A little more than sixteen hundred miles separates Chihuahua, Mexico, and Minneapolis, Minnesota. The former is the birthplace of Javier Rios; the latter is where he’s made a home since 2005 for himself, his wife, and their two sons. The distance between the two cities is great both in literal and figurative terms (both distance in miles and in culture and size), and for Rios—now serving as vice president of quality in the decorative finishing division for Wagner Spray Tech—the road between the two has given him a serendipitous journey.
As a boy, Rios also lived in the Mexican city of Monterrey when his family relocated there for a few years to further his father’s medical studies. This stop in his journey proved most influential in his development. “Monterrey, compared to Chihuahua, is a metropolis,” Rios says. “It created something different in me. It made me think of life in very different ways.”
His new outlook on life pushed him to not only emulate the tireless work ethic of his parents, but also make that work count for something: he began striving for continuous improvement, a key trait for any product-quality expert. At first, he did this through education: when Rios and his wife married while still sophomores in college in Chihuahua, none of their friends or family expected to see them graduate. But graduate they did—he with an engineering degree, she with a degree in computer science, and both later earning master’s degrees, as well, all while working and raising their family.
As Rios looks back on the formative years of both his family and his career, he credits his wife for helping him excel. “I do believe that since I have that balance and support,” he says, “I can come to work every day to give the best I have, because the best is what I receive.”
“The best” is an especially good thing to give when one specializes in quality control, and Rios feels he received exceptional training in the philosophy and techniques of the trade while working for Ford Motor Company early in his career. “I learned so much there, I call it my alma mater,” he says.
“When I became quality manager at Emerson, my function was more than taking care of the problem. It was actually to deploy and ingrain a continuous improvement culture in the company. I loved it.”
Once Minneapolis became his home—and he brought his skills to heavy hitters such as Emerson Electric and Honeywell International—Rios found adapting to each industry’s version of supply quality and development to be a challenge he relished. “When I became quality manager at Emerson, my function was more than taking care of the problem,” he says. “It was actually to deploy and ingrain a continuous improvement culture in the company. I loved it.”
In 2017, Rios chose to begin working for the smaller, privately owned Wagner Spray Tech, where he is bringing the proverbial shot-in-the-arm to the company’s quality culture. He does this by underscoring what he sees as Wagner’s most valuable asset: the customer. “We have many functions in the company, from stakeholders on down,” he says. “But there’s a prerequisite for customers to buy our product. So everything we do is for the customer. Period.”
Without a doubt, the biggest undertaking Rios has faced thus far at Wagner is the implementation of a new SAP (Systems/Applications/Products), a software known for its ERP (enterprise resource planning) and data-management programs. The new SAP programs impact the process by which the company does its entire business, including everything from placing orders to manufacturing, and from shipping the product to receiving payment for it. When it comes to implementing the new SAP, Rios’ considerable edge is understanding the importance of interdependence, rather than running all processes in silos.
Once the new SAP went live in October 2018, keeping up the momentum of such a big change became Rios’s next challenge. He did so with a process he calls “action learning,” with employees creating the necessary learning materials as they progressed. “At first, nobody wanted to do it,” he says. “They thought it was too much like grunt work! But I think it turned out to be the best way because now they have motivation to learn. With every key user creating their own materials, it’s easy for them to know where they are in the learning process.”
“It’s about changing the company’s culture towards thinking about systems. That’s what will drive continuous improvement much faster.”
After putting most of his considerable energy into improving processes for a better overall product for customers, Rios is excited about his next major project: improving the customer experience itself. For this, he anticipates reenergizing Wagner’s quality system in such a way that has everyone in the company working toward the customer experience. “It’s about changing the company’s culture towards thinking about systems,” he says. “That’s what will drive continuous improvement much faster.”
And for Rios’s part, the process improves every time he makes a new connection—including the regular contact he now has with Wagner’s suppliers. While the feedback that comes from a supplier risks being far from what he wants to hear, Rios has been on this quality journey long enough to know its worth. “At the very end of the exercise, it’s what I’m looking for personally: to bring the company ways to improve for the future,” he says.