MOUNT AIRY, N.C.—Steve Riddle has stepped down as president of NCFI Polyurethanes and retired after guiding the company through a difficult recession and several key innovative transitions.
He has been succeeded by Chip Holton, the former director of operations at the polyurethane foam producer. Holton, who holds an engineering degree from West Point and is a former U.S. Army infantry officer, joined NCFI in 2012.
After completing his military career, he worked at Alcatel—now called Alcatel-Lucent—in a number of supervisory positions.
He joined GE Plastics in 2003 as its Southeast region operations manager, overseeing logistics, distribution and manufacturing for up to 13 plants.
Holton, 50, most recently served as vice president of U.S. operations for Jacob Holm Industries, a Swiss-based manufacturer of nonwoven roll products.
“We believe Chip is the ideal person to step into this leadership role at this critical time,” said Lewis Barnhardt, president and chief operating officer of Barnhardt Manufacturing Co., the parent of NCFI.
“He was instrumental in our successful relationship with Jacob Holm, and we are positive he will lead the next stage of growth and transformation for our 50-year-old polyurethane company,” according to Barnhardt.
Holton said his leadership style has been honed over time, but that his experiences in the Army play a key role in how he guides people and leadership roles he's held at various companies have provided a process-oriented approach to accomplish the desired outcomes.
“There are no silver bullets,” he said. “You can have a toolbox full of lean manufacturing tools, a wide array of leadership skills and expensive industry knowledge, but in the end you can only use them a la carte—synthesize them—extract the elements that best fit within the current organization, best serve the goals of the company, and best fit the markets and customers we serve. Our resulting NCFI culture will be expressly ours.”
A cornerstone of NCFI is its commitment to safety in the workplace, he said. The success of the firm's safety program can be attributed to employees that lead it from the ground up, he noted, and that continuous improvement plays a major role in the company's culture.
Barnhardt and Holton said in the short term, customers can expect quicker turnaround times on products.
“Our cultural transformation is well underway with new people, new products and new markets,” Holton said.
With the polyurethane foam industry expected to grow at a 6 to 7 percent rate through 2020, he said, “we're retooling our culture to think and act in a constant change environment.”
NCFI, with a strong reputation in every market it serves, is learning to focus and shift to take advantage of new opportunities, or move from segments that are soft, the official said.
The key elements to the company's success are people, purpose and passion, Holton said.
“Add the word predictability, and those four Ps become the foundation for our continued evolutionary leap from a local North Carolina company to an international powerhouse polyurethane supplier,” he said.
Holton said he's honored to be playing a role in creating a place where “change is the new normal.”
Riddle, 66, became the company's fourth president in 2007. He succeeded Swanson Snow, and he was the first executive officer who was not part of the group that founded the business in 1964.
“Steve was a bit of an outsider” when he came on board, Barnhardt said. “He brought a wave of innovation and change to the company from which we greatly benefited.”
Barnhardt said Riddle's leadership “was a rock anchoring us during the Great Recession; the steady hand guiding the organization through it, getting us to the other side in a better position in the markets we serve.”
Riddle is a Dalton, Ga., native and a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology with an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh. He worked in the research and development department and as a market manager at Mobay Chemical Co., which in 1995 became Bayer Corp.
He transitioned into sales after he joined NCFI in 1999 and rose from there.
In 2007, he was selected by Barnhardt Manufacturing's board of directors as president of NCFI.
During the next seven years under Riddle's leadership, the company became the first U.S. firm to experiment with reducing petroleum content of foam by adding renewable agricultural products such as corn and sugar beets.
It also opened a production plant in Utah; expanded to more than a million square feet of manufacturing space spread across its U.S. plants; opened 14 distribution warehouses in the U.S.; introduced numerous new brands of foam products; and became a leader in the U.S. spray polyurethane foam insulation industry.
Other accomplishments included receiving a Supplier Quality Excellence Award from Lockheed Martin Corp. for work on the external tank program of the U.S. space shuttle program; expanding sales of NCFI products to every continent except Antarctica; pioneering a safer next generation blowing agent; and becoming the first company to receive the USDA's BioPreferred label.
“If I had to choose one thing as my hallmark on the company, it's leading the transition from thinking and acting like a manufacturing company to being a customer-focused organization,” Riddle said. “It's kept us ahead of the markets we serve—more consistent and open to change.
“There are so many good, solid, hard working, intelligent people at BMC and NCFI that I feel blessed to have played a role in the polishing of this diamond in the rough. I am sure the company will continue to grow and prosper for another 50 years.”
Known as active and adventurous, Riddle has run twice with the bulls in Spain; conquered the highest peaks of most Eastern U.S. states, including Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, with his daughter; and has run in a marathon in each of the last five years.
He expects to stay pretty busy in retirement, he said. “I think I'll teach high school math, continue hiking the highest points in the Western states with my daughter and running marathons as long as I can.”