PITTSBURGH – For a few years in the late-1980s, Gary Giallonardo's job was making sure the adhesive materials, fasteners and warning labels used in cars and trucks were approved by major automakers like General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. A new tape system, for example, had to stick just right to the polypropylene plastic of a car's interior.
But he then had to consider where his employer, Avery Denison, fell in the supply chain. It didn't sell directly to the automakers. It sold to the maker of carpets that attached to floors that ended up assembled into a vehicle. Suppliers were grouped together on "tiers," and the higher the number, the further away from the automaker.
"We would be considered a tier 3, selling to a tier 2, selling to a tier 1, that would sell to the automaker," Giallonardo said. That is when he began to "see pictures and strategies in data. They pop out at me."
Giallonardo's career has been a long, winding journey. He sold computer systems in California for Hewlett Packard in the mid-1980s and now is back home in Pittsburgh, working to establish his reputation as a consultant to struggling industrial businesses.
The short version of the story, as he tells it, is that he got deeper into what's known in business as the supply chain. At some point, he realized that companies needed to better understand the process – and he was the one to help them.
Giallonardo graduated from Princeton University in 1982 with an engineering degree. He got his first job as a technical sales engineer for Hewlett Packard, where he sold desktop-sized computing systems – cutting edge for that time – to clients like research laboratories and tech companies.
"My customers were, in many cases, engineers," he said. "I had to understand what they did, what their needs were and how HP products could help them."
After getting a master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh, Giallonardo moved to Michigan and worked as a product manager for California-based Avery Dennison, then known as Avery International, which makes adhesive materials for a wide range of industries.
Giallonardo oversaw adhesive products sold to major automakers – part of an industry with a notoriously long chain of suppliers.
"Selling tape wasn't something I necessarily thought I wanted to do," he said.
"But on the plant floor, I could see the relationship between what we made, what we developed from scratch, what we developed at the plant and what we sold to customers, and I saw how they came together."
He moved his family back to Michigan and, in 2001, started Industrial Visions, a turnaround consulting firm that helps small and medium-size industrial businesses get back on their feet. For the next 12 years, he built a base of clients that were small parts of bigger, more intricate industries.
Depending on the issue, some hired him for a day, some for a week, some for a month.
A job at a South Hills industrial distributor brought him back to Pittsburgh in 2014. But after a sharp downturn in oil, gas and steel led to his layoff in February 2016, he re-launched Industrial Visions, this time with Pittsburgh as his base.
Here, he is competing with government-funded services like the Steel Valley Authority and Catalyst Connection that help the Pittsburgh region's manufacturers and small businesses grow.
"The biggest thing that makes us different is I have the ability to talk to the owner of a company based on my experience and tell them the direction they're moving is not the right one."