It's never easy when someone buys your company. Employees fear loss of identity and control to the new parent company.
Executives understood that at Brown & Sharpe, the Rhode Island company that began making and repairing timepieces in 1833. Today it's a leader in dimensional metrology equipment used for quality assurance in several industries, including automotive, aerospace and electronics.
So when the company began acquiring some of its European competitors in the 1960s, Brown & Sharpe was careful not to force too many changes on the new operations. It understood how important it is psychologically for Europeans to be independent, and that a new American parent company might not be terribly popular.
As a result, Brown & Sharpe allowed great latitude for the 12 European companies it acquired over the next 30 years and even allowed them to keep their brand names.
The problem is, those operations were so independent that customers occasionally didn't know the European companies, such as Tesa in Switzerland, Roch in France and DEA in Italy, were actually part of Brown & Sharpe. When DEA was purchased three years ago, employees there took the attitude that DEA had bought Brown & Sharpe.
Brown & Sharpe had an identity crisis, so it turned to Landor Associates, a specialist in corporate logos that gave Meritor Automotive its new name and winged-bull.
Landor developed a bright new "corporate yellow" logo for Brown & Sharpe, which is just now appearing at all facilities around the world and illustrates with a simple dot and some zeros that its highly precise business is "to the right of the decimal point."
To address the fragmentation, the European operations all have been renamed to include Brown & Sharpe, for example, Brown & Sharpe DEA and Brown & Sharpe TESA. As for changing employee attitudes overseas, that has come naturally as they understand the need to be truly global.
"They know the world is changing rapidly," says David Genest, director of marketing and corporate communications. "They're learning that to be a large global company today is critical."
Frank T. Curtin, Brown & Sharpe CEO, says he hopes the new logo and the name changes overseas will eliminate any confusion, both internal and external.
"I'd like them to think we are one company," Mr. Curtin says. "We hope to give people a rallying point to understand the new Brown & Sharpe." Some have responded by saying the company should have made this move years ago.
The fragmented European operations were affecting the bottom line. Sales declined in 1997 for the first time in several years, to $322 million, and the company has lost money in four of the last six years.
Last year's loss was $10.5 million, partly because of botched launches of two new measuring machines in the United States. "We did a poor job of making certain that new products were fully market-ready prior to their introduction and shipment to our customers," Mr. Curtin writes in the company's 1997 annual report.
The loss included a $16 million restructuring charge following the termination of 160 employees with the Measuring Systems Group in both Europe and the United States. Executives expect the restructuring to help return the company to profitability, because it will save about $9 million a year.
The company and its 2,400 employees focus heavily on new products, especially software to provide better links between designers and manufacturers, as well as high-precision coordinate measuring machines (CMMs) with lasers or non-contact sensors.
Brown & Sharpe has formed a new company, Brown & Sharpe Information Systems Inc., to develop new open-architecture measurement software that allows manufacturers to work on an actual model as it was designed, says Christopher J. Garcia, vice president of software product development.
Currently, manufacturers receive translations of computer-aided design (CAD) images, which causes problems because they are not always accurate. The goal is to eliminate the translations and open a channel of communication, over the Internet, for suppliers and their customers to discuss the design and manufacturing of a product.
Mr. Garcia says the system reduces scrap, shortens product development times, improves process control and helps suppliers meet OEM demands for better inspection of product.
"That's what our vision is, and we believe we can accomplish that," Mr. Garcia says.
and are among customers working with Brown & Sharpe on the software, which could be applied to CMMs currently in use.
Suppliers and automakers use CMMs to make sure their components meet quality and design targets. But most machines rely on contact sensors that take measurements of a component based on touch.
The trend is toward non-contact sensors that take measurements by using optics and laser technologies that cost more but do the job in one-tenth the time, even on a metal stamping with a series of complex curves.
Brown & Sharpe recently announced a joint venture, Metroptic Technologies Ltd., to be based in Yokneam, Israel, to develop optical measuring devices. The venture is working on sensors for inspection of turbine engine blades and electronic components. In addition, the system could study an entire car body and provide a flood of dimensional data.