FLOWOOD — Eighteen months ago, American National Molding, LLC, (ANM) had four employees. Today, the plastic injection molding company has 75 workers on the payroll — and it is hiring. President Derrick Dabbs proved a master of understatement when he said rather matter-of-factly, “We’re in rapid-growth mode right now.”
Yet, it’s not quantity but quality that is perhaps a truer measure of ANM, run by the husband and wife team of Derrick and Lisa Dabbs. Terry Baum, Manufacturing Extension Partnership of Mississippi coordinator at Hinds Community College and former long-time industrial manager called ANM “some of the finest group of people I’ve ever met.” South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s Peter Brule, who recently conducted a review of ANM, said, “… of the several hundred companies I’ve visited over the past 15 years, American National Molding truly stood out as one of the best.”
And the Vehicle Certification Agency North America agrees, recently awarding the company the new, stringent ISO/TS 16949:2002 certification. (ANM earned ISO 9001:2000 certification in April 2001.) ANM is believed by Derrick and Baum to be the first Mississippi-based company to earn the certification.
All of this is even more impressive when considering ANM’s roots. Derrick’s father worked for Ford Motor Company, and there made friends with a co-worker who would one day buy the Ford plant in Shreveport, La., where they both worked. Derrick’s father eventually relocated to Michigan and continued working for Ford.
The family friend subsequently formed ConBro Inc. in Brandon, a designer and manufacturer of machinery in the battery industry. It was at ConBro where Derrick discovered some idled plastic injection equipment pushed against a wall. Seeing an opportunity, Derrick put the machinery to work. Thus, ANM was formed originally as a mere department of ConBro, occupying 5,000 square feet.
Though the facility housing ConBro/ANM grew to 55,000 square feet, it still was too small to hold the growing company. So, ANM moved into its current 72,000-square-foot facility on Flowood Drive in December 2002, increasing both the company’s capacity and capabilities. ANM now has nearly 50 injection molding machines under power ranging from 55-750 tons.
The company scored a major win when it was named a tier two supplier to Nissan North America Inc.’s automotive assembly plant in Canton. Derrick called it “huge,” but was quick to point out that ANM was established well before Nissan ever announced it was coming to Mississippi.
Indeed, ANM is a supplier to Ford, Mercedes and General Motors (tier three). The company also produces various pieces for local companies as well as battery and machinery components.
In March 2003, ANM purchased a mold-making shop, retaining the shop’s designer and tool makers. The company had already established a tool room before the purchase. But with the acquisition, ANM was able to not only perform preventative maintenance, it could fabricate its own molds, dies and fixtures. The tool room is now bigger (6,500 square feet) than ANM’s original space.
When asked the reason for the company’s success, Derrick focused on relationships.
“Somewhere along the line, some college professor must have drilled in my head that customer service is the key,” Derrick said. “We are up front with our customers, and ethical in our business dealings. We don’t want to be merely a world-class company, we want to be a good company, one that is honest and ethical.
“Our customers know they can drop in on us at any time. They don’t have to have an appointment or call first. After all, it’s their mold.”
Derrick also talked about the quality of company leadership, especially Lisa. Also from a “Ford family,” she met Derrick while working at Ford in Michigan. Derrick said she is a perfect complement to him — his background being materials handling, logistics and sales, while Lisa’s forte is engineering and product quality. Lisa’s role has been crucial to ANM’s success, Derrick said.
Derrick also sung the praises of his employees, though he has a hard time coming up with the reason that employee morale and productivity is so high. ANM’s current facility once housed Exide, and scores of workers were displaced when it shut down. ANM, when it bought the facility, retained some of those workers, and Derrick said it was perhaps a sense of gratitude that boosts moral, but he isn’t sure that is it.
“We don’t have a gym here at the plant. We don’t offer those kinds of things,” he said. “I’m a strong believer in empowerment. I want to create an environment where people feel a part of the company and its success. It’s a very unique team. We don’t have back-stabbing. There are no ego problems. They are working hard and having fun, enjoying the growth of ANM.”
Derrick said he has found more than the weather attractive about Mississippi since his move to the South. He said ANM owed a lot to the State of Mississippi, particularly Baum, for assisting the company in its training needs.
Training will continue to be an issue at ANM, because it has plans for continued growth. The company’s future goals are to expand into other industries outside of automotive, increase its manufacturing capacity and implement new and ever-changing plastics technology.
“With the group we have here, and their drive, ANM can be as big as it wants to be,” Derrick said.
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com.