135 years of hydronics innovation

Q&A with president of Weil-McLain.

For over a century, Weil-McLain has delivered high-quality cast iron boilers to the market and helped paved the way in high efficiency hydronics. The company employs approximately 1,000 individuals within the HVAC heating businesses, with an average experience of 25 years on the job, and over 6,000 individuals across the entire corporation worldwide.

Plumbing Engineer had the opportunity to interview John Swann, president of Weil-McLain.

PE: What led you to become involved in the hydronics industry?

JS: I grew up in a family business environment. My parents were entrepreneurs and, from the time I could first push a broom through summer jobs in college, I worked and learned every aspect of the business from the ground up. I started my post-MBA career in consulting, working with companies of various sizes and industries to formulate growth strategies and execute transformational investments such as mergers and acquisitions. I’ve spent most of the last 20 years in various segments of the broader industrial and engineered products space. First, I was in business/corporate development roles, responsible for growth and innovation, I transitioned to general management about five years ago.  

I’ve been president of Weil-McLain for about two and a half years, and I’m also responsible for two other HVAC/engineered products companies within our corporate portfolio. I have a staff of vice presidents organized by function — sales, marketing, engineering, operations, quality, finance, human resources and information technology.

PE: It is Weil-McLain’s 135th anniversary! What are some milestones you would like to highlight?

JS: Weil-McLain traces its roots to brothers Isadore and Benjamin Weil and their plumbing business in Chicago in 1881. Throughout the 20th century, Weil-McLain grew to be the largest U.S. manufacturer of cast iron boilers and a leader in the hydronic industry. The Michigan City, Indiana location continues its cast iron foundry operations and houses a state-of-the-art laboratory and testing facilities alongside an engineering and development center. In 2005, Weil-McLain opened a second manufacturing and training location, in Eden, North Carolina, and a distribution center on the East Coast. In 2012, Weil-McLain opened an administrative office in Burr Ridge, Illinois.

Weil-McLain has had significant milestones over the years. We developed the first “wet base” boiler that eliminated the need for a separate base and combustion chamber. We introduced the first commercial boiler to be offered with factory-assembled sections. We also manufactured the first ultraviolet control system for an atmospheric gas commercial boiler, In addition, we were the first company to factory “fire test” package residential boilers.

Today, we’re maintaining our legacy as cast-iron pioneers and investing heavily in high efficiency technology and channel support capabilities to offer our customers a full range of products and solutions. Just this past year, we introduced our most advanced high-efficiency condensing boiler, the 95 percent AFUE Evergreen. We also recently enhanced our line of popular SlimFit high-efficiency condensing gas boilers with improved controls, communication and usability. 

PE: What are some examples of Weil McLain’s educational outreach?

JS: Our School of Better Heating (SOBH), for instance, is a one- to two-day event where topics like hydronics 101, circulator relays, multiple boiler setup, high efficiency control logic and operation, are covered. We do this in a different location once a month from March through September. We prepare a broad course outline that extends beyond our products and include partnered training with some of our key component suppliers. We offer training and factory visits to design professionals and engineers at both of our manufacturing locations and several tiers of technical training based on the individual expertise of the professional. 

Commercial boiler sales training is offered multiple times per year at our factory in Michigan City to ensure that the organizations and sales people who represent our products are fully equipped to meet market needs and nationwide distribution. We also offer a free one-day training event for contractors called Weil-McLain Open House at  our Mid-Atlantic office, in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, every other year in the fall. This event is designed to create a training environment for contractors with 45-minute, hands-on outdoor sessions that cover high-efficiency condensing gas boilers, steam, hydronics 101, commercial boiler,s as well as partnered training with manufacturers.

PE: What is Weil McLain’s game plan for 2016? 

JS: Over the past two years, we have invested heavily in two major areas of the business: 1) improving the way we manage our distribution footprint to better serve contractors and end users in a rapidly changing market environment; and 2) differentiating our product portfolio through higher impact technology innovation and new product development. We view 2016 as a year of execution for us, with many growth and improvement initiatives in place. For example, we have recently launched our new Distributor Alliance Program (DAP) and Boiler Bucks contractor loyalty program, both designed to reward our channel partners and contractors for ongoing growth and loyalty. 

Other key initiatives for 2016 include an enhanced web/digital experience for our customers, improved analytical capabilities and productivity tools to assist our field sales team and channel partners identify and pursue growth opportunities at the local level and several new high efficiency product launches. Our team has worked extremely hard in putting these new capabilities in place, and we expect to see a positive impact for our customers in 2016. Looking ahead, we will continue to build on our technical training, application support and customer experience management (CEM) capabilities.

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