The world’s largest manufacturer of plastic pipe leads by example.

The example lies in JM Eagle’s commitment to product innovation and in the depth and breadth of its product line. The example lies in the company’s ability to meet its client’s needs, literally, overnight. And the example lies in JM Eagle’s commitment to help alleviate the global water shortage. Such an array of achievements indicates not only that the company sets far-reaching goals, but that the foundation at its core is solid enough to ensure success.

Learning to Walk

JM Eagle CEO Walter Wang knows the business from the ground up because he learned the business from the ground up. After completing his studies at the University of California at Berkeley in 1988, he moved to Taiwan and worked for two years on the Formosa Plastics production lines — making raw materials for computer motherboards before moving to the company’s polyester plant. A post at Formosa’s headquarters took him back to the United States and eventually into a leadership role with JM Mfg., a part of Formosa Plastics that had been formed in the early 1980s with the purchase of eight PVC pipe manufacturing facilities from the Johns Manville Corp.

In the early part of the 1990s, JM Mfg. began an accelerated growth period, spurred in part by increased demand brought on by the Gulf War. To keep up with the rapid growth, the company shifted to a direct sales business model that centralized many of the business functions and allowed closer communication with its customers. The significance of this shift was magnified when, in 1996, JM Mfg. rolled out an Intranet solution to manage customer quotes. The Intranet led to an Internet tool that allowed customers to customize order packages and JM Mfg. began picking up steam throughout the 1990s.

“In the period from 1990 to 2000, we grew 300 percent — all organic growth,” explains Wang. “If the frame is extended from 1990 to 2005, the growth rate is 500 percent, or from $200 million to $1 billion.”

In 2005, Wang purchased JM Mfg. and continued the company’s expansion with the 2007 purchase of PW Eagle. PW Eagle brought with it a different sales model — while JM had grown with inside and direct sales, PW Eagle had a network of sales representatives and the two meshed well. “JM’s mature inside sales system was complemented by PW Eagle’s outside sales experience,” Wang says.

Today, JM Eagle is the leader of the plastic pipe industry not only in terms of volume, but with its wide ranging product offering. “No one equals JM Eagle’s PE and PVC product lines,” says JM Eagle vice president of marketing Neal Gordon. “From gravity sewer pipe on down in terms of size, we offer a full array of plastic pipe products.”

JM Eagle has 23 plants, more than 300 extruders throughout the United States and 2.2 billion lbs of capacity. For the customer this means not only the broad ranging product lineup mentioned above, but a remarkably accessible one at that. “If needed, we can deliver to the customer overnight with our own trucks,” Gordon adds.

More than anything, though, JM Eagle is an industry leader in innovation. To that end, the company is preparing to roll out the Eagle Loc 900 in early 2009. JM Eagle also was the first to develop technology that automates its mixing systems while much of the industry still measures chemicals by hand; a process that can result in human error. Now its customers enjoy the most consistent production of pipe in the industry.

Eagle Loc

Teaming S&B Technical Products’ BullDog joint restraint technology with JM Eagle pipe products, the Eagle Loc 900 eliminates the need for external joint restraints. BullDog restrains the joint from the inside at installation with technology that has proven effective and reliable in both lab and field tests. The result is a dramatic reduction in installation time and labor costs. “Once the pipe is put together, it cannot be pulled apart,” Wang explains. “This makes the installation process easier and less expensive.”

Eagle Loc 900 pipe is fitted with the BullDog restraint at the factory. Once in the field, the pipe is assembled just as standard PVC pipe would be. The BullDog restraint engages and locks the pipe together with a snap, and when the line is activated and pressurized, the restraint becomes even stronger. Since the BullDog is encased in plastic pipe, it is kept safely away from corrosive soils, solving the corrosion problem that can plague external joint restraints. Inside the pipe, the BullDog sits behind a gasket, which keeps it away from the fluid in the pipe. Protected on both sides, the joint restraint is designed for long-term integrity and dependable flow rates.

“Eagle Loc 900 conforms to all industry standards,” Wang adds. “These include AWWA C900, ASTM D1784 and UNI-B-13.”

Reaching People

In addition to its place as the industry leader in product and innovation, JM Eagle is a trailblazer in its mission to address an audience beyond the industry. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the company debuted a 30-second commercial about the role of water and the importance of transporting it on NBC Sports networks, including spots on NBC, USA, CNBC and MSNBC.

Reaching out to the general public in such a way represents a bold step in shifting the public awareness to issues of infrastructure construction and rehabilitation. “When you’re the market leader, you have a responsibility to move the dialogue,” Wang explains. “A lot of the modern conveniences we have are taken for granted until they fail, so people may not be aware of these concerns.”

Wang points out that reaching the public is as important, though in a different way, than reaching the industry. Reaching the industry involves making engineers and contractors aware of specific products that can be used for a project. Reaching the public plays a role in helping to support the funding of those projects. Raising public awareness is good for all involved.

“It is critically important to know what we’re building our infrastructure with,” Wang says. “It’s important to know what we’re using to build our future.”

Teach a Man to Fish

In addition to its commitment to a quality product, JM Eagle is committed to taking aspects of its business and reinvesting them in areas where it might make a difference in the world. “We are trying to drive sensitivity to global issues, such as water infrastructure,” Wang explains. In addition to educating both the public and the industry, moving the dialogue forward has benefited developing nations.

“In Africa, for example, we supplied 110 km of PVC pipe in order to bring potable water to Senegal,” Wang says.

As part of that initiative, JM Eagle donated resources to and worked with the Millennium Villages Project to install 68 miles of infrastructure, connecting 11,000 people in 53 Senegalese villages. The company donated approximately $1 million in product to the project.

“The Millennium Project is about providing the necessary infrastructure for economic development,” Gordon adds. “There are other elements as well — educational elements for example — that are far-reaching and difference-making.”

Gordon recalls visiting one of the villages on the morning the water line was turned on. The group with whom he had traveled entered the village and the village elders approached them to offer thanks. “It was incredibly moving,” Gordon says. “One of the elders said to us: ‘A child cannot dance unless the mother can dance. Now that we have water, the whole village can dance.’”

But just writing checks and shipping pipe is not enough for Wang. “Charity is difficult — money doesn’t last,” he says. “We would rather give them the technology to produce the pipe for themselves and for their neighbors.”

A Foundation Set for the Future

Under Walter Wang’s leadership, JM Eagle has grown into the global leader in plastic pipe. The company reflects his dedication to excellence, not only in business, but as a global citizen. As impressive as JM Eagle’s innovative approach to product development and customer service is its commitment to the world at large. The story of its success comes back to Wang’s insistence that he learn the business from the ground up. In so doing, he laid the foundation upon which JM Eagle built its leadership. And it is that foundation that springboards JM Eagle into the future.

“We wanted to make sure the foundation was strong,” Wang says. “We wanted to make sure we learned to walk before we ran.”

Greg Thompson
is an assistant editor of Trenchless Technology.

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