Dedication, Resilience, and
Commitment in the Face of Adversity
The Marshalltown tornado:
An event that transformed Lennox lives forever
July 19, 2018 - On Thursday, around 3:30 p.m., the city of Marshalltown, Iowa activated their tornado signal — shortly before several powerful tornados touched down. Marshalltown, with a population of 27,000, located roughly 50 miles northeast of Des Moines, Iowa, braced for the worst.
Across town, at the Lennox plant, the second shift was underway. Lennox International is a major employer in Marshalltown, with roughly 1,400 people working in a million plus square foot facility built in the early 1900’s. The company’s rich heritage dates back to 1885 when Dave Lennox developed the world’s first riveted-steel furnace. From that invention, the Lennox furnace business grew into the Lennox you know and love today, a major innovator within the HVAC industry.
A Cold Front Moves In
Around 3:40 p.m., as the floor leads and managers exchanged shift turnover instructions, the building alarms sounded alerting employees to seek cover within their assigned shelters. Having faithfully practiced tornado and fire drills over the years, employees went to their assigned shelters to wait for instructions and updates on the weather conditions. With over 500 people tucked away in shelters for more than an hour, stress and anxiety levels started rising.
At 4:40 p.m. the tornado touched down. With winds raging up to 144 miles per hour, following a straight path, the tornado whirled toward Marshalltown’s Main Street bulldozing the main lobby of Lennox. From inside the shelters sounds of breaking glass, sheet metal being ripped from its screws, concrete busting apart, and brick walls crumbling could be heard.
General Plant Manager, Miguel Gutierrez, reflects back on the day,
“I got the feeling the whole building was collapsing. Some employees told me they literally felt the walls move. Others described it as being inside an explosion. The whole experience lasted three to four minutes.”
Standing Tall After the Storm
After the tornado tore through the plant, there was an eerie silence that lasted several minutes. “I opened the door to go out to the floor. The same door I’ve opened every day for the last 10 years. I truly was not expecting this. The first thing I see is sky — clear blue sky,” says Gutierrez.
One by one, employees emerged from their shelters staring in disbelief at the destruction and debris strewn everywhere. Gutierrez remembers the first thing he did was check to see if all of the employees were safe. Reports came back from managers and safety leaders confirming everyone was accounted for, not one single accident to report.
Rebuilding and Getting Back to Work
Once employee safety was confirmed priorities shifted to Lennox customers and the community. The Monday following the tornado, Lennox confirmed it’s commitment to Marshalltown and announced it would rebuild the Marshalltown facility. Additionally, Lennox donated $500k to the community to assist in the town’s recovery. Within the next couple of weeks, the plant started receiving new equipment and tools to rebuild. Several specialized teams met to identify the critical paths for business resumption, and how to restore basic operations.
Many crews were on hand to start the clean-up operation. From day one everyone showed unbelievable commitment to getting everything back on track, and seven days after the tornado employees were producing their first parts. “Even more remarkable is eleven weeks after the tornado nobody expected the Lennox plant would have 76 percent of their hourly workforce back on the job working. The careful planning and focus on safety and strategy achieved just that.” Gutierrez said, “The best way to provide stability to the market, and stability to the people is by showing them we’re coming back.”
Though some areas of the plant are in working order, many have temporary fixtures and are waiting to start the demolition process. Rebuilding and full restoration are still a ways off. Gutierrez explains, “One of the things people don’t realize is we have days that start out at 86 degrees and drop down to 32 degrees, and we have days that rain. All this plays a part in the reconstruction.”
Man Never Made Any Material as Resilient as the Human Spirit
The resolve of the organization, coming together in the face of adversity has strengthened its people. This trial has brought restored confidence and optimism to its employees. Nothing is taken for granted. Even the sky looks different. Miguel shares, “These are not the same people who walked into work and walked out after the storm. When you walk around the plant you’ll see images that will stay with you forever like — people smiling, who may be cold, working with extra safety equipment on, working in makeshift operations. These people came out of a life-threatening situation. But here we are… producing air conditioners and furnaces. There are 510 employees working and earning wages, benefits, salaries, with a peace of mind.”
Miguel Gutierrez expresses his admiration.
"We could not have done what we have done without the people in Marshalltown, and we could not have done what we've done without the support of our offices. What we've witnessed here is unbelievable."
Within the next couple of weeks, the plant expects to have the total workforce back and working.
* Miguel Gutierrez is the General Plant Manager for the Lennox, Marshalltown, Iowa plant. He has been with Lennox for ten years. Miguel began his career with Lennox in 2008 at the Saltillo, Mexico cooling plant as a materials manager. He took the opportunity in 2010 to come to Marshalltown to run operations and continue improvements.