Friday, 12 December 2014

Failing Forward


I am looking to put the past behind me.  I wrote this for you, Brad and the girls. Brad encouraged me to share it with others...


2012 was not a good business year

 Three of my businesses were struggling. Our tire recycling facility had a fire and we were not able to recover. We closed the business down.   Our Oil Filter recycling facility lost its major client; other ventures did not work out.  Towards the end of 2012, my brother (operations) and I (office side) came back to our machine shop and had the unfortunate experience of seeing firsthand the negative affects our absence. Our employees and management did fantastic, but circumstances beyond their control had all three businesses close to bankruptcy.  Our core business, B&R Custom Machining Ltd had to lay off five employees towards Christmas of 2012; a culmination to the year I dreadfully regretted.   

Personally, I was in very rough shape.  Being the “CEO” behind 2 company closures and near bankruptcy certainly took a toll on me.  Louder than the “failed dreams”…and the consequent fallout was the reverberating voice of how deeply I made a mess of things.  Battling my thoughts became as much of a problem as the “mess” that lingered from the 2 failed businesses.  I deemed it an accomplishment if I could get 3 hours of sleep at night.  Drinking became a catch 22…if I did not drink, I was consumed with the pressures of business and did not sleep.  If I did drink, I went to sleep but knew this was a band-aid at best.  In the back drop, was the realization that my 3 (now 4) beautiful daughters and precious wife were getting a battered, beaten down man.  Trying not to be a zombie at B&R, I was drubbed with “feedback”, results, observations and conflicts all suggesting our machine shop was not in good shape.  My mind was not clear and our shop was not in a position to make massive investments to magically fix anything. I did not know what to do. The only thing that was clear to me was how much of a failure I was.

Confronting reality:

I felt like I was 8 years old all over again being sent to my disastrous room to clean.  I was paralyzed and did not know how or where to start. I knew the pain, pressure and stress of confronting reality was more honorable then throwing in the towel, but I did not know how to stay in the game.   If there was one undercurrent that I believe carried me when I laid in paralysis was a thread buried in my head from childhood. My Dad must have told me 10,000 times, “NEVER GIVE UP!” Somehow, I think it was destiny that those 10,000 times were instilled in me, arguably prophetically, for such a time as this.  

Back at B&R Custom full time by end of 2012, I said with shortness of breath, “Brad, if we don’t work 80 hours per week, we are in jeopardy of going bankrupt.”   With no time to lament his brilliance of operations gone bad at the hands of circumstances out of his reach, he agreed to those hours and so began “phase 1”…no investment, just work.  With Bradley working like an animal, me trying to improve matter after matter…and our remaining employees focused and determined, our cashflow eventually stabilized.  Once stable, I rounded up the remaining employees and shared with them explicit details about our other business failings and declared my a fanatical focus to improve B&R, little by little, bit by bit. Some employees left. I don’t blame them.  With the support of several family and friends, I tried my best to confront reality and change.

My value is fixed, and forever high.

As mentioned, the stream of “here’s what’s wrong with you and the company that you are the boss of” became so overwhelming that my embarrassment and shame rose to such an extent that I could not handle it anymore.  My performance (or lack thereof) was tied to my identity and value. I saw my value through an almost pontifical paradigm initiating a daily fight to prove to myself I am important to those around me.  When the businesses came crashing down, along with the ensuing barrage of things I am doing wrong, my state of restlessness overcame my senses due to the obvious threat “failure” had on my identity.  I was a mess. It was hard for me when loved ones told me they are concerned for me.  I tried to be strong, but my eyes deceived nobody who knew me.  I remember crying out to God, “If you want a disciple to represent your name, I ask you pass on me for my failures have overtaken me”.   It was in this restless moment that I received deep understanding of Romans 5: we are justified by what Jesus did on the cross: His shed blood for the remissions of our sins and his broken body…for our healing.  Justified and righteous only by the accomplished work of Jesus.  A great decision I made was to receive God’s gift of righteousness.  I felt 10 tons of weight lift off of me.  The joy that I am loved and accepted in spite of my performance (whether good or bad) became real to my heart and a joy to my soul.  When assent to scriptures is overrun by conviction of scriptures; I was free indeed from the torment of failure.  If my performance earned the favor or love of God, His gift would cease to be grace.  I can and will receive God’s unearned favor, regardless of my performance. 

Re-entering work, with my value fixed and high:

When the same problems that drove my despair resurfaced (weight of failed businesses, work problems, fallout from 2 failed businesses, challenges of the remaining business, ect), I re-entered those problems with an entirely contrarian perspective: rest.  I entered the problems repeating to myself, “This problem does not alter my value. Lord, help me with this problem for I lack the wisdom”. To expose my weakness (when the leader is to have the answer) was freeing!  Thanking the person for the feedback was tough…but I did it without any sense this was tied to my value.  My stress levels were alleviated and my sleep improved.  I am convinced that my performance is irrelevant to my value.  Therefore, when I perform, it is out of a revelation that my value is untouchable, so I am passionate about focusing on the problem…without letting “me” get in the way.  My internal response to problems/conflicts/issues went from: “The leader that failed…” to, “Thank you for the input, I look forward to solving this with you”. 

2013: Investments

Beaten down, but not out of the game, our team decided to focus on “getting better at what we are doing”. No more new businesses. Simply focus and get better at what you are doing.  By laser beam focusing on getting better, B&R was confronted with several areas we needed to invest in.  We made those investments and saw surprisingly strong returns.  We saw the culture of our shop change.  In was later in 2013 that I revealed to all the employees, “B&R will be seeking to refine its focus. We will be moving to ‘High Demand, Low Supply’ work."  This was quite the goal for a recovering machine shop, but our team’s laser beam focus and mindset of continual improvement seemed to have laid the groundwork for a miracle.

2014—the year of execution: in the context of rest and thankfulness.

 We won several contracts of complex components and received approval for some incredibly involved programs that only years ago we could only dream doing.  B&R has executed several projects and is currently working on a titanium program that will launch to Mars.  Today, 90% of our work is now Aerospace and our work backlog is 5 times greater than 2 years past. Somehow, B&R made very serious investments in world-class 5-axis machining and are pouring all human capital into quality parts that meets our prints.  I am constantly thankful for the ‘lifeline’ we were given and have still not wrapped my head around how B&R is currently thriving.  I am thankful that we have been able to change enough to stay in business, and stay relevant. 

Several Parts manufactured by B&R Custom Machining Ltd. will be on the ExoMars Rover.

Looking forward personally:

I echo what has been said many times: “I do not know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future.”  I rest in the accomplished work of Jesus on the cross. I receive His abundant grace that has empowered a callous heart to soften…and I believe more change is on the way!  I rest in the conviction that my performance is not tied to my value; a freeing revelation that has lifted the now impervious weights.  I am claiming I am getting better each day: little by little, bit by bit. I am working on healthy eating, greatly curtailed drinking and increased exercise.  I desire to intimately understand my family is a cherished gift and allow my time with each of them to reflect this. I desire to respond in love (with my time, talents and treasure) to my local church who so overwhelmingly loved on me during a period I was convinced I was nothing more than a drag and nuisance.  Little else brings peace and fulfillment like “love responding to love”.

Looking Forward in Business:

My intention is to “put the rough years behind me”, while taking the tough lessons with me.  This will set me up to best focus on the future without the encumbered past possibly de-railing me or our team.

I desire to confront my leadership role with the knowledge it is a privilege to serve, not an entitled right.  This realization causes “weight” of responsibility that I am keeping separate from my value, so that in “worldly success or failure” I operate from the understanding my value is fixed and high and can therefore maintain an attitude of thankfulness and remain teachable.  I am seeking to compartmentalize my various roles and ‘hard-wire’ communication structures surrounding my responsibilities so that I may better own the results I am expected to achieve.  B&R’s objective for 2015 is quite clear and absurdly simple: success through the basics. My message to family and employees is one: we are looking to both keep and grow on the ground we have gained; little by little, bit by bit. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

Why Manufacturing Wages Are Shrinking; And What To Do About It

My father asked me recently "Why are manufacturing wages getting lower and lower as time goes on?"
My Response:
On the aggregate (exceptions exist), wages are decreasing in manufacturing for 4 reasons:
#1. Workers are rarely responsible for their results. Unlike a salesman who starves if he does not sell, the culture of the manufacturing worker is that they are entitled to their paycheck for showing up and putting their time in.  This results in a "I did my job, where is my money?" paradigm against an often unspoken reality from the one with capital: your productivity was insufficient for your wage increase. Owners/workers have poorly bridged this gap (for many reasons not applicable to this response).
#2. The rate at which a man's skills and productivity increases is accumulated at a far slower pace than the market demands; either through foreign competition, domestic competition or innovation. Consequently, the one with capital needs to redirect their capital to more efficient means with better returns.

#3. Manufacturing companies are investing in technology advances that rely on machines to construct solutions to problems and creation of widgets, thus the blue collar worker is moving from a "producer of goods" to an observer...or more politely, an "operator".  The generator of wealth has become the machine, or operation line...not the man...almost a second (more subtle) industrial revolution.  Manufacturing is joining the "knowledge economy" and the worker is being mostly left out.

#4. Owners of capital are increasingly viewing (manufacturing) workers more as a risk and less of an asset. Certainly still an asset, but increasingly a risk.  Some risks to sustainable profits can be: injury/union/pension/lawsuits/health benefits/entitlements of profits, without any worker exposure to any name a few.  All these "risks" seek to make a withdraw from a corporation and therefore capital shies away from such risks where possible, in so doing places downward pressure on wages. Serious technological investments in machinery has no risk of union/pension/health/entitlements/ fact, they exist only to increase your profits.  The machine will continue to replace the man thus manufacturing may not 'shrink', but the wages will as machines continue to pluck more skills from the men who once operated them.
The bottom line: wages are suppressed in manufacturing because capital is efficient and is looking for less risk and better returns. In seeking this out, it has found that innovation and technology replace the need for a less efficient and often more problematic man. The government tries to remedy this by throwing money into often hideous programs.

I thanked him for asking the question.
Here are some solutions that would put upward pressure on wages:
1.       B&R declared we would be a “high demand, low supply shop”. Achieving this goal has allowed us to take on some pretty incredibly challenging projects where a team is called to higher and higher standards simply to figure manufacturing out. This puts upward pressure on wages due to the complexity of thought involved in our production on highly capable machines .  To increase wages is to increase complexity of work and provide a culture that welcomes problem solvers…not just operators.  
2.       Increase wages through strategic investments in innovation that empowers intelligent employees, not replaces them.  This makes the worker and company more efficient, creating a higher demand for their services, thus higher pay. 
3.       A corporation needs to embrace change and employ a culture of taking responsibility.  By leadership being responsible for change, improvement, and advancement, it can then place healthy change requests on employees.  This promotes a “we are in this together” attitude. This counters entitlement attitudes from an employer or an employee. And quite frankly, there are few entitlement behaviors tolerated in manufacturing.  Those who dispute this get sacked off their high horse fairly quickly.  (Not withstanding government subsidies.)
4.       Less government intervention. More personal responsibility. This would create a breakthrough of increased wages through higher corporate profits and greater demand for services.   The ironic tragedy of government intervention is that they often realize the opposite results that their interventionism champions.
My Question To You:   Why do you think manufacturing wages are going down? What can be done?

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