Friday, December 23, 2011

A Different Kind of Christmas Story

This is a time of year that many sit down and share traditional holiday stories with their children. Families reminisce and tell tales of past family members and of times gone by. As I sit here at my desk in my factory in California I also think of stories; one where California had a GDP larger than most countries, and one of where the United States had the best skilled workers in the world and could make anything the country needed or wanted.

As I visit high schools in my area and talk to kids, they are not hearing the story that the USA is still the preeminent manufacturer in the world. A story that is OK and should be revered when someone can take raw materials and make it into a desired end product and that having such a skill will pay you on average $20K more a year than a service-based job. A story of how America makes products in the greenest fashion in the world — especially here in California.

So my wish for 2012? That California and the entire U.S. will write a robust and exciting chapter for manufacturing. That once again, young students (both male and female) will see the promise of working in the manufacturing sector. That every student will be given opportunities for hands-on learning within the high school environment. That we provide every means possible to promote a STEM curriculum within our schools. That we once again as a nation have pride in our craftsmen, trade workers, machinists and engineers.

This is the chapter I wish to write within the story of manufacturing. What’s yours for 2012?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why California Manufacturers Need Flex Time

It may come as a surprise to you but in California the wage and hour laws for the manufacturing sector do not allow for flex time. We are governed by an eight hour day versus a forty hour week. I find this law so out of step with how business and personal lives work in 2011.  If a company is brave enough, here is the process they can try to go through to achieve flex time.
Currently, in order for employees to adopt an alternative workweek schedule, an employer must conduct a secret ballot election with two-thirds of employees in the work unit approving the proposal. The process is complex, and any misstep by the employer could lead to costly lawsuits.

Under current (and very detailed) Industrial Welfare Commission wage orders, employers may institute alternative work schedules only if a supermajority of affected employees agree to the arrangement in writing and by secret ballot. Employers must hold discussion meetings at least 14 days before secret ballot voting. Two-thirds of the company’s employees must agree to the change. Any deviation from the rigidly controlled process voids the election and subjects the employer to potential lawsuits that can seek up to three years of back overtime pay for affected workers, along with huge penalties and fines.

Moreover, variances in schedules or the use of more than one schedule—unless it was offered in the secret ballot election—are prohibited without repeating the voting process. This in effect eliminates most employers and employees from choosing schedule options such as compressed workweeks.

So today my HR Manager Katie Mendoza went up to Sacramento to testify in front on the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee. I appreciate that the California Manufacturing and Technology Association is behind changing this law to help support manufacturing viability in our state. Below is the letter she will be presenting on my behalf.

November 14, 2011

Dear Senator Lieu, 

Bishop-Wisecarver Corporation (BWC) is a family owned manufacturing company incorporated in 1950, that in its second generation is WBENC certified woman-owned. We have made a variety of industrial products over the years and currently specialize in guide wheels and guided motion technologies. My father founded the company and I have been working for BWC since 1991.

Our product line includes quality made components and accessories, manual linear guide systems, actuated linear guide systems, and rotary guides and systems. Stainless steel, high temperature, and clean room compatible products are among Bishop-Wisecarver's more recent product introductions. Our more popular product offerings include the following trade names - DualVee®, LoPro®, UtiliTrak®, and GV3. New product development continues to be an ongoing process at the Bishop-Wisecarver Corporation, with innovative designs being introduced at regular intervals.

We have 51 employees of which 14 are part of Steel Workers of America.  We have a proud history that mixes both strong values and continuous improvement. Our commitment to quality and our customers has enabled us to achieve sustained growth with our various product lines since the beginning. We are also committed to the next generation of engineers and machinists. We are an active supporter of local STEM programs and FIRST robotics.

I value my employees and their feedback and feel it is important to ask for their feedback and implement their ideas.  At the end of 2010, I asked employees, several questions, but the one that stood out the most in regards to flexible work schedules was, “BWC would be a better place to work if…”  I received multiple responses like the ones below: 
   “The ability work 9/10 – to have every other Friday off”
   “Have more flexible hours – work 4/10’s and have Fridays off or 9/10s and have every other Friday off.” 
   “More flexibility with work time.”
   “Flex work hours or alternate schedules would be good.”
In addition, you will find a list of signatures of employees that support a flexible work schedule.  Unfortunately, due to business needs, they could not come to voice their support.

If as a company we were able to implement a flexible work schedule it would increase our productivity, employee morale and customer satisfaction.  I am a firm believer in providing exemplary customer service and being the customer’s first choice.  With this change, it would boost the morale of my workforce enabling them to provide even better customer service.

I truly thank you for your time and consideration of this important decision.  Unfortunately, due to business travel I am unable to attend, but my HR Manager, Katie Mendoza will be there to represent Bishop-Wisecarver Corporation and the employees.

If you need any additional information or you would like to meet or speak at a later date, I would be happy to help in any way possible.

Warmest Regards,

Pamela Kan
Bishop-Wisecarver Corporation
cc:           Senator Mark Wyland (Vice Chair)
                Senator Mark DeSaulnier
                Senator Mark Leno
                Senator Alex Padilla
                Senator Sharon Runner
                Senator Leland Yee

Monday, October 31, 2011

Lessons From the Top of the World

At the PTDA Summit in Washington DC a couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of hearing Alison Levine give the keynote address. Alison is an adventurer and mountaineer even though she has a medical condition that makes it even more life-threatening to climb extreme elevations. She has climbed the highest peak on every continent, served as the team captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition and skied across the Arctic Circle to the geographic North Pole.

Here are my takeaways from her speech. One thing about climbing mountains, it puts critical decisions into perspective really fast. Plus your judgment better be good, since a wrong decision can cost you and/or others your lives.
  • Do more with less. Amen! I think especially in America we desperately need to learn this lesson. I feel there is a real fundamental issue with storage warehouses popping up all over the place.
  • Do whatever it takes. It’s that old “a job worth doing is worth doing well." Put your best step forward every day.
  • Ask the right questions … and keep asking. It can be easier for others to say no then for them to help you with the solution. Keep asking questions until you get to yes.
  • Don't let fear stop you from doing things you want to do. Sometimes you just have to step up to the plate and go for it. I have found this to be very true. You can always “what if” a situation to death and rationalize not doing it, but growth comes from saying yes to those experiences that will stretch you.
  • The team has to care about the team — but they also need the right skills for the environment. I think any manager can agree with this. It can’t be just the leader who cares about the team and the end goal. It has to be felt and wanted by all on the team. At the same time, alignment and passion for a goal isn’t always enough, there has to be the right match of skill sets and resources to get you to the end game.
  • Take a big goal and break it down into smaller parts. What has to happen to get step one, etc. We all hear about setting BHAGs, but that can be overwhelming to the team and to the process. Breaking a big goal into key milestones makes it much easier to tackle.
  • Even when going backwards you can still be making progress. Just going forward is not always progress. This doesn’t sound right, but boy is it true. Especially in my experience with product development. Sometimes you have to go backwards to get to the right outcome. Course corrections are a reality, charging ahead without checking in to the goals and the current reality can be extremely costly.
  • Fear is OK — complacency is what will kill you. Fear is actually a good tool you can use to your advantage. You have to be able to react to the environment around you as things are shifting. Even when things are calm there can still be risk
  • Build relationships. It is not just about being social – it is about creating a support system. That may even be with other teams, allies, or competitors — cross teams. Think about whom outside our team will you need to call on for help? Work to form strategic partnerships. NO ONE gets to the summit by themselves.
  • Sometimes no matter how good you are prepared — things can still go wrong. How you react to the situation is key. Will having setbacks blows up your team or will you manage it so that it bonds the group together?
  • Deal with change – “storms” are ALWAYS temporary. You just have to be able to take action based on the situation not your "plan." You have to realize that your plans are always outdated. Focus on execution versus following a plan
  • Celebrate each milestone of the process.
  • Have the judgment to make tough calls. Do you have the ability to turn around and walk away from the deal that is no longer good? You also have to be able to make good decisions even when the conditions are far from perfect. If the conditions aren’t right, cut your losses turn around and walk away. Remember, one person’s poor judgment can take down an entire organization. It is not about reaching the summit but the lessons you learned along the way and how you use those lessons going forward. There will always be more mountains to climb.
  • Embrace failure. Previous failures are important tools for learning and achieving future goals. Make sure you can tolerate failure. You need room to fail to get innovation.
  • Perspective – when you finally reach that summit or end goal, take time to reflect and learn. Make sure you get new viewpoints and learn from the experience.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fresh Eyes

I am part of a program called Strategic Coach .At my last session we focused on how to become intentional. As we roll into the end of 2011 and look toward 2012 I think this is a great topic to disucss. We are all starting to work on our plans for the next year. How we approach this task is very critical. It is especially tough right now with so many uncertantainties happening in the US markets. One example that was shared with us really hit home with me. I have continued to think about this passage on many occasions since my class.
Sir Lawrence Olivier example:  Before every play, he’d look through the curtain and say “this is not last night’s audience. This is not last night’s theater. This is not last night’s play. I am not last night’s character. This is not last night’s script. This is not last night’s cast” He would progressively get more and more scared and would take himself back as though it was opening night again, with all that same energy. Even though he’d done it really well the previous night, he couldn’t count on it this time. Every new situation needs to be seen with fresh eyes, so you have to remind yourself. You want a balance between the emotions of fear and excitement so your motivation is at its highest to do the best possible job.

I find this concept powerful in so many ways. In my industry of industrial products, specifically linear motion products, I find a pervasive culture of the use of the “milkman run”.  This is the habit of habitually calling on the same customers over and over again. What really frustrates me is how often the “script” that is played while making these visits is just the “script” that was used on the last visit. The salesman often makes assumptions as to what the customer needs are and where they are on their project. How much more could be achieved if they took on the Sir Lawrence Olivier example? If they went into new opportunities or even current customers but with no preconceived notion of the customers’ needs or wants? Let the customer define a new “script”. How many more opportunities could be discovered?

So how can we apply this when doing our budgets and sales forecast for next year? Do you have clear intentions of your desired future state? Are your goals clearly defined and based upon facts, not assumptions? 2012 is not a repeat performance of 2011. Are you looking at your forecast with “fresh eyes”? How high is your enthusiasm and motivation level when planning for 2012? Will you be ready for the opportunities that lie ahead?

While the world appears to be in a state of flux I am still optimistic for the year ahead. I can envision a new “script”. I am working on seeing the trends that will lead to a new “play” being written all together. It is an extremely dynamic situation that is playing itself out and while I cannot control what is happening in the world, I can control how I and my company react. And as the sign in the Boston Celtics locker room states: “The game is scheduled, we have to play it, we might as well win.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Spiffs, Chachkies, Trinkets, and Giveways, It’s a Battlefield!

I don’t know about your company but here at Bishop-Wisecarver conversations always get heated up when we start talking about our trade show giveaways. We are currently preparing for our next big show which will be FabTech in Chicago, November 14-17. If you are going to the show you can sign up for an appointment here. We will be showcasing our brand new booth creatively constructed for us by the fabulous folk at Mirror Show Management.

One school of thought is that engaging and fun handouts are valuable as a source of brand awareness. People love to play with fun and creative stuff and if they really like it, the item may actually find a home on their desk; conveniently with your logo starring at them. The hope is that the next time they are in the market for a product like yours, they’ll think of your company faster or sooner, and ultimately you may gain a sale.

Another faction of the group solidly believes (probably because they are engineers) that handouts must serve a purpose. They need to help our customers with something, ideally in reference to our products. They want there to be value in what we give away, or why do it at all?

Which leads me to the last camp, all giveaways are worthless. No one values them regardless of what the item is and nine out of ten times it is just going to end up in the hands of the vistor's children; thus no value to the customer and not even a useful tool in promoting brand awareness. Not too many seven year olds care about DualVee guide wheels or how to solve their linear motion issues!

So what camp are you in? Make it fun? Make it useful? Or just don’t even bother? What is the best giveaway you ever got? I’d love to read your ideas and feedback.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Who Will Win the Manufacturing Race?

I have just finished up a week of travel in India, and while I have been to Asia numerous times, this was my first visit to India. I toured numerous manufacturing facilities, and was very impressed with what I saw.

Our press in the states is filled on a daily basis with information about China and the country's growth. The Chinese government makes no bones about their plans around manufacturing and their desire to be the largest manufacturing power in the world. I wish our government had the same desire. The facilities in China are rapidly improving, as well as the infrastructure. Yet, after my visit to India, I wonder if in the end India may be the biggest winner of all.

I was impressed with what I saw in this country -- a desire to learn and succeed. In China, there is still a drive being pushed by the government, but I often feel that people operate in large out of duty to the collective good and the will of the government. In India, the desire rests at an individual level. Maybe I perceive India this way though because of my own American drive for personal growth and prosperity?

Only time will tell who will ultimately win the manufacturing race. Who knows, America may still recoup and regain the power it once had in manufacturing. But after this trip, I no longer believe it is a slam dunk in favor of the Chinese.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Everything Grows with Manufacturing

I am currently serving as Vice Chair of the California Manufacturers & Technology Association (CMTA). The CMTA staff worked very hard to put together the California Manufacturing Summit, "Everything Grows with Manufacturing" last week in Sacramento. I was happy and encouraged to see how many people showed up. I think the panel, with its diversity of interests, shows how important the topic is to our state, the economy, and our children's future.

Here are the top ten topics of discussion:

1) California cannot survive as a service based economy. A strong middle class is based upon the wages earned within the manufacturing sector (the average manufacturing job earns about 20K more than a service industry job).

2) We have to make technical education, with strong Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering (STEM), a priority for all schools for all children. Business has to get involved in helping schools develop their STEM curriculum. Young people need to get a marketable skill. Investing in career technical training is one of our best bangs for the buck. Apprenticeship programs are another way to advance the skill-set of our kids and grow long-term job skills, and prepare our future workforce. We have to open the door to the future of our kids. Eighty percent of California students don't go on to the UC system. Employment Training Panel funds (ETP) must be used in the best manner. California can't afford to lose these monies to the general fund. Workforce investment funds are needed to train for the needs of a higher skilled workforce. We need to see our schools as long term incubators.

3) Our skilled workforce is aging and we don't have a backup. We have to make manufacturing a focus again. Parents need to feel that it is a safe and smart choice for their kids to want to make a career in manufacturing. Kids have to see manufacturing as a cool, creative and innovative career choice and understand that manufacturing does pay well.

4) While California is the hot bed of venture capital, often the ideas are then produced in other states or countries. We need to keep production within our state as well. California dominates VC money because of the ideas and innovation coming out of our California university system. We are a financial innovator on a global basis. If California fails to attract the growth capital sector we will kill off our future. We currently have the JFK gap. JFK created a whole decade of enthusiasm by stating we have a purpose as a country. California is also a country. What is our purpose? A simple economic point, California is incredible at attracting the best minds into our universities but we completely lose the scale up after school.

5) Coast of Dreams. California needs an economic plan. It is shameful that a state that is the 8th largest GDP in the world has no defined economic plan. There is no economic development office for our state. This does not work for our state. This is about our democracy not just our state. We must create a vibrant private sector that allows entrepreneurs to take risks and build businesses and innovate. When people come together with a purpose we can get things done. Real passion makes a difference. We need to pick the most critical systemic reforms to focus on. A cabinet level position that reports to the governor to make business feel wanted, would be a great first step. We have to start marketing California. We had ten overseas offices at one time, now we have none. The private sector votes with their feet. We need to keep them here in California. In 2003 we shut down our trade and commerce offers, while other states were vastly expanding their offices. Even cities like Chicago are opening offices. We have to have an export and trade strategy. We have to acknowledge the problem. Stop the denial. We have depression era unemployment statistics in several counties in our state. This then leads to skills gaps in our workforce. California is still the innovation capital of the world and we need to get that message out and change perspectives. Texas is one cohesive state. California has to get its act together and got one purpose on both sides of the aisle. We need to develop a robust retention framework.

6) Globalization is not going to go away. California has an unfavorable business climate while other states are actively striving to improve their business climates. Supply chain is a vital piece of the pie for a vital manufacturing sector in California. We need to reduce the cost of manufacturing in California. We can take actions to change our policies if we have the WILL to do so. California is blessed by its visionaries that invested in our infrastructure and facilitated our golden area. Versus the choices we making now and cutting from our future. There is no commitment to how we are going to generate our future revenues.

7) Innovation - Research and development follows manufacturing wherever it goes. Small companies create a lot of innovative as well. We need to support the creation of new technologies. Manufacturing drives innovation not just entrepreneurs.

8) Going Green - The five largest clean tech deals where in California, a prime location for the bio-fuels market. We have the resources and the agricultural waste needed. A bio-fuel plant has to be within 50 miles of their source materials. California could really go after this market if it had the desire. It is a great opportunity for our state. But we have to build consensus across unusual allies to make this happen. Green business has to make good stuff happen sooner. Not just stop the bad stuff.

9) Regulatory Burden - The increased costs of doing business in California are well documented. But along with the costs comes an increase in time. Decisions by state agencies can take months or years. Don't drag out the answer; create a system that allows agencies to tell businesses yes or no faster. Site selection is a very metrics driven process. Why would a company chose to come into California with the current system? When companies are started here in California the easiest thing to do is to keep them here. California needs to focus on this issue first as to why business is leaving and/or not reinvesting in our state.

10) Create an informed state government. All government officials need to understand the regulatory impact of their actions. We have to get our act together and got one purpose on both sides of the aisle. California needs to establish a framework of leadership. Politicians tend to be risk adverse. But at this juncture California needs political leaders to take some risks. The governor needs to show up in the parts of our government where things need to get done. That would create an exciting future for our state. The governor needs to be an economic cheerleader for our state. Our state politicians need to demonstrate leadership that they care about a change in behavior. We are at a unique juncture in our states history. The best is yet to come for California.

CMTA Manufacturing Summit:
Moderator for the Day
: Political Columnist, California's Capitol - Greg Lucas

Bob Clesia, Boeing
Ross DeVol, Milken Institute
Bob Dutton, CA 31st District, CA Senate
Bob Epstein, E2
Mike Jimenez, CA Correctional Peace Officers Assoc.
Eric McAfee, AE Biofuels, Inc.
Gavin Newsom, Lt. Governor, CA
Art Pulaski, CA Labor Federation, AFL-CIO
Jack Stewart, President, California Manufacturers & Technology Association (CMTA)
Julie Meier Wright, CA Council on Science & Technology

CMTA overview of the summit - click here

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Was Kermit Right?

Several weeks ago I attended the Annual Conference for the Women’s Presidents Organization in Vancouver, BC. One of our keynotes on the last day was Mae Jemison, and she pushed the group to think about our world environment and the impact our businesses are having on the world. She asked us if we were really being good stewards in how we run our businesses. My table had, at the gist, the following questions posed to us:

1) Run your company for maximum profits and ignore the environmental impacts, and

2) Sacrifice profits, make less money but operate in an environmentally respectful way.

I was seated at a table of all manufacturers and I am proud to say we all decided that there was actually a third option – respect the earth and still make maximum profits. Maybe since we are manufacturers we think in a more solution minded manner. But I do feel that one option does not need to be exclusive of the other.

So this question has been bouncing around in my brain ever since the conference. And I keep asking myself, is it really that hard for a business to be “green”? Flashbacks of my childhood came to mind and I remember Kermit the Frog from Sesame Street singing, “It Is Not Easy Being Green.”

Now let me just say I am not talking about “green” to the level like my state of California is trying to mandate in AB32 or the green chemistry initiative.

I am talking about common sense, how do I run my company to the best of its ability and make my product for a profit and impact the environment as little as possible. I understand that there are some companies that won’t make changes unless mandated, but let me just live in a world, for a few minutes, where people are responsible for their actions and feel a responsibility to run their companies for the good of the bottom line, as well as the environment.

Bishop-Wisecarver’s first step on this journey was to become a Bay Area Green Business.The process was not too difficult. We had to make a few changes and investments in our business and go through several audits but the changes we made where good financially, as well as environmentally. We use less water and electricity and thus save money on an ongoing basis. We also received rebates for several of the investments, and that made it even less painful.

We are very focused on LEAN/Continuous Improvement methodologies. To me, this is really the basis of a good “green” program. We now strive for more commonality of parts (fewer materials) and faster more efficient processes (less energy and processing materials). When we look at the improvement of our capital equipment, many solutions offer better efficiencies with less scrap, little to no coolants and a reduction of other chemicals. Designing closed loop systems that recycle fluids etc. also help to reduce our impact on the environment.

So, I wonder is Kermit really right? Is it hard to be “green” or is it really just more the discipline of looking at how to run your business in a more efficient way? One that improves your bottom line as well as reduces your impact on the environment; not regulated by government, but regulated by common sense to use the least amount of resources (lower costs) to produce your product? What do you think?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Your One Piece of Advice

I am currently in Vancouver BC for the annual Women President’s Organization conference.We ended a great day of programing last night with a dinner. At my table our hostess threw out a fabulous question – looking back on your time as President what is the one thing you wish you had done or learned sooner? Wow! Great question and it fueled a fabulous evening of discussions. What is great is that all the advice was relevant regardless of the business. From me being a manufacture of bearings and linear guide systems, to law, marketing, construction, consultation, healthcare and production companies, the advice all rang so true for all of us.

The following is a list of some of the top pieces of advice we discussed:
-          Trust your instincts
-          Make your career something you really love and inspires you
-          Don’t be afraid of lawyers
-          Be committed to your decisions
-          Ask for help – reach out to your network
-          There is real power, knowledge and support in peer review groups
-          The more you delegate, the more your business will grow
-          Learn and continue to work on how to be a great leader
-          Don’t be afraid to scale your business
-          Have a strategic legal plan for your company

This is the start of a great list. I would love to read what others advice would be. Please post your comments below for all to learn from.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I Think We Need to Bite The Bullet

I have just returned from a week and a half in Europe. I visited Switzerland, Germany and the UK. In every country I had the pleasure of using their railway system. It is convenient; the stations are in the heart of the city, fast (especially on an express train) and fairly economical. I have also ridden the trains in Asia. The high speed rails are just fantastic. I love being able to sit across the table with a co-worker and be working on projects as the world speeds by through the window.

So I return home to the land of SUVs, $4 plus gas, and airport security and delays and I wonder; how did the USA lose all our passenger trains? Yes, I know we have Amtrak. On the east coast it is a bit more viable than here in the west. But we all know it is a bit of a national joke. Why is that so? Are Americans so in love with our cars that we can’t give them up? Do we really prefer the hassles of flying over riding the rails? Why aren’t we embarrassed that China has a better passenger railway system than we do?

I know that the President’s plan for high speed rail has been met with a lot of controversy, especially with our current economic issues. But here is the rub, putting in a passenger rail system will never be cheap, and putting it off into the future won’t make it any cheaper, in fact the cost will just get higher. Long term I think we have to realize as a nation that we need more mass transit infrastructure. So let’s just bite the bullet and make bullet trains part of our USA reality.

As for me, if they build I will use it. Yes it will be a cultural shift for Americans, but if built correctly, I think we will all come around.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Lure of Three

Being an alumnus of the University of Arizona, I am by default passionate about college basketball. We had a fantastic ride under the great coaching of Lute Olson. With Lute leaving we have moved on to Sean Miller and he had an amazing year with the team, leading them to a part of March Madness and all that attention that comes with making it to the Elite Eight.

Our last game was against Connecticut.  We started out guns a blazing. I was very excited to see us take such a command of the game. And then a shift in energy happened and we lost our lead. After the halftime we came out with a renewed focus. The energy was back on our side and as the game was coming to the end it was looking really good for Arizona. But then it happened, as the clock counted down we got more and more caught up in scoring the three pointer. And as we headed into the last minute it was our demise, in my opinion.

Since the game I have thought a lot about those last twenty seconds. I wonder why the team could not see the value in going for the two pointer and taking it to overtime? Instead it was a repeated attempt to go for the win with the three point option which ultimate left them the loser by 2 points. I understand there was no guarantee we would have won in OT. And maybe the team was just too tired to take it OT. But Butler had just succeeded previously in OT and I thought for sure we could do it.

It makes me wonder if I do this in my own life?  Do I tend to go for the quicker win versus taking the longer safer road that might still result in a loss? I know that is definitely true when it comes to diet and exercise. Everything you read tells you consistency is key – slow and steady does win out. But I have a hard time with that and always tend to overdo it and end up sore or hurt.

Do we do this at work? I am sure I have. Maybe it is just part of the human spirit to want to take the risk and go for the three pointer versus the safer two points? Or is it an American thing? We want to win and win big. It is a great story to win with the three pointer in the last second, instead of in OT. So what is your risk taking style – do you go for two or are your lured by the three pointer?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why We Need to Put Our Kids FIRST

Watch this years challenge - Logomation:

Last year I blogged about my opinions shared in an editorial for PD&D Magazine on FIRST read here

This year I am proud to once again be a sponsor of the FIRST Robotics Competition. As a supplier we donate to the kit of parts for all teams at the silver level. Locally we are very proud to sponsor three high school teams:
This year's game is tough and I continue to be amazed at how smart and creative these kids are, when challenged. We should not need programs like FIRST in order to engage and grow our kids. Thank god it does exist due to all the corporate supporters who see the need for more STEM education. 

In a recent online article by Thomas Claburn , of  InformationWeek  on January 11, 2011 he writes, "At the recent 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the CEOs of GE, Cisco Systems, and Xerox worried that America's K-12 education system was failing to prepare students for the demands of the technology industry." 

In reaction to this Google has now launched on online Science Fair for full time students between the ages of 13-18 with a computer and an internet connection. I can't wait to see what creative ideas come out of this competition.

As for FIRST, the teams are in full design and build mode. Stay tuned to our YouTube channel to watch videos of the teams as their robots get built. Watch Here

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Power Has Shifted

I just finished reading “More consumer manufacturers selling online, competing with retailers” by Barry Shlachter. (Read more: The article raises several good points about the shifting relationships between manufacturers and retailers. In my industry the same is true between manufacturers and distributors. The article states "The primary driver for all this is a more educated and informed shopper, who is getting more information through more channels," said Eric Best, CEO of Mercent, which offers online marketing technology and services. Best goes on to say "Manufacturers realize they can increase their margin, establish a more direct relationship with consumers and also be in a position where they're forced to reconcile the changing customer behavior with Facebook, Twitter and also mobile devices as points of engagement with their customers..."

I think the article missed the boat in focusing on who has the power – the manufacturer or the retailer. What is buried in the quote above is the obvious answer – neither. Now more than ever it is the customer. The internet has allowed our customers to source our products by whatever means they want.

Our customers now have the technology to interact with us as they want. They dictate the buying process. I get frustrated listening to circular arguments about who sold what to what customer. The bottom line is that the choice cannot really be controlled by either side anymore. The customer drives the choice. If we create barriers to purchase, getting information, engineering support, etc. the customer can find alternatives. The internet is full of businesses that make it easy to do business with them and are willing to play on the customer’s terms. And it is only a search term away on Google. And a computer is no longer even required; any smart phone can do this now as well. 

That is what I love about the explosion of social media. It is interactive. It is not really controllable, so you learn the good and the bad. You get feedback on a constant, real-time basis from your customers. It allows you one more channel for building relationships and providing the information and feedback channels in a method your customers want, need and may prefer.

Relationships between manufacturers and retailers/distributors need to focus on the customer, and servicing the customer’s needs. When that truly becomes the goal, it will be a win-win for all.