Business students advise tank manufacturer on expansion plan

November 1, 2014 By    

Would you allow a group of college students to analyze some of the more intimate details of your business?

Metsa did, and one company official says it’s reaping the benefits.

As part of an entrepreneurial growth project within the master’s of business administration curriculum at The University of Texas at Austin, six students spent the spring semester deciphering ways the tank manufacturer could improve its operations.

Metsa was “profoundly impacted” by the project, according to Humberto Garza, an engineer for the tank company started by his family more than 30 years ago. Garza is also tasked with ensuring its growth and business development as the company looks to expand.

Based in Monterrey, Mexico, Metsa makes tanks and tank heads for the propane and air and water industries. It was formed as a sister company to the family’s 55-year-old retail propane business (Regio Gas) in Mexico.

“The reality is, having tanks on time and in good quality is a very important part of distributing propane,” Garza says. “We started to have issues. Late deliveries and an uncertain quality of tanks is what pushed my parents and uncles to start making their own tanks.”

Garza, 28, was also one of the students in professor John Doggett’s class at The University of Texas at Austin and helped the group gain access to Metsa’s processes. Garza was surprised by his classmates’ interest in the gas industry, thinking they’d prefer to work more with high-tech companies or those in other industries.

“I was very happy to be proved wrong,” says Garza, noting the boom in shale gas exploration piqued the students’ interest in the company’s work.

The diverse group of students – from Spain, Venezuela, Australia, China and Mexico – discussed individual observations based on their personal experiences, Garza says. They spoke with propane retailing companies in the area as well as Metsa personnel in engineering, quality and sales. They analyzed financial statements, the balance sheet, income statements and cash flow.

“So many companies tend to be secretive about financial decisions and product strategy,” Garza says. “[Metsa] was completely open. It showed everything to everyone – whatever they wanted to see.”

The students met once a week throughout the semester and discussed issues within the company. Garza says the group was so thorough that at one point it analyzed three alternative layouts for the production floor, understanding the added value of each machine and work station. The result was an in-depth analysis of Metsa’s product offerings, operational efficiency and strategic plan for growth.

Metsa now has a new pricing strategy, narrowed-down product selection (offering propane tanks from 120 gallons to 1,000 gallons) and a redesigned website. It launched a second shift in production and became a union-free company, the latter an initiative that started at Metsa prior to the students’ involvement, Garza notes. The students did offer guidance on how to build bridges around the staff and management – with the company now providing a full-service cafeteria and a locker room.

The reorganization of the plant resulted in more than 50 new permanent jobs, and all of these changes happened in a span of three months, Garza adds.

The students capped the project and semester by traveling to Mexico and visiting the company.

“For the first time, they were face to face with those people whose lives they changed,” Garza says.

Garza speaks about the importance of values, mission and a shared sense of team within a company – qualities he says he learned while working closely with the CEO of a furniture manufacturer. He’s hoping those same qualities permeate within the Metsa work environment so employees can grow personally and professionally and within their communities.

Metsa is now seeing growth in North and South America, Garza says. It recently announced partnerships with Texas retailers Chapman Propane and Green’s Blue Flame Gas Co. 

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