email to Toledo Free Press. “When we explain about our company — our building material and glass composites focus, our commitment to making the world a better place by reducing our footprint and the fact our products help reduce energy consumption — people get very energized to learn more about our company.”
Among the fastest growing product markets Howard works with are automotive, building and construction.
“In the glass reinforcements business, we are focused very strongly in automotive by helping reduce the weight of a car, which improves the mileage per gallon and decreases emissions,” Howard said. “Another key market for us is building and construction. Our glass reinforcement is a base material for roofing shingles, tubs and showers, doors and gypsum facers, for example. In our insulation and roofing businesses, we are very focused on housing, which drives new construction and more insulation and shingle sales.”
Howard also attributed Owens Corning’s legacy to its employees.
“This success and longevity are a function of the great people we have and their incredible ability to innovate new solutions for our customers, in our manufacturing process and products and to improve our environmental stewardship,” Howard said.
Howard said her years with Owens Corning have been professionally and personally satisfying.
“Owens Corning has an openness, which allows people to try different roles,” Howard said. “Lots of individuals have very deep and long backgrounds with our company and this could be a function of the challenging roles we offer people.”
Howard previously held similar positions in Europe, based in France and Belgium. She said the experience has been enriching for her family, but she’s happy to be back in Toledo.
“It has helped our family to be so much closer, it has helped us to have open eyes about the diversity of the world and has created a lot of cultural sensitivity and understanding for us all,” she said.
Tags: Belgium, California, Canada, China and North/South Asia, Europe, fiberglass, France, Japan, Korea, Latin America, North Canton, Owens Corning’s Asia Pacific headquarters, Owens-Illinois, Shanghai, South America, Sylvania Southview High School, University of Toledo