Tony Bouie knows a few things about the importance of teamwork and how a dedicated group can pretty much accomplish anything it wants.
The president of ChemResearch Corp. in Phoenix, Arizona, takes a unique approach to how CRC views its staff and the unique approach to managing them.
“I call it ‘People, Not Parts,’” says Bouie, whose company is a metal finishing service provider for the aerospace, defense, medical, semiconductor/electronics, space, and heavy equipment industries.
“We are laser-focused on our customers, which for us includes employees,” he says. “If we take care of our employees, our customers will be taken care of. So we've done things that probably seem mundane but mean a lot to our employees.”
Remodeling and Improved Lighting to Employee Satisfaction
For example, CRC remodeled its shipping and receiving area where all of its employees walk in to start work each day, created new lighting throughout the facility, and purchased new — and very expensive ovens — to replace the older ones they had.
“When our employees walk in, they feel like it's a place that is not just work, but it's a place where they can chit chat and feel comfortable,” Bouie says. “If we take care of our employees, our customers will be taken care of. So we've done things that probably seem mundane but mean a lot to our employees.”
The result over the years has been a satisfied workforce at CRC that strives to take care of its customers — the ones who send them parts to be finished — and is always looking to grow the business at the 65,000-square-foot facility.
Before becoming president of CRC in 2022, Bouie was vice president of human resources for the company, overseeing safety and regulatory compliance. He says overseeing the hiring and training of their staff gave him a great perspective when he ascended to become president almost three years ago.
“I think being the VP of HR really prepared me for the position,” Bouie says. “I've run other companies in different industries, but I think being part of that portion of the vertical in this company and being able to deal with all of the external things — and then getting ingrained in all the regulatory things that companies in our industry deal with — really helped me to better understand how the things we do really help our customers. It was a good lead into being president.”
All-American and NFL Player
Of course, Bouie had the teamwork philosophy ingrained in him before he even started his working career. He was a consensus 1st team All-American football star at the University of Arizona — even making the cover of Sports Illustrated with several of his teammates — before going on to the National Football League, where he played four NFL seasons at safety with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
His legend lives strong in the Arizona desert, where he was later inducted into the University of Arizona Sports Hall of Fame, and his name is included among other greats in the Wildcats Ring of Honor on the façade of Arizona Stadium.
Founded in 1954, CRC is an AS9100 and Nadcap-certified, ITAR-registered single-source metal finishing service provider for the aerospace, defense, medical, semiconductor/electronics, space, and heavy equipment industries. The company services regional and national machine shops, including industry-leading OEMs such as BAE Systems, Bell Helicopter, Bombardier Aerospace, Eaton, General Electric, Honeywell, Hamilton Sundstrand, Goodrich, Northrop Grumann, Parker Aerospace, Rolls Royce, Spirit AeroSystems, Space X, Woodward and more.
CRC offers over 33 plating and chemical processing services, including anodize, cadmium, chem-film, chrome, copper, Dow 7, electroless nickel, grinding (ID/OD), nickel, non-destructive testing, passivate, phosphate, shot peening, silver, and more.
“So the number one thing was to come in and put us on a path where we are strictly compliant. We're dealing with past issues, which has been our focus to be good corporate stewards. We are going above and beyond in that regard.”
Bouie says that when he was promoted to president to lead the 75 employees at CRC, the owners gave him several specific tasks they wanted him to accomplish, including solving some legacy environmental issues that the previous ownership group had been dealing with. That legacy issue is almost at completion.
CRC has one of the largest hard chrome systems in the Southwest U.S., with eight 1,000-gallon chrome processing tanks, as well as Type II and III anodizing lines with 45 processing tanks that support two Type II sulfuric and one Type III hard sulfuric anodize tanks.
Maintaining Regulatory Compliance and Being Good Stewards
“I don't think it's very odd in this industry that there are regulatory issues that each job shop in this service finishing industry deals with, and we have the same thing,” Bouie says. “So the number one thing was to come in and put us on a path where we are strictly compliant. We're dealing with past issues, which has been our focus to be good corporate stewards. We are going above and beyond in that regard. And the next was to grow the business. We are looking at all kinds of ways to continue to be a one-stop shop.”
For example, CRC recently added semi-bright silver plating to satisfy an existing customer who had been sending parts nearly across the U.S. to have the work finished. Bouie says it is those types of conversations with customers that lead to an expansion of services.
They are currently looking to add trivalent chrome, electroless nickel PTFE, and black oxide, as well as continue to upgrade their equipment and systems.
“We are looking to find out what the pain points are for our customers, and if it makes sense and we have room, we'll add the process for them here,” he says. “We'll work with customers as long as they give us a good target. We'll work with them on pricing.”
Impressive Members of the CRC Board of Directors
CRC owners Timothy and Mary Frances Jeffries have also worked to broaden the company’s customer base and standing in the community by putting together an impressive cadre of members of the CRC board of directors.
Gregory Slavonic, a retired Rear Admiral of the U.S. Navy and former Under Secretary of the Navy, joined the company board of directors in 2021 as Vice Chairman. Tim Jeffries said at the time that Slavonic would aid CRC’s “strong focus on the defense and aerospace industries,” as well as assist Jeffries with his ownership commitment and executive efforts to support the revitalized leadership team, improve company culture, engage strategic customers, and expand strategic services.
In early 2022, Jeffries added former U.S. Senator Martha McSally, a retired Colonel in the U.S. Air Force, and Michael Wehr, a retired Major General in the U.S. Army, to the CRC Board of Directors.
Jeffries said that Senator McSally would directly assist Jeffries with company culture, strategic vision, and cybersecurity matters. Major General Wehr partnered with operations leadership in the areas of leadership development, performance optimization, and company sustainability.
It was at that same time that Jeffries named Bouie president and chief executive officer of CRC. In addition, Gilberto Burgos joined CRC as the Vice President of Human Resources, Safety, and Regulatory Compliance, filling the role previously held by Bouie.
A year earlier, Jefferies hired Jamy Berntsen as Vice President of Quality and Innovation. She previously served as Senior Technical Director at Intel Corporation's Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Driving Division. Jeffries said Berntsen will use her expertise to lead and accelerate CRC's initiatives to drive superior quality and technology innovation for customers and partners while supporting CRC's commitment to business transformation and excellence.
“I'm thrilled with the way our high-caliber executive team is rounding out and the high energy they are already bringing to bear,” Jeffries said in announcing the promotions. “I have worked with these gentlemen for many years, and Mary Frances and I cannot wait to see CRC develop under their executive leadership. Their outstanding values-based approach to company culture has positioned CRC to achieve incredible results, especially in the defense and aerospace sectors. The future is bright with these pros at the helm.”
Outside Training for Employees
Bouie says that having a board of directors such as the one Jeffries assembled has helped grow CRC’s finishing operations even more.
“The expertise and the ability to network inside the government, inside the military, with the names of the individuals on our board has been a goldmine for us,” he says. “If we are having an issue or need insight, we always get good feedback from our board.”
Bouie says it has been extremely helpful when those board members speak to the CRC employees in groups about how the work they are doing is being utilized in the field.
“The employees get a real understanding of where our services are being put in place and how that affects our military out in the field,” he says. “It's been a great opportunity for us to make that link between the end product and what we do on the shop floor.”
Bouie also says the company has remained committed to retaining its employees in an otherwise tough time to find qualified labor, and he has worked closely with CRC’s management team and owners to show employees how much they want them to stay with the company.
In 2019, when he was head of HR, Bouie worked closely with the Arizona Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) to get a grant through the Incumbent Worker Training Program offered by Arizona at Work and the City of Phoenix that provided financial assistance for training programs focused on developing the competitive skill set of existing employees.
CRC employees took various training classes — Microsoft Excel, customer service, and sales training — that they then applied to their current position and future roles. Lean manufacturing training classes applied the concepts using hands-on activities that had immediate results for the employees and the company.
“The lean manufacturing training has produced some of the best results for us,” Bouie says. “During the workshop, the team concentrated on one operational area, applying lean principles to reorganize, clean, document, and streamline the processes. Now, when potential customers tour our facility, they remark that it’s one of the most well-organized facilities they have toured, which helps build confidence in ChemResearch.”
Training was also conducted to reinforce HR best practices and policies. Arizona MEP’s HR expert led a supervisor training class that provided a solid framework for effective communication, conflict resolution, employee evaluations, and legal compliance.
“The supervisor training was beneficial for us,” Bouie says. “After the training, I saw a difference in how managers were giving feedback to employees.”
Since that time, Bouie and the CRC owners have continued to work on training and maintaining an effective team to service their customers.
“We've completely revamped our pay scale, and we're paying for outside training for our employees,” he says. “There are a lot of things that we're doing that are strictly focused on making sure that we treat our customers — our employees — the best we possibly can.”