In business as in life, you eventually need to ask others for advice, or reach out to someone for their help. Other times, you are your own best advice.
In manufacturing, there are always opportunities—it could be for new processes, new certifications, or the need for the next level of management skill set. Don’t ever hesitate to reach out for guidance, or to hire that next level manager or consultant necessary to grow your business. At the same time, don’t assume that next-level manager is on the same path as you.
In trying to get that the next level, I have hired and fired a few top-level managers over the years. Whatever that next level was—whether trying to achieve ISO certification, moving into new headquarters, or helping to facilitate our growth as a company—I never hesitated to ask an expert. Many hires resulted in disappointment, not because they failed at the immediate task at hand, but because they were not the right fit in the long-term. This is where it gets a little tricky. You must be smart enough to realize when someone with more expertise than you is not working out. While you may have found the perfect fit for a specific project, eventually you find yourself paying for talent and not getting anything in return. It’s times like this when you have to take back the wheel.
For example, when I was looking to expand CAMtek, we could not stay in our current facility. There was another bay next to ours, but the landlord did not want to lease it to me. I owned 10 acres of land outside of town, but building on it would mean construction costs. I found another building nearby, but it needed a lot of renovation which meant those costs. So, I expanded my options by looking outside my area and state to determine the best option. As you can imagine, cost and location were major factors in my decisions.
For help, I reached out to a consultant I knew and asked him to help me with the expansion plan, including site location, plant layout, renovation costs, and any tax credits or incentive packages we could get. In the past, I had worked with him on multiple training programs, grant applications, and ISO certification. He was currently without a job, so I hired him full-time. I expected that he would eventually oversee production in areas of capacity planning, line balancing, and additional certifications and training.
The expansion plan took many months. We worked with multiple municipalities and met with various government groups inside and outside our state. The consultant was full steam ahead as he kept the project moving forward by lining up meetings and finding site locations for us to evaluate. Once I actually had to tell him to slow down as I wasn’t interested in moving to Texas! I told him he could look in neighboring states, such as Indiana, Iowa, and Kentucky, and after reining him in a few times, we ended up with four location options and incentive packages from three different states.
However, as this project neared completion, I began to realize that the consultant was not what I needed going forward. He was great for this project but not a good fit in the long run.
We had visited three of the four sites, and had one more to go, so we hopped into my SUV and headed down the highway. It was raining that day and I asked him to drive. As we headed down the interstate, he was cruising at 70 miles per hour. This was already over the speed limit and with the rain I was getting a little edgy. It began to rain harder, turning into a downpour. I gripped the armrest while looking over at the speedometer and noticed his speed continued to increase. Because of the rain, I honestly couldn’t see the cars in front of us. I thought, “Surely, he knows what he’s doing?” We went just a few more miles when I realized I couldn’t take it anymore. I told him to pull over. He pulled into a gas station and I said, “I’m taking the wheel.”
We changed seats and I pulled back onto the interstate. We were both quiet as I focused on the road ahead. After a few minutes he spoke up: “My wife doesn’t let me drive either.”
At that point I knew I had to let him go; he just wasn’t the right fit for the long term.
“Don’t settle. Don’t finish crappy books. If you don’t like the menu, leave the restaurant. If you’re not on the right path, get off it.” —Chris Brogan
Christine Davis is a leader in today's electronics industry. She founded and successfully ran CAMtek for 20 years.