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Leading with Innovation

Wahpeton-based business WCCO Belting is advancing belt technology through value innovation. With a goal to achieve product differentiation while lowering users’ total cost of ownership, WCCO combines a passion for innovation with a passion for the industry. Paired with their custom-built equipment and proprietary processes, they’ve earned the distinction of being one of the top rubber belting operations in the world.

Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography and provided by WCCO Belting, Inc.

Meet Tom Shorma, CEO and President of WCCO

When WCCO Belting’s CEO and President Thomas “Tom” Shorma graduated high school and set out to attend college, he had academic full-ride offers to all the North Central Conference schools at the time except one: University of North Dakota. And with a spirit that continued on throughout his career, he did the unexpected and chose the one school he wasn’t offered a full scholarship to. “I went to UND, because of the ‘don’t tell me I can’t do something’ type of attitude that ran throughout our whole family,” he said.

As one of eight children in his family, he paid for college with a football scholarship and ended up being the first in his family to receive a four-year degree. Upon graduation, he went to go work for the family company, WCCO. WCCO was founded by Tom Shorma’s father, Ed Shorma, a shoe cobbler-turned- entrepreneur. Inspired to create his own canvas after repairing swather canvases, he founded officially Wahpeton Canvas Company (WCCO) in 1969.

At the time Tom Shorma came on board (around 1980), WCCO was making rubber products, plastic products, metal products, wood products and fabric products, all in the same facility. The company had about 20-25 employees and was successful, but had room to grow. And within 12 years of Shorma coming on, the company became the largest manufacturer of kitchen cabinet doors in North America and expanded into eight divisions with over 1,000 employees.

In 1992, WCCO split up the whole operation into eight separate companies. When given the choice of which company he wanted to take over, Shorma, once again, did the atypical and decided to quit. He wanted to be out on his own and no longer within a family business, so he started his own consulting company, TEAM Marketing. For ten years, he happily ran the successful business, until 2001 when the family business called him back. Ever since then, he has served as CEO/ President back where it all started for him.

Uniquely enough, Shorma wasn’t called back by any of his family members, but by two of the company’s board members at the time. Similar to his collegiate experience, Shorma was not the top choice for the CEO/President position at first. But after all, he’s not known for doing things the “standard” way, which is just how he and WCCO want it.

WCCO Rubber Belting

Small Town, International Presence

“We are never going to be the biggest, but we are going to be the absolute best at what we do.”

Shorma and the team at WCCO know that rubber belting is and never will be a bright, shiny object. But they do know that they can continue to innovate and become the best of the best in the industry.

WCCO actively sells to more than 20 countries and more than half of its total revenue comes from customers outside of the United States. While small-town Wahpeton is by no means the center of the rubber world, WCCO has found ways to add value and differentiate themselves in a way that pushes them to the top. “No one in the world today makes what we make, how we make it,” said Shorma. This proprietary, out- of-the-box methodology, plus confidence in their craft, is what continues this international presence.

In the industry – and most industries, for that matter – standard practice is to pitch and sell your products. But never ones to settle with what is standard, WCCO has differentiated themselves by coming to clients and asking them what they need, and then making it. “That is a very different approach, and it’s not necessarily all that unique, but it is to our industry,” said Shorma. “We really don’t make products  to inventory per se. We make them in order to solve particular problems. To help our customer’s equipment operate at optimum levels. And you can’t just do that by saying, ‘Here is what we have available.'”

WCCO Belting Warehouse

Get to know WCCO’s products

Always looking to reinvent technology and applications, WCCO is never satisfied with sitting back on their laurels and calling it a day. Even their new innovations are constantly studied for improvements and reiterations. “All of these products […] are uniquely- designed, proprietary fabrics and rubbers to solve problems. And by problems, I mean extend life, improve consistency and really add   value. Regardless of the product, that is what we do really really well; embrace innovation and change our own products to make them better as time evolves,” said Shorma.

WCCO Belting’s product directory is extensive and impressive. But to get a taste for some of their innovative offerings in both the agricultural and light industrial industries check out these four assets:

The Core of Innovation

Shorma states that he never got into the rubber industry to use new equipment or technology. He entered the field to innovate and think outside-the-box. Rather than using the newest equipment all the time, WCCO seeks out existing equipment and methods from other industries and finds ways for it to solve new problems.

“We embrace innovation; whether it’s product innovation, process innovation or policy innovation. That’s what we go back to all the time in terms of what created our family businesses. From truck equipment products to rubber conveyor belting to kitchen cabinets, it’s all always been based on trying to do something different and uniquely,” he said.

WCCO Rubber Belting

A Commitment to The Team

In the big picture, the keys to WCCO’s successes are its product. But what lies behind those innovations is the strong team within WCCO.

WCCO operates on the tenet that loving where you work starts with the people you work with. WCCO’s visions for employee satisfaction and betterment form an identity around family values and longevity. With a turnover rate that holds steady at less than 3%, employees of WCCO truly become part of the family for the long-haul.

Part of this comes by way of over 90 internally developed training courses to hone job skills that help employees advance in their careers. Someone who starts at an entry-level position can take advantage of additional training and education along the way and eventually work their way into advancing internally. “It’s a way we can retain and recruit the best and brightest in our workforce,” said Shorma.

Chosen multiple times as one of the areas’ best places to work, WCCO’s open culture is dedicated to employee engagement and empowerment. Another unique practice is WCCO’s process improvement program, where anyone on staff can submit suggestions and ideas to the company as a whole. Since its implementation six years ago, WCCO has gathered nearly 3,000 employee suggestions and has been able to implement more than half of them. “Everybody in the entire organization has a voice, and there’s a means by which that voice can be heard very quickly,” said Shorma. Not only are they heard, but they also can be confident that their opinion is valued and there is a very high chance their idea will be implemented for the betterment of the organization.

WCCO Rubber Belting

All for the Customer

“People always say there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. But I always say there are three: death, taxes and that farmers will plant and farmers will harvest. Because they have to,” said Shorma. “As the global population grows, we have to find unique ways to feed them. No matter what the price of agriculture commodities are, no matter what the price of the equipment is, no matter what the price of oil is, farmers will plant and farmers will harvest. So we have to be able to belt the products that allow them to do that and sustain that practice and that process globally.”

While rubber conveyor belts might not take center-stage, they are an essential component to countless agricultural operations. So to add a fourth certainty into the mix, we say that WCCO is certain to keep innovating and providing value to the most essential industry in the world.

Tom Shorma VEO and President WCCO
Tom Shorma, CEO and President of WCCO
While the family certainly has influence and three of the seven board member positions, WCCO is governed as a business, not a family entity. The board consists of three family-member shareholders, three non-family members and the CEO/President. “Our governance model includes outsiders – to help us grow and learn,” he said. “We’ve got amazing leaders in the organization who have international business experience with multi-billion dollar, multinational companies. And they’ve really helped us develop premium product quality by using differentiation, superior service and responsiveness.”

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