Brad Kuvin Brad Kuvin
Editorial Director

Perspectives on Business Management with Metal Forming Company Execs

January 19, 2024

Since January 2021, MetalForming magazine has conducted several Q&A sessions with executives at metal stamping and fabricating companies, providing an inside look at their management philosophies, and sharing their daily challenges and how they face them. Here we present highlights from two such interviews; to be interviewed for this column, email editorial director Brad Kuvin.

Q: What are two or three of the most important things you look for in a mid-level manager?

Doug JohnsonDoug Johnson, owner and president of Marion Mfg., Cheshire, CT: “The first quality we look for in all employees is the ability to be a team player. Over the last several years we have become a very youthful company, top to bottom, including our group of four mid-level managers who now play a large role in managing the bulk of our operations. 

“Key to this youth movement has been providing them with the education and training needed to succeed, to help them work as a team and also to bring out the strengths of their reports. These four managers meet daily and can communicate openly and honestly to deliver another valuable skill―decisiveness.”

Ross LibertyRoss Liberty, president of Factory Pipe, LLC, a manufacturer of exhaust systems for the motorsports industry: “Process knowledge, first and foremost. I’ve heard the argument that you don’t need to understand a process to manage it, but our company is still small, around 73 employees. Mid-level managers must understand the processes that they manage. They typically don’t enjoy the deep bench that a manager of a 100-person department might have. 

“We also look for managers that lead by persuasion and example, not by edict. And, they must exhibit empathy toward their team members.

“Lastly, our managers must lay out clear expectations and hold the team accountable for meeting or exceeding those expectations. This is critical if you are to have a process-driven organization. Good managers utilize a systems-driven approach to keep multiple plates spinning. Understand that this is not to be confused with leadership. They are not the same, nor are they mutually exclusive; they are of a different currency.”

Q: What are two things that you believe your company is doing well? What’s one thing that you wish you could change?

Johnson: “Marion Mfg. has done well in workforce development and in building our next-generation team, not only including our managers but also our tool and die makers. Two of our four mid-level managers are still taking management courses at a community college, and we will send some of them to the PMA Management Development Academy. We have seen some great results from investing in management training. And, we typically have three or four shopfloor workers taking classes outside of the company at any given time, including the advanced manufacturing program that our tool and die apprentices go through. The youth movement taking place throughout our small company, and giving them the tools to succeed, is building a culture that will carry us into the next generation.  

“In terms of where we could have done better, I’d say sustaining the morale of the team through the depths of the pandemic. Early on we did a good job, I believe, of communicating with our team and staying focused and moving forward. But we lost some of that motivation, focus and morale mid-year. Looking back, I would change how we approached it, but I think we’re doing a much better job of maintaining morale now.”

Liberty: “I believe that our business model of providing product and process knowledge in our chosen and narrow field of design and manufacture of exhaust systems for the power-sports industry, is working well. We’ve enjoyed growth with a very strong balance sheet and zero debt.

“We have a strong focus on time to market and development of full-lifecycle solutions. While we have a tough time competing with LCCs from a straight bill-of-materials perspective, our ability to provide design expertise up front can reduce total cost of ownership by reducing baked-in costs found in designs where the designer lacks process knowledge. And, in the power-sports industry, fast time to market differentiates our customers from having a ‘me-too’ product to providing a ‘must-have’ product. These products don’t get worn out; they get outdated. We manufacture a lot of two-stroke exhausts, and these are developed more than they are designed. More iterations, and the ability to iterate late into the product cycle, allow us to optimize exhaust-system performance.”

Industry-Related Terms: Die, Model
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms

Technologies: Management


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