Kari Yuers is the president and CEO of Kryton International. the world’s leading concrete waterproofing solutions provider. with distribution in over 40 countries. Her father, R.G. (Ron) Yuers, started the company as a small. family business in 1975.
In the early days, Kari and her brother Kevin swept the factory Hours and applied labels on buckets.
Kari didn’t always work for the company. She spent time working as a general labourer in the construction industry and also worked for golf, smoked salmon and retail sales businesses.
A highly respected businessperson, Kari has won many awards, including the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2005 and an Influential Woman in Business Award in 2012. She is a sought-after speaker on topics including corporate growth strategies, corporate culture, leadership, management and innovation.
BCBEC Elements caught up with Kari to discuss the development of Kryton. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
BCBEC Elements: What brought you back to Kryton in 199l?
Karl Yuers: I could see Kryton had a lot going for it, but I thought there was a lot more Kryton could do or be.
BE: What did it take for the company to go from a small one to a globally successfully one?
KY: Everything starts with finding and keeping the right people. If you look at the multi-decade history of Kryton, for every really big upswing in the company. If you were to plot it on a timeline, you can almost directly draw a line to a person added at that time. I think part of it is focus, We’ve focused on what we’re extremely strong at, what we can deliver that nobody else can. For example. in 2006. we pared down our line of products from 150 concrete protection products such as coating, sealers and crystal waterproofing to a core product line of 12 concrete waterproofing products. The product line is so unique and so superior to others. I also think going international is not for the faint of heart.
KY: It’s three steps forward and two steps back in a lot of cases. For example, we’d been selling in China regionally over 25 years ago. We sold into Hong Kong and it was then resold into main-land China. Once mainland China opened up, you could set up a business there, but only through joint-venture arrangements. In the mid-1990s. we found a joint-venture partner and in 1998, we built a factory north of Shanghai. All of those stories of the terrible things that happen to Western companies in China were true of our experience. We found our intellectual property was being taken and we lost the factory. However. that didn’t deter from our perseverance. We set up an office in the 2000s and we’ve had our own full-time staff working there ever since. These are the kinds of challenges where you just have to say. ‘Hey, it’s part of the environment you have to deal with.’ If you believe in what you’re doing and your brand has growth potential in these regions, you just have to simply work through these challenges.
BE: After going through that, do other issues that come up in the business no longer seem so challenging?
KY: Yes. I think the important thing is if you can laugh at some of these failures. I think they make you stronger.
BE: What are your future goals for the company?
KY: The goal is to continue to grow worldwide. We’re currently in over 40 countries.
BE: What role has being located in B.C. played in the company’s growth?
KY: B.C. is quite advanced and innovative when it comes to concrete. A lot of people may not realize Vancouver specifically has been a launching ground for developing a lot of concrete technology over the years. As well, I find our concrete quality and processes are quite high compared to most places in the world.
BE: How does your company push for innovation?
KY: We have an applied research and development centre here in Vancouver. We have people doing research, looking at markets, seeing what customers are doing, what they need, what their pains are and then put it through a process of asking questions, doing the business case and being able to gather the options and opportunities. I think our process today is about taking those great ideas and then really making sure they’re tested to see if the product is giving the customer an experience they cannot have with any other product or manufacturer.
My early days were spent looking at the things we can rally behind that other people don’t know about or haven’t seen. One example was the crystalline admixture, It was a product used at the U.S. Navy’s Boeing Development Center in 1983. In 2003, we won the most innovative product award for that product. lt takes that long for people to say. ‘Hey, that make sense.’
BE: Would it be fair to say innovation is in part a long-term plan?
KY: It’s not a lightbulb moment. It’s a process, more than anything. I think innovation is about seeing the future and saying, ‘Well, of course nobody is buying it now, that’s why it’s innovative.’ You also have to learn to fail to innovate. You can’t just suddenly say, ‘Oh, this is a great idea, we’re only going to deal with success.’ Every time you do an experiment, you’re going to have a lot of strikeouts before you have a home run.
BE: Why has Kryton been named one of the best companies to work for so many times?
KY: That really comes out of the culture and wanting to have engaged people that are successful. In 2006 and 2007, the world was rapidly growing, the stock market was going great, things were being built like crazy, so it was hard to hang on to people because the moment you got them trained, they were going somewhere else for more money. Our turnover numbers were too high, so I hired some human resources help to assess how are we doing in these different areas. If you face the cold hard truth of how you’re doing in different areas, you have an ability to fix it. We went on to survey and understand what was good and what wasnt so great.
We have clear expectations for people. They have good direction and we have leaders that can help and support them and they’re appreciated. We have a profit-sharing plan; we have a social committee and do events. Some of the things that get highlighted are our benefits, just this morning, I had the pleasure of announcing to everybody that we hit a certain budget number. By doing this, everybody worldwide gets to go on an all-expenses paid trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The trip is April 23-26.
BE: What do you think makes for a successful CEO?
KY: I think it’s a combination of things. I think you need to have vision and drive. You have to work hard and you definitely have to know where you’re going and have the drive and perseverance to make it happen. My personal success is probably built on humility and being able to connect with people. I think when you really care about people and care about what they care about and their future, they care back.
Source: BCBEC Elements