AMBAC International Open Book Management gets Results

AMBAC International achieved a huge turn-around at their Elgin, South Carolina plant. This 100 year-old, employee-owned facility already had great talent but they were struggling financially.

In 2018, their CEO, Robert Isherwood, implemented a new management operating system which not only engaged the workforce but also unified them working toward the same goal. In an October plant visit with the OpExChange, the Ambac team shared their success with peer manufacturers from across the state. AMBAC’s Quality/OpEx Manager, Justin Zapotocky, gave a thorough overview of their system and was joined by their Technical Sales Engineer, Darius Kelly, for deeper dives on the plant floor.  Robert joined the group for the entire visit.

Great Game of Business®

AMBAC presented how their recently adopted open-book management system, the Great Game of Business® (GGOB), generated a resurrection of an ownership culture at the plant.  For AMBAC, the GGOB management system yielded tremendous results quickly:

  • 851% Growth in profit.
  • 20% Improvement in absorption rate.
  • 21% Improvement in productivity.
  • Dramatically increased engagement.
  • Being named “Rookie of the Year” by GGOB in 2019 and “All-Star” for following years.

A salient point that surfaced during the group discussion was that this plant maintains high retention of their employees and does not experience recruiting issues. This is a huge factor given the current state of the workforce in 2021. Robert attributes this to the high sense of ownership and engagement of their team. He indicated that employee referrals play a significant part in their recruitment success. “Winners know winners.” Robert added.  “There is never a talent shortage if you are a great place to work.

This plant was recognized this year by the SC Chamber of Commerce as one of the “Best Places to Work in South Carolina.”

Open-Book Management

Robert brought the GGOB to AMBAC in 2018.  Although the company already had great team members and talent, they did not have a unifying system that tied them to achieving company goals. “We were in a pretty bad situation,” Robert added. He was introduced to the GGOB book during a sales trip and was intrigued about this different way to run a business. When implementing their pilot program, no member of management was permitted to participate on the team. This was a ground-up approach to management. The people from the shop floor had to be the ones creating this. In the breakroom, a huge whiteboard displays all their financial goals and weekly progress. Robert holds a weekly “huddle” with the entire workforce to discuss where they stand in meeting their goals.

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One of the key elements to the GGOB are the MiniGames. These are engaging, short-termed activities intended to address a gap or weakness in the operation. They are also intended to be fun! Ambac tries to have two to three MiniGames running concurrently with 30-, 60-, and 90-day goals. There are team prizes with each milestone goal achieved. Some examples shared during the meeting were increasing the margin on a particular commodity, minimizing health risks, and how to get raises for the entire plant. During the plant tour, the group was shown a recent MiniGame in which they incrementally removed $600 of cost from a pump assembly through iterative visual improvements.

Gate Review Process

At the entrance to the production area, there are a series of three toilets in the front hallway. No, these are not communal latrines for the facility! This is actually a fun visualization of their project gate review process. Justin stated that at gate zero, the effort and cost invested in a project is small and if it does not meet acceptance, they will “flush” them out. Justin reported some valuable lessons learned from a previous new product introduction that did not go well. He presented their new structure, including a complexity model, risk evaluation, and how the GGOB facilitated the ownership of all employees in this process.

Building People

For a company to exist, it must do two things – generate cash and generate profit. Robert emphasized that those are realities, but that is not why Ambac International exists. “This is a factory that builds people … we are teaching people to be able to operate in a financial and material way, at a higher and higher level.”

Robert stated that the GGOB helped to unify all employees with a stake in the outcome. “We are all playing as a team. We win as a team. We get super bowl rings together as a team. What is your super bowl ring? In our case, it is 10% of your base pay as a cash payout.”

About AMBAC International

AMBAC International is an innovative provider of critical power and fluid components. Located in Elgin, SC, this employee-owned company engineers, manufacturers, and remanufactures heavy-duty engine components. AMBAC International, previously American Bosch, has produced American-made products here since 1910. The site capabilities include high machining capability, complex assembly, and testing. They have been an OpExChange member for nearly seven years. Forty-seven employees work at the plant.

About the OpExChange

The OpExChange is a peer-to-peer network of companies in South Carolina known for generating data-driven success for members through benchmarking and best practices activities. Member companies host events and share practical examples of industrial automation, lean manufacturing improvements, and leadership development. It is an invaluable resource to South Carolina companies that provides access to others who are on similar improvement journeys. If you are interested in joining, contact Mike Demos (  ) or visit the OpExChange website to see current companies:

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