Now we have one major facility, with research, development, process engineering, and all the technical competencies here—inorganic and organic sciences, modeling simulation, characterization, optical physics, everything. We organize projects across those competencies so projects can have the right leadership.
For example, if we work on glass for the iPhone, we pick glass composition people, special characterization people to analyze the strength and reliability of the glass, and development people who can scale up that glass and test it in the prototype stage. We’re going to have engineers who can take what we give them and go to our major glass plant in Harrodsburg, Ky., where we move the product into volume production and commercial sales. Each of those has been drawn together, eliminating the silos. For another project, we might call on the optical wave guys and get them to work with optical physicists, or we’ll ask the materials groups to actually make a product, or we’ll call on the polymer group because maybe we’ll use some high-tech polymers that will allow glass to last longer.
S+B: In August 2012, the board named an innovation officer, Martin J. Curran, who reports to both you and your CEO, Wendell Weeks. Why did you bring him into that role?
MORSE: Business sense. We were allowed to take a thoroughly battle-tested, successful general manager from one of our most important and technical business units [Corning Optical Fiber] and put him in this job. Successful general managers are not that easy to come by. To find one who was willing to step away from running a $2 billion business and get involved in a group of new business development projects in various stages of development was great.
Together, he and I run the Corporate Technology Council, which evaluates early-stage ideas and decides which ones to fund, and the Growth Execution Council, where senior management meets to allocate resources to the corporate growth platforms. Marty has an entrepreneurial capability, a general management ability to assess detail and cost in the execution plans, and a sense of urgency; he pushes us to reach our goals sooner. We work together every day.
S+B: How does Corning’s practice of creating cross-disciplinary reviews and multilevel management meetings facilitate decision making?
MORSE: These councils reflect the breadth of a project by bringing in scientists, marketers, and business leaders, and having them explore the depth of the project. We spend four or five hours a month in the sessions, bringing all the stakeholders together and driving to a decision. You hear the technical facts about what’s working and what’s not working. Management will sometimes decide on the spot whether to continue a project and what we should spend. This eliminates older, more formal, more stratified practices. We put it all together at the same time so that no one has to leave the room saying to their direct reports, “They said A, but what I really want you to do is B.” We agree on the plan in that room.
S+B: How do all these more agile practices come together in, say, figuring out the next wave of televisions?
MORSE: Being so close to customers that you understand how they put a layer of transistors on the back of the glass is about the only way to solve their problems. The glass is being heated to 400, 500, 600 degrees or more for a period of time. Heat-up rates and cool-down rates become critical. So do atmospheres, oxides, silicon materials, and vapors. True customer insight means knowing enough about all those processes so that you can do the magic that we do with glass composition.