Pushing the relationship beyond business: how Solvay and Bridgestone share best practices on safety
Solvay’s business unit Silica has made it a policy to share more with its customers (the world’s main tire manufacturers) than just selling products. In 2018, this desire was pursued further than ever with Bridgestone, culminating in mutual visits of factories of both companies.
“We work in a field where there are very few players. The more customer intimacy we build, the more we can offer solutions that fit their needs exactly,” explains Bruno Jestin, Global Business Director at Silica. “Silica is always trying to push exchanges with customers a little further in all domains, to exchange on every subject.”
In July 2017, a first high-level meeting between Silica and Bridgestone Health & Safety managers was held at the tire manufacturer’s EMEA Technical Center in Rome. It quickly emerged that these talks were very positive, so much so that everyone agreed things shouldn’t stop there. “We started with informal exchanges about our respective policies, but we wanted to take the conversation further by actually going onto the field,” says Paul Roding, Global Key Account Manager at Silica. “Because it’s always interesting to see how strategy and theory are applied in reality.”
“It was the right thing at the right time for us, because we are currently going through a transformation journey, driven by our CSR Vision Our Way to Serve, and safety is part of that,” adds Fabrizio Paletta, Head of Health & Safety at Bridgestone EMEA. “It’s extremely positive to benchmark with our partners and share best practices. That’s why we immediately and enthusiastically said yes to these exchanges.”
There is no competition, but only partnership, when it comes to the safety of our people.
No business in the way
It just so happens that Bridgestone and Silica have neighboring plants in a couple of regions in Europe, specifically in Italy and Poland. So the idea naturally came up of organizing a joint mutual visit of both companies’ facilities. The plants in Poznan and Wloclawek, Poland, were chosen; Silica opened a plant there in 2014, and it’s also the location of Bridgestone’s largest European facility. So the visit was scheduled for June 2018.
Bridgestone is renowned for its strong safety-oriented culture and low accident rates, and Solvay’s for its chemical risk and contractor management processes, so both companies had a lot to share on the general subject of safety. As Bruno Jestin recounts: “The visits were really interesting for everyone because we each have our own vision of safety, and this was a unique occasion to share experiences and feedback without any business considerations at stake, which means we could speak very openly.”
The group, comprising local and corporate Health & Safety managers and Account managers from both companies, visited one plant the first day, the other the second day, congenitally traveling in a hired bus from one to another. Workshops and demonstrations were held, risk management practices reviewed, line safety and contractor management issues discussed, and the teams from Silica were invited to take part in Bridgestone’s annual safety meeting bringing together HSE managers from all over Europe. Improvements were also discussed, on topics as diverse as noise levels on the shopfloor or the circulation of vehicles inside the plants. Bridgestone also demonstrated its innovative gamification tool to raise awareness on safety procedures among employees: escape rooms!
“When you go onto the field, you always learn something,” continues Bruno. “Bridgestone helped us progress in terms of safety practices. And though the primary subject was safety, we of course touched upon lots of other topics, for example employee empowerment. It was a positive experience that contributed to enrich and strengthen our relationship.”
“It’s always good to exchange: either you get confirmation that what you’re doing is good, or you can improve thanks to the best practices you learn from others,” adds Fabrizio. “There is no competition, but only partnership, when it comes to the safety of our people.”
We’re always trying to push exchanges with our customers a little further in all domains. It’s all about exchanging in a different way.
A real win-win
Openness and trust were the main keywords here. It’s the type of relationship Silica tries to establish with all of its customers, but that was taken one step further with Bridgestone, with these visits, which were the first of their kind for both companies. “It was my first time inside a Solvay plant,” says Fabrizio. “It was great to be able to ask questions about very concrete safety matters, regarding our daily work of Safety Specialists. Thanks to the trust that has been established between our two companies, we can talk very openly, with the feeling that you’re talking to highly competent people.”
“It’s all about exchanging with our customers in a different way,” says Bruno. “In the last couple of years, we built a very strong relationship with Bridgestone; our safety visits were part of this relationship and confirmed its solidity.”
Other visits will surely follow. In the meantime, another objective of this operation was to connect Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) managers, creating a network, an ecosystem of safety – both locally, by putting local managers in direct contact, as well as on a corporate level.
“It’s important to create a direct link between our respective health & safety departments,” says Paul. “That way our exchanges can be more fluid and efficient.”
Fabrizio confirms: “I wanted to combine the visits with meetings between our safety managers, in order to create a local network that would encourage exchanges on all levels. The idea is to step up from compliance to commitment on the part of workers: ‘I don’t do things because I have to, but because I want to’. We found we have a lot in common with Solvay on these subjects – not just regarding safety, but for business in general.”
Creating such a win-win situation where both parties learn from the other while increasing trust and customer intimacy is “quite simple, really,” sums up Bruno, “once you’ve managed to establish contact in the first place and provided you share the same open state of mind.”
Which is definitely the case with these two companies.