Warren C. Hoy’s latest assignment with DuPont was a homecoming for him. The Tonawanda native was recently named plant manager of the DuPont Yerkes plant, which produces Corian countertop material and Tedlar, a thin film used in applications like solar panels and aircraft. Hoy, 53, has held a number of jobs with DuPont in different states, most recently Iowa, after starting at the Niagara Falls plant in 1981 as an engineer. He arrives at the Tonawanda plant at a time when it is making an undisclosed number of layoffs at year’s end, cuts attributed to economic softness. (His predecessor, Ronald Lee, was named DuPont’s global program director for mechanical integrity and quality assurance, based in Texas.) Hoy said he recognizes the value of the 600-employee Yerkes plant to the region and is determined to keep it going: “I came back with the impression that every job we’ve got is a precious thing, and we need to take care of those.”

Q: You’ve been with DuPont a long time. What made you decide to stick with one company?

A: DuPont has been a great company. I’ve been with them 31 years now. I have just always enjoyed that there are lots and lots of different things to do. I’ve been a sales rep, I’ve been working in carpet mills in Georgia. I’ve been on oil drilling platforms in Louisiana.

Q: What does the Yerkes plant have to do to stay viable?

A: We’re going through some changes right now. And that’s part of what that’s about. If you ever got an email from me, you would see in the signature line a quote that I’ve had for a while. It says, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” It’s attributed to [retired Army] Gen. Eric Shinseki. I’ve really kind of held on to that because it really speaks to the fact you have to be responsive. We’ve had shifts in the solar cell industry, for example, that have impacted the plant, so we’re having to work through that. The uncertainty in the global economy is creating a need to do some different things in our Corian business, which primarily ends up back in the housing market.

We can sit on our thumbs and hope nothing bad happens, but I think that’s a flawed strategy.

Q: This plant is unionized. How does that affect your leadership approach?

A: I’ve worked at union sites before, so that part is not unusual. Frankly there is some stress in our relationship right now because of the changes that we’ve been working through. We’re continuing to meet with the union to try to work through that. That’s part of what we need to do here. We respect the right of people to have a union represent them, so we’ll continue to work with them.

Q: As you became a plant manager during your career, what kind of leadership style did you develop?

A: I can go back to the first time I was involved with a plant leadership role. I’d say I was more oriented to feel like I had to make all the decisions, and I had enough history that I could probably do that pretty well. But I think in the end, you start to look at that and say, how well am I developing my organization, how well am I teaching other people how to make these choices? So it’s really been a lot more conscious effort on my part over the last couple years to focus a lot more, in fact almost exclusively, on organizational development and how do you teach people, rather than just tell them what to do. Give them a very clear understanding of what the end result needs to look like and then get out of their way. Give them the tools that they need and let them do the work.

I try to be very focused on being clear on expectations, in terms of also providing feedback to people on how they’re doing, opposite those expectations. If there’s a gap, look for what training or coaching do they need to get better. And if all that works really well, that’s great. And the last conversation is, if through all that, things still aren’t going well, then you need to have a conversation about, ‘OK, what happens if this doesn’t get better?’

Q: What kind of responsibilities do you give to people who work for you?

A: There are certain things, procedures and protocols we have to follow from a safety standpoint. Within that framework, though, there’s lots of flexibility to really let people figure out what’s the best answer. I tell folks, I’ll give you my opinions — I try to be very clear about when I’m giving direction versus just saying “Hey, here are some things to think about.” But I’ve had the chance to grow because I’ve had the opportunity that people trusted me to deliver on something, and I’m really trying to basically play that forward a little bit. … Rarely can I think of where we have asked someone to step forward and lead an effort and not be amazed at what they can deliver.

We have this mantra we use in the continuous improvement world called, “releasing the hidden plant in the hidden person.” That’s really what that’s all about. We’ve got employees at this site and others that are leaders in the community. They’ve got hobbies that they’ve developed into businesses or really strong activities. They’ve got the skills, they’ve got the capabilities. A lot of times, it’s a matter of providing them the opportunity to grow and shine.

Q: When you’ve had management roles in different places, what kind of a lasting impact did you want to have?

A: I think over time, as you get more experience, you learn it’s a lot more about what is the group, what is the team able to accomplish? In any manufacturing environment, there’s always more to do. It’s like playing golf. Whatever score you got, you can always be one stroke better. That continuing pursuit of perfection is part of the joy and challenge of being in manufacturing. You like to feel like you’ve made a difference, but I think it’s a lot more oriented toward how the group of people you worked with grown and developed, [rather] than “I did this, I did that.”