University of Wisconsin-Stout

Nov. 15, 2011

Intangibles, by nature, can’t be seen or touched. Students from University of Wisconsin-Stout, however, saw signs of intangibles all around them during a recent tour of Phillips Plastics.

The 26 students were looking for evidence of core corporate values as part of the People Process Culture class, which studies organizational culture.

Emmy VandenLangenberg, a graduate student originally from Manitowoc, witnessed examples of the company’s values making a positive difference in the workplace.

“Being able to walk the floors of both the Origen Center and the Red Cedar facility gave us a dimensional view of a culture, the people and environment that we previously only saw through writing,” said VandenLangenberg.

She was impressed with what she witnessed: comfortable workspaces, pleasant break areas, cleanliness, music throughout the buildings and employees who genuinely appeared to be enjoying their work. One employee noticed a smudge on a glass wall and promptly wiped it off. Another smiled and waved at the tour group.

“It was very clear that Phillips Plastics appreciates their employees,” said VandenLangenberg, who is seeking a master’s degree in training and development. She is a graduate assistant in the program.

She also saw evidence of another company value: the environment. Water used in plastics production is channeled under the Red Cedar facility’s sidewalks to melt snow and ice in the winter, she said. The facility is part of the state Department of Natural Resources Green Tier program, which promotes environmentally responsible business practices.

“The architecture of the buildings flowed and tied into the landscape,” VandenLangenberg noted.

The tour of Phillips Plastics helped students see “how the entire organization from top down needs to be on board,” she said.

People Process Culture is an endowed program at UW-Stout named for a philosophy used by Bob Cervenka, founder of Phillips Plastics. The program dates to 1997, when Cervenka and his wife, Debbie, donated $1.5 million to UW-Stout.

“Phillips continues to exude core values that have meaning in context of the course,” said Kat Lui, People Process Culture chair and associate dean of the College of Management. “For Bob Cervenka, making long-term investments in people and communities yields more than financial dividends.”

Phillips Plastics has about 2,000 employees and 15 facilities. Most of the plants are in Wisconsin, and several are in Europe.

Phillips employees David Thoreson and Theresa Boettcher conducted the tour.

“The class has provided me with a better understanding of what I should look for in fulfilling my work-life balance,” VandenLangenberg said, adding that she recommends it to any students seeking business-related degrees.