To say that the 7 plus weeks to date since we started this journey was a learning experience would be an understatement. Going in, we were a company in dire straights with our fingers crossed waiting for an upturn in the market to save us. Today we can see that much of the danger we were facing was self inflicted and largely due to a lack of understanding of the real costs of running the business and how to appropriately cover those costs in our pricing. Going in, we were a company with 50 years of history going through the biggest change in our history with new upper management being thrust into control of a 65 employee 10-15 million dollar a year sales business with approximately six years total management experience between myself, the VP, and Steven Friese – General Manager. So we relied on our greatest strength – a willingness and want to change, free from the embedded ways of how we viewed the business in the past.
From the first interview with Merlin VanGerpen, I knew we were in good hands. And while the blunt matter-of-fact style Merlin employed during our discovery was sometimes hard to hear, it was just what we needed to tear down that little bit our clinging to the old ways and making that leap of faith in accepting all the new ideas that would soon be coming our way and needing to be put into practice immediately. It was clear there was no more time for second guessing, by final interview we were committed, well Steven and myself were, with the President and employee-owner staff showing much skepticism and apprehension at bringing in outside help. “There is a story that is told in the numbers” was something that Merlin said and when naming our project “Matrix” that was exactly what I was hoping to learn. The numbers of our business and how to stop being afraid of what we didn’t understand. Today I feel with growing confidence that not only will we understand those numbers completely, but will soon be able to use that understanding to motivate and accelerate Markle manufacturing on a track of success for our next 50 years of business.
We were ready for project “Matrix”, but had little understanding of exactly how our project director was going to approach the tangle of issues uncovered by Merlin as well as the issues we saw as needing to be addressed. “Was he really going to wear a suit and tie every day I wondered, they’ll never go for that” I thought. My mind was soon put at ease the first day when Irvin made it clear that he ready to roll up his sleeves, but on some steel toes and get down to business. I could also tell immediately that this was not someone who sought to tell us all the things were doing wrong, but instead, sought to understand our business, its traditions, it’s quirky dynamics and all. We had learned of Irvin’s background and expertise and even I had a little bit of skepticism that he would be able understand a business he had only a little experience in. I soon learned that the fundamentals of work flow, proper separation of roles and responsibilities, procedure, and clear and useful managerial accounting made up about 90% of what was needing to be understood about Markle and that is something Irvin brought with expert knowledge. That idea was further proved when in less than a couple of weeks Irvin covered the other 10% in being able to talk about the business like he had been working there for years.
From the very first day Irvin made us feel like we were still in control, that he was looking for solutions to problems that we saw as well as those recently discovered by Merlin. We were laying out the “what” while Irvin presented the “how”. Irvin soon became the mentor we were needing and taught me personally a lesson that may not have even been apart of Cogent Analytics game plan, and that was a lesson of leadership. The way he was able to come in and soon gain the support and trust of the entire staff was proof that so much could be communicated, directed, and taught with a listening first servant-leadership style that was in such contrast to the heavy handed authoritarian model we had been accustomed to and knew we wanted nothing to do with going forward.
It has been a bit of a dramatic 7 weeks, beginning with narrowly avoiding a union strike and the new managements first foray into union contract negotiations. Followed by the exit of a key drafting department member, and then a hard lesson in bringing in outside talent that we ended up hiring and firing in less than a three week span. And finally, the passing of the general foreman and longest tenured employee, having just weeks before been honored with his 50 years of service and tragically passing due to cancer complications. Through it all, I was able to see a palpable change in the energy of my team and a real feeling that this was going to work. This is still just the beginning and it will be awhile before the plan as we see it will be fully realized, but momentum is gaining, morale is improved, and zeroes and ones of the reality of our business are not as scary as they once were. I remember the cost of this process being such a concern prior to signing on, I would be the first to urge others thinking of taking on CA’s services to dismiss those fears completely. We for one, could not afford NOT to.
Markle Manufacturing, Inc.