CEO’s small-change approach has big impact at Bradford Soap
Posted September 2021
By John A. Lahtinen for Providence Business News
A bar of soap has taken on a whole new importance during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The impact a bar of soap can have on a life is significant,” said Stuart Benton, Bradford Soap Works Inc.’s CEO and president since 2016. “This impact has never been more apparent than during this year of COVID. We have kept our team safe and working, we have made a product that is key in keeping the virus in check, and we have made donations in R.I. and throughout the world that have reduced sick-ness, enabled people to earn a living and instilled hope.”
After determining how the coronavirus crisis could affect the West Warwick-based company, its customers and the state, Benton said the decision was made early on to go all in on safety.
“The biggest challenge … is keeping the people and the facility – the Bradford community – safe and healthy,” said Benton, who was recently named a finalist as a Leader of Change-Pandemic Response by INNOCOS, a cosmetics industry group. “We implemented multiple changes and policy decisions, but in particular physical distancing, changing production speeds, spacing, barriers and added additional cleaning.”
Benton knows directing and guiding the Bradford team is his responsibility and a big part of moving the company forward. To that end, he strives to empower everyone to be leaders, regardless of title.
“I try to get everyone to focus on incremental improvement each and every day,” Benton said. “It is challenging to make a big-step improvement, but if you can make small, in some instances minute, changes each day, by the time you realize it, the change is significant and measurable. We can learn from everyone and everyone can make a change.”
Bradford has been busy over the past two years, with Benton leading the charge.
First, the company took an underutilized space in its facility and turned it into a state-of-the-art production area for Johnson & Johnson-Neutrogena.
“The company was closing a manufacturing facility in California that was part of a recently purchased brand,” Benton said. “We already manufactured part of the line, but there was a significant piece of production that is not a typical production process; it is more of what is called a hot-poured process. The company turned to Bradford, and over 12 months we were able to convert the space into manufacturing, staff up and start production.”
Bradford also worked with Unilever in developing products for its Love Beauty & Planet brand, which included a bar soap, bath fizz and shampoo bar. Additionally, Bradford developed a first-of-its-kind recyclable paper wrap for Tom’s of Maine.
Reflective of the momentum Bradford has experienced is the fact that it has added nearly 150 employees to its team in the past three years under Benton’s leadership.
Melissa Travis, CEO and president of the Rhode Island Society of Certified Public Accountants, has known Benton, who serves on the RISCPA board, for years and says the Ocean State is lucky to have him.
“I don’t use the word visionary often, but Stu really is the quintessential visionary,” she said. “I am fairly certain that most Rhode Islanders are not aware that a company in their own backyard has had such an impact on our local economy and our community.”
Travis called Benton the “epitome of a strategic leader,” whose leadership extends beyond manufacturing to Bradford’s supply chain and commitment to sustainable sourcing.
“In 2012, when Bradford had no reliable source of sustainable palm oil in the U.S., Stu took the initiative to work directly with the Rainforest Alliance to have one certified,” Travis said. “He moved Bradford towards zero waste by donating all soap scraps to worldwide health and hygiene initiatives through World Vision and Eco-Soap Bank. You won’t find a leadership book that teaches any of this – it’s embedded in Stu’s DNA.”