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Posts Tagged ‘management’

Manufacturing and What It Takes To Be a Fortune 500 CEO

Posted by Bert Maes on April 22, 2011

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Adam Bryant - Author of The Corner Office

Yesterday I posed a video in which the former CEO of Intel tells us that the most common educational background of the Fortune 500 CEOs today engineering education is. Today I am reading Adam Bryant’s post on what it takes to lead a Fortune 500 company, a start-up, and, yes, a school.

The five skills Bryant found -in interviewing more than 70 chief executives- can and should be learned in school. Manufacturing and engineering classes are the ideal tools for that purpose. After all, engineering courses can promote the qualities Bryant distilled: fascinated how things work, ask the right questions, critical analysis, questioning data, communicate ideas successfully, transfer knowledge to new contexts, creative problems solving.

The perseverance, the precision, the determination and the out-of-the-box thinking needed to manufacture something, turn out essential for a CEO and for day-to-day life.

Here are the five essentials for success — qualities that most of the Fortune 500 CEOs share and look for in people they hire.

  • Passionate Curiosity: What, ultimately, is the CEOs job? “To be a student of human nature.” The CEOs are not necessarily the smartest people in the room, but they are the best students. They always want to learn everything, they are engaged with the world, fascinated with everything around them, and want to understand anybody with asking the questions: Why do you do that? How come it’s done this way? Is there a better way? It is this relentless questioning that is their greatest contributions to their organizations.
  • Battle-Hardened Confidence: For leaders status quo is not an option. They own the challenges with perseverance, purpose and determination. They make mistakes, don’t look for excuses, dust themselves off and keep fighting the next day. They say “Got it. I’m on it.” – Words that are music to a manager’s ears.
  • Team Smarts: They understand how teams work, sense how people react to one another, recognize the players the team needs, know how to bring them together around a common goal and how to get the most out of the group. The greatest players might not be the stars, but those will get you the ball and then be where you’d expect to put it back to them. The people who truly succeed in business are the ones who actually have figured out how to mobilize people.
  • A Simple Mind-Set: Most executives expect people to be concise, get to the point, make it simple… Yet few people can deliver the simplicity and focused thinking of a 10-word summary of his or her idea, get to the conclusion first, starting with “Here’s what’s important …” or “The bottom line is … .”
  • Fearlessness: [CEOs are] looking for calculated and informed risk-taking, but mostly they want people to do things–and not just what they’re told to do…. They want people to shaking up status quo, not necessarily because things are broken, but because they can be much better and should be much better.

However, it should be noted that all of these are personal traits cannot make individual leaders do it all–turning around companies and schools by virtue of their energies. The organization settings and context interferes. Saviors with the right personal traits might make a difference if they adapt to and work with the new setting rather than repeat behaviors that seemingly worked elsewhere. Think: transfer knowledge to a new context.

Engineers and manufacturers are trained such that they can take a problem and design a solution that meets the requirements, by working in team, by taking information from various fields and apply that information to solve problems.

It looks to me that engineering and manufacturing classes can prepare you for the challenges of the real world. If you can survive the challenges of manufacturing school, you can probably survive the challenges of a CEO too…

Is that the reason why the most common educational background of the Fortune 500 CEOs today is engineering education?

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Ten (10) key strategies to grow your manufacturing business

Posted by Bert Maes on May 6, 2010

Consensus among 23 manufacturing and support entities show that sales are up, some as much as 30% from last year.

How these companies have done it:

  • Focused on building new customer relationships, especially out side of the region or outside of their usually industry sector. Some companies that are being successful have aggressively pursued a global opportunity (>> Aggressiveness, expanding the scale of business and reaching and winning new customers is the key to business growth.)
  • Tightening up processes (>> People can only deliver better quality, if system failures such as organization,  market analysis, management, equipment, workplace productivity and procedures are tackled.)
  • Partnered with other companies or entities that support manufacturing to market, train, access their processes etc. (>> You cannot take on the world all by yourself. No company is an island. Working with alliances, drawing on the competences of other firms to compete more effectively is critical to win on a global base.)
  • Tax council (>> One of the central government roles -in my view- is ensuring an adequate flow of information to companies and consumers. Today companies can use all possible help to make safe and informed financial decisions e.g. via tax education.)
  • Educating employees (>> The Only Sustainable Competitive Advantage: Learning; 50% of growth in BNP is explained by better educated workers and managers; A strong economy is rooted in a superb education system: you can have the best ideas and the biggest pile of money, without the right people, you will not make it.)
  • Changing their culture to a LEAN culture (>> Maintaining a culture of loyalty and hard work, going back to the basics, put the facts on the table, make everyone feel we can solve problems together , teamwork with inspirational leadership – towards improved and much leaner efficiencies. That’s how Alan Mulally got Ford fixed up.)
  • Tours of competitor or partner companies

Source: Positive comments on Manufacturing Opportunities Summary, by Teresa Beach-Shelow

Another source called sees some other competitive strategies:

  • High-tech, sophisticated, highly automated manufacturing, including extensive use of powerful robots
  • Tight integration between engineers and designers (product R&D) to create top-quality, integer technologies
  • Finding suppliers close to home, shortening supply chains => be closer to customers, serve them with speed and quality, improve lead-time capabilities, diminish delays, lower freight costs, have more stable prices, avoid “green” taxes and bad reputations…

Dear reader: do you know about more winning strategies?

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10 Golden Rules for Managing Engineers (and Engineering Students)

Posted by Bert Maes on February 2, 2010

This is a post written by David Kimbell on:

>> I believe his experience gives a good view on how teachers could handle their students in engineering or technical education successfully.

A summary of David Kimbell article:

Golden rules? Principles, more like. These are lessons that I have learned thus far in my career. Some the hard way, i.e. making mistakes, as I’ve managed engineers myself. Others I have learned by observation, but when I was pretty close to the action.

(1) Refuse to manage. Lead instead.

What engineers need is someone who will set them clear goals, give them the necessary tools and training, and protect them from distraction. That’s leadership.

(2) Give them clear direction, then get out of the way.

Engineers need to know what’s expected of them, and what their priorities are to be. Then (unless he/she is a newbie), leave them to it. Remain accessible, but out of the way. Newbies, on the other hand, generally need some regular, almost daily coaching. But you’ll sense when they’ve found their feet. Then give them free rein.

(3) Let them contribute.

People naturally want to contribute. So when your people come up with bright ideas, listen. And if you can, let them implement their ideas.

(4) Know your people.

My father had probably managed several hundred people in his career, most of them scientists and engineers. He retired at the top of the corporate ladder, and sadly died not long thereafter. At the funeral, one of his senior managers told how on his first day on the job, my father invited him into his office, closed the door, and talked over coffee and doughnuts for the rest of the morning, about everything under the sun. Never before, said this man, had a manager shown that much personal interest in him.

(5) Play to their strengths. If you can’t, find someone who can.

Janet has done two degrees at Oxford, specialising in computational aerodynamics. Two years on with the company, they stuck her in my group, doing routine structural load calcs. She was bored out of her tree, and though she didn’t voice it, she was looking for the exit.

When time came for her performance review. There was an aeroelastics group where her math skills could be put to better use. I got her a place in it, despite the fact that it would inconvenience me. (Filling vacant positions in a large corporate concern can take months.) The look on her face was my reward. I do know that my efforts made one engineer’s life happier, and more productive.

(6) Protect them from bullies.

Protect your people from so-called office psychopaths. They get their kicks out of making other people’s lives difficult. Stand up to the bully. Yes, it’s possible you could be a casualty, but by failing to stand up to the bully, you allow the problem to persist. Either you or some of your people (or both) will end up going on stress leave.

(7) Create a productive environment.

Let’s face it, offices are dull, lifeless places. Allow your people to give it life. They want to paint the walls green? Big deal. (Though please not that shade of green, it’s hideous.) Someone wants to bring in his latest piece of artwork? Sure, go ahead. Turn it into an office competition, and award prizes.

Small things go a long, long way to boosting productivity. Free tea and coffee. Unexpected delivery of doughnuts and muffins. Sudden team announcements offsite at the pub or coffee shop. Small things cost little, but make a huge difference to people’s enjoyment of life and work.

(8) Manage your personal life well.

To be effective at work, you have to be undistracted. If your home circumstances are a mess, your work will suffer.

(9) Be a control freak when you need to be. But only when.

Most of the time, you don’t need to be. Different situations call for different kinds of leadership. Get good at recognising which need which.

(10) One poison apple can ruin an entire barrel.

The poison apple can be one of the psychopaths referred to earlier, or it can be someone who has mentally checked out of the office. Someone who has lost interest in the job, and no longer pulls their weight.

A friend of mine worked in human resources for many years. One of the things he had to do time and again was laying people off. He reckoned later he’d laid off at least 200 people. It killed him every time. But, as he told me later, “then I watched almost all of them go on to do extraordinary things. Things they’d never have done if I hadn’t laid them off.”

Now that’s cool. Come to think of it, I’m a case in point. I was laid off from my first engineering job. A firm called RWDI, in Guelph, Ontario. (Still going strong.) After three years, I’d lost interest. My performance and attitude had slipped badly. Instinct told me it was time to move on. I ignored it. I’d become a poison apple. They rightly canned me. Look at me now. (OK, maybe you’re not impressed, but I am.)

DEAR READER: Do you have more tips how to handle engineers and engineering students?

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