Editor's note: The following is the transcript of a live interview with Dr. “Vas” Srinivas Veeramasuneni, CTO of USG Corporation, and Derrick Hutchinson, Director of Sales, USG Roofing. You can read the interview below or listen to the podcast.
Speaker 1: Welcome to Roofing Road Trips with Heidi. Explore the roofing industry through the eyes of a long-term professional within the trade. Listen for insights, interviews, and exciting news in the roofing industry today.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: Hello and welcome to another Roofing Road Trips from RoofersCoffeeShop. My name is Heidi Ellsworth and I'm here today with a very exciting and interesting podcast where we're going to be talking about innovation, that innovation story that is so strong in roofing and construction overall. And I have the experts here today from USG to help talk about what they've done to innovate our industry. I have Derrick Hutchinson and Dr. Vas who are here and they are going to take us through what is happening out there and all of the great things that are making our industry above and beyond.
So first of all, I would love to start with the introductions. Derrick, can I start with you? Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do with USG.
Derrick Hutchinson: Yeah, absolutely. First of all, thank you so much, Heidi, for having us. We're extremely excited to be here.
I am the Director of Sales for USG'S Roofing Division. I've been with USG for 16 years. However, I started my career evaluating roofs, so doing all of the FM and UL testing with our roof cover boards and basically developing the portfolio where we're at today.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: Wow, very good. And you and I just met at the NRCA meetings last fall.
Derrick Hutchinson: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: So I'm just so happy to have you on the show. This is great.
And Dr. Vas, I am so excited to visit with you and hear everything that you've done. Please introduce yourself and tell us about what you're doing at USG.
Srinivas Veeramasuneni “Dr. Vas”: Thanks, Heidi. I'm very happy to be here and also I appreciate for the opportunity for Derrick and I to be here.
My name is Srinivas Veeramasuneni. Like everything we do as a company to be innovative and to be easier to do business with, I made my name to be simple, called Vas. And then I've been with the company for 24 years. I'm the Chief Technology Officer for the company and one thing I'm very proud of is actually having a hand in bringing Derrick to USG 16 years back.
Derrick Hutchinson: Absolutely.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: Ah, nice. So you two have worked together for quite a while?
Derrick Hutchinson: Yes.
Srinivas Veeramasuneni “Dr. Vas”: Yes.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: I love it. Well, along that lines, let's talk about USG and that innovation story. This is the part I'm really excited to hear about. So Dr. Vas, let's start with you maybe talking about the core values and how innovation, that customer story, how it really works within USG.
Srinivas Veeramasuneni “Dr. Vas”: It's a good way to start, I think, the discussion and this conversation.
I think many people, many of our customers know USG, but it's always good to have these type of conversations to start with who we are, what we do. USG is a building materials manufacturer. We've been here for more than 120 years, but always focusing on customer needs and pain points, so that has been in our DNA. Anything that we do, we keep customers first. And our core values, we have all, over the last 120 years, but always committed and focused on safety, service and innovation.
And keeping this innovation team in mind, one thing that is actually, we have to go back and look into our heritage. We focus on walls, floors, ceilings, and roofing, both materials-wise and systems-wise. What we are proud and always our customers tell us is in the last 120 years, every decade this company has come out with breakthrough or transformational solutions for the industry. And in the last decade, we focused on the lightweight technology platform. People may ask why that's a focus. Because we want to make sure the material that we are supplying to our customers are easy to install, easy to handle, and more importantly, we want to help them to increase the speed of installation and improve their efficiency.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: I love it. I love it. And that lightweight story is more important than ever. I mean, really when you look at it. So Derrick, lets kind of talk about that, the USG innovation and this how that Securock Roof Board has come out of that, that portfolio.
Derrick Hutchinson: Yeah, absolutely. So I think one thing to note is that USG has the largest cover board portfolio in the industry. With our portfolio, we are focused in on productivity, so taking that productivity to the contractors. Just thinking through our products, we have a facer-free gypsum board, which the allows the adhesive to spread easily across the surface. We do have that UltraLight technology that Dr. Vas mentioned. In addition, we also have assemblies where you can utilize less fasteners, which allows you to achieve the same wind uplift rating using less fasteners and saving time and money.
And then diving a little bit more into that lightweight part of it, our lightweight cover boards are 18% lighter than the competitive products. What they do is they allow the crew to work safer, faster, and drive efficiency on the job site. In addition, we can fit more product on a truck. So with that, it's less trucks on site, less crane time, less time unloading the product.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: Everything I'm hearing, everything you're talking about really leads to finding solutions and innovation during what we've looked at over the last three years between COVID and then material shortage and everything else, everything you're talking about is really helping that crew on the roof, which is the end of the game. Right?
Derrick Hutchinson: Absolutely, absolutely. As Vas said, one of our focuses is customer first.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: Yeah, I love that. It also leads me to think about sustainability because there's so many buildings out there that maybe structurally just can't handle all the weight or we want to be able to do more restoration.
So Dr. Vas, I would love for you to talk about that innovation and sustainability, which is so important today.
Srinivas Veeramasuneni “Dr. Vas”: It's interesting that how you mixed the two topics together. That's exactly happening I think in the industry. And everybody, you talk about the millennials right now, that's on the top of their mind, sustainability, how do we use the materials more effectively and efficiently?
At USG, even before people are talking about sustainability, we started this journey way back even maybe 50 years back. Because on our sheet truck, the gypsum wallboard, we have been using recycled paper for almost 60 years. And in several of our products, we use recycled materials. In fact, our mantra is it is reuse, reduce, and recycle, for everything we do has to have those three lenses.
Now, we formalized this in 2010 to be more focused, measure ourself on two, three critical areas, how we are performing on sustainability. And we just announced the second decade of our goals last year, what we call it is our 2030 objectives. And we are focusing in certain areas, that is reducing our carbon footprint, making circular economy, and as well as keeping the healthier buildings. For keeping these concepts in place, we always focused on sustainability, but now we are formalized, we have clear goals and we have a roadmap to achieve this.
Now to connect to what you just said, yes, I think reducing the carbon footprint is very important. It'll reduce global warming and other factors. But what we are doing for our immediate customers, for this lightweight technology, when you reduce weight, as Derrick just said, it not only helps them to use less material but also do things faster, but also to reduce of the transportation cost.
All of them actually meets not only our sustainable goals, but I think we are going to keep this world better than when we arrived here.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: I think that, what a great point. I love that because we so often get kind of caught in, well, what are we doing with the carbon footprint or what are we doing here? But it's really that whole picture of working more efficiently, having the right products to help to put that together.
And so that's why I love when you talk about your 2030 goals, which is, I think, impressive. That is really enhancing that overall customer experience, wellbeing, their health. To me, that makes all the difference. And that's where manufacturing industry should be today.
Derrick Hutchinson: Yeah. And one thing to add to that, Heidi, is as I talk to our customers, the building owners, more and more they're asking about sustainability. How do they contribute to the world we have today? And I'm happy that USG, we have that solution for them. We keep driving that solution and improving on it. So just with what Vas is saying there, it's absolutely great that we can answer that question and be the product for these customers.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: Well, I also like, when you were... We were just at the NRCA meetings and sustainability was a big topic and we were talking through it and there's a number of contractors who are listening today, I'm sure, who are saying, "Really? What difference does it make for me personally, for our business, for taking care of our people?" I mean, Dr. Vas, how you just put that all together, that starts making sense to people.
Srinivas Veeramasuneni “Dr. Vas”: And in fact, one of the... In addition to what Derrick and I just mentioned on sustainability, we are also focusing on bringing back new construction waste keeping, again, back to the mantra of reduce, reuse, and recycle. It's really going to help our customers at the job site because there's a lot of waste that people know what to do, where to put it in. But we are putting programs together to bring back those materials. It's definitely new construction-based, but we would like to bring it back and reuse in our manufacturing process.
I think we all need to work together. This is not, as I said, one person or one company's responsibility. And as we work together, the sustainability is a bigger challenge. But I think big challenges need big ideas and big challenges need people working together.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: Yeah. And again, it really fits together because there's been innovation for hundreds and hundreds of years. I mean, mankind's constantly done innovation, but now to have that innovation really connected to sustainability and putting all that together and with what you're doing leading that, it makes so much sense.
And I think a big part of that too is the training and the education of the contractors, and you have leading technical support for contractors and they need that. So Derrick, maybe you can talk just a little bit about how you're bringing that sustainability, that innovation messaging to the contractors and then helping them with the technical training to make it happen.
Derrick Hutchinson: Yes, absolutely. So from our perspective, it's that customer first, right? So whenever we're improving or developing new products, we're always keeping that contractor top of mind. It's about new, simple, high-quality products that make their jobs easier and results in no callbacks.
I think one thing when we look at our innovation, our innovation story, is that we always have something new coming out. I do ask that the audience just keep taking a look at what we have going on because we're dialed in, we're dialed into that customer first.
Second thing is training. We're always out there. We're training new contractors, just having them know and understand how to use our products, how to install our products, basically leading to just an overall quality roof, that's top of mind for us and extremely important for us.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: And really, to kind of hit on that training point, big push, right? We are looking for getting new... We have a labor shortage. We're looking to get more skilled labor into the industry. And so to be able to teach them the new lightweight, the new innovation, and sustainability, like Dr. Vas said, with millennials, and that's a lot of this age group that's coming in. They care about all of these things. And so that technical training, really, it's important for everyone who's out there, but especially important for all these new young people who are coming into the industry.
Srinivas Veeramasuneni “Dr. Vas”: To add to what just Derrick said and you mentioned, there are different ways of providing the training also, isn't it, and providing this technical information.
I know we have a strong sales team, we have quality people. Everybody actually always works with our customers, but also, we are actually starting digital programs because we want the digital tools. All these new people that are coming into the industry are started using a lot of digital tools. For this technical information, we not only want to convey the old way, but also we want to have new way of communicating it. Whenever people need, this information should be available at that time, at the choice of their type of information and the format in which they want. I think that's what we want to do, is to create the tools and technology that our customers can easily access to this information whenever they need it.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: That that's so true, having that in your hand, on your phone, be able to have that technical information, that's the new way of thinking. And so Derrick, go ahead. You were saying something there too along that line.
Derrick Hutchinson: Yeah, no, I was just saying with the training and the new contractors coming in, we do a lot of work with the unions across the country just to make sure that they're aware of the products that we have, that they know how to handle it. And again, leading into that efficiency on the job site.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: Yeah, it all goes together. It makes so much sense.
Okay, so just a little bit ago, I mentioned material shortage because that's the word and everyone's been talking about it. So Dr. Vas, I would love for you to share, going back to your goals and customer first, is how the strong customer service of USG really made a difference, and the innovation, made a difference during the material shortage for the contractors.
Srinivas Veeramasuneni “Dr. Vas”: One thing all of us heard in the last few years after the COVID started, then it's all about supply chain challenges, raw material challenges. And then a year and year and a half back, we had this great Texas freeze. Suddenly on the top of the COVID, you have this Texas freeze.
All this combination of these challenges coming at one point made it very tough for us to have the right raw materials available and to be able to make the product and meet the customer needs. But this is what the resiliency and the team and the collaboration and the great values of USG actually come to the one point where the team's customer service, innovation, manufacturing, working with Derrick and the sales team, worked together and found creative ways, whether it's related to transportation or it is related to either bringing raw materials or where do we actually keep the material in the warehouse? Always keeping the customer need at the forefront and trying to deliver the product when they're needed.
To your point, that's where me as personally and as a team, we are very proud that we are always here to support our customers.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: Yeah, yeah. And contractors have a long memory. They remember these things. So being there when they need you, that makes all the difference in the world.
Derrick, from a sales, I would just love for you to also continue that with what you heard from the customers. What was that voice, what did they say, and what was some of the feedback, not just during the material shortage, but overall what you're hearing from the contractors?
Derrick Hutchinson: Yeah. So our service is what basically guided us through this and led to positive comments from our customers. It was our services: how do we business, how we're able to provide them the product when they needed it, and have their job continue on. So our customer service team, transportation team, everyone did a phenomenal job just getting the product where it needed to be and we'll continue to do that.
So overall comments, that USG did a great job with everything that was going on in the industry surrounding raw material shortages and how to service the industry. So I'm proud to say that we did a phenomenal job servicing the industry during that time.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: I love it. And so Derrick, I want to kind of dive into that a little bit more because I do think voice of the customer is so important. We try to do it ourselves all the time. And kind of wrapping all this back around with the lightweight boards and what you've done, how much of that... And I'd love both of you to comment, we'll start with Derrick, but on that voice of the customer with what they want, I mean, what they need on the roof.
Derrick Hutchinson: Correct. So as I said, what we do, and Vas said this as well, is customer first. So how do we do that? We have to listen to our customers. So our entire sales organization meets regularly with our customers. In addition, we have manufacturing reps that just basically multiplies that communication across the country for us. And then we also have regular contractor focus groups. So just dialing in, getting a little bit deeper to really understand what they really want and then how do we then deliver on that?
Heidi J. Ellsworth: Yeah. How important is that to innovation, Dr. Vas?
Srinivas Veeramasuneni “Dr. Vas”: Yeah. For anything, you need to start with the need, isn't it, or a pain point?
I think as Derrick said, all those elements of what we do and being close to the customers, always understanding their needs and pain points are very, very important. But bringing them also to our innovation laboratory here in Chicago area is very, very important for us. And that's where we can actually bring our scientists and technical people very closely, listen to the customers firsthand, understand what their needs are and pain points. This is where I think Derrick and his leadership and the sales team will help us to bring those contractors and the people to the Libertyville facility where we can have this very close interactions between the scientists and the customers that will help us to hone in on exactly what is the need? Then you start connecting the dots and then say, how do we find the solutions?
And as you said, this one example of this lightweight technology is very, very telling for us is after we released the product, some of our customers told us, "Hey, you guys actually increased my working life by five more years." Because if you think about it, such a weighty product, if you are moving up and down day in, day out, how much fatigue and the stress on the people's bodies, and that really, it's a testament to the sales team and also the customers expressing open openly what their needs are and then working together, I think we're able to provide these solutions.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: Very good. I also think that it is an indicator of how we can start attracting more people to the industry. And I'm a little bit involved with National Women and Roofing, and I totally believe in that, but by making... I love what you're saying. You're extending people's life, their work life. It's also opening the door to people who maybe don't have as much of the physical strength, but now with the lightweight technology, they can be just as productive, efficient, fast on the roof. I think it opens a ton of doors.
Srinivas Veeramasuneni “Dr. Vas”: And also time is money, isn't it? Because when you have the lightweight technology, and the way that Derrick explained about our fastener ability, ease of fasteners, the speed at which we can do, the speed at which we can install, so you can actually handle the job quickly. To their customers, that makes it everything. At the end of the day, the time is money, time is important, and this is where we actually play a big role, not just providing new products, but also new systems. Because particularly for roofing, it provides not only fire performance, thermal performance, but also all this wind uplift that is needed. That's where we have lot of collaboration with outside agencies to do the system testing.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: Yeah, yeah, I love it. It is a system, at the end of the day. It can't be just one product or one person.
Derrick Hutchinson: Correct, correct.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: Yeah. So Derrick, for contractors out there right now who for some reason may not be using Securock, how can they get involved? How can they learn, get the education, the training, start using this great lightweight technology that you have in your products?
Derrick Hutchinson: Yeah, I think the first place and the easiest place is online, so usg.com/roofcoverboard will be an easy place to just get some information, learn a little bit more about our technology, our innovation, and how we're basically using that innovation to improve what they're doing on the roof. And then just reaching out to our sales organization as well would be extremely helpful, where you can talk a little bit more in depth surrounding our products, how to use it, and basically just continuing on that communication from the customer.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: You have some amazing manufacturer's reps out there. I've met a lot of them, and they're always more than happy to help, to educate to new ideas, new systems, to make companies more profitable.
Derrick Hutchinson: Absolutely, absolutely. All across the country.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: Yeah, yeah. That is great. Well, gentlemen, thank you.
Dr. Vas, I would love just kind of a little wrap up on the importance of innovation and this type of what we're talking about in the industry today. I mean, you've been doing it for a long time. You're leading the initiatives. Where do you see all this going?
Srinivas Veeramasuneni “Dr. Vas”: I think Derrick mentioned during our conversation, if you're not going to be creative, if you're not going to be innovative, new things won't happen, isn't it? Because evolution and change is very, very important. That's where this industry, and in particular, in the building materials, but also in the roofing industry, if you want more people to come into the industry, as you mentioned too, we need to attract them to this industry by coming up with new products and new systems that actually maybe not just lighter only, but also increase the productivity of the people and then the speed at which we can deliver.
All these components, I think, is what's exciting for the future is with the new people coming in with a lot of new ideas, complimenting with the new technologies, I think we have even brighter future going into the next decade or so.
One of the things I'm personally excited in, just in general, is about the digital technologies that we can actually incorporate into our products. Because so far, all these products that we are talking about are passive in nature. Yes, they provide functionality only when there is a need, but if we can put sensors and other digital technologies in the future, we can actually collect a lot of data to understand what's happening to the moisture in the roof or what's happening to the heat, other factors. We can collect the data and then prepare even better in the future.
So it's so exciting. It's not going to be any more physical, it'll be complimentary with the digital tools also.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: You are speaking my language. I love it. Sensors and technology on the roof? Okay, I think we know our next podcast. We're going to have to come back and talk about that more. I am all over that. I think the more we can do, and I would love to talk a little bit about robotics too, I mean, let's talk about that on the roof. So what all is out there that we can make everybody's life better and easier?
So gentlemen, thank you. Thank you so much. Derrick, thank you again for sharing where everybody... And I know anyone can talk to you. You are one of the friendliest, greatest people out there.
Derrick Hutchinson: Thank you, Heidi. Thank you.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: Thank you both for being on today, and I can't wait to have you back again.
Srinivas Veeramasuneni “Dr. Vas”: Thank you.
Derrick Hutchinson: Absolutely. Thank you very much.
Heidi J. Ellsworth: Thank you. And thank you all for listening.
You can find all this information on the USG Directory on RoofersCoffeeShop. We are so happy to have them on our side and be proud partners working together. I mean, just listen to what you heard. This is such exciting, innovative, futuristic, where we need to go as an industry. So be sure to check it out on their directory and check out all of our podcasts under the Read, Listen, Watch navigation under Roofing Road trips or on your favorite podcast channel. Be sure to subscribe and hit those notifications so you don't miss a single episode.
We will be seeing you next time on Roofing Road Trips.
Speaker 1: Make sure to subscribe to our channel and leave a review. Thanks for listening. This has been Roofing Road Trips with Heidi from the RoofersCoffeeShop.com.
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