Last week I visited three very
different companies that will be featured in my new book about how to win in today’s
global marketplace. These three are all winning by being cool.
Obviously, “cool” is an
adjective that isn’t easy to define. But I think the companies I chose –
American Apparel, one of the hottest brands in the world, Mag Industries,
creator of the MagLite, and Intense Cycle, maker of bicycle frames for World
Cup downhill racers and World Cup wannabes – all make products that qualify as
There’s a lot to be written about
just how these companies managed to
create products where price is not an issue. But what struck me was the way the
founders and leaders of these companies put their stamp on the nuts-and-bolts
aspects of the manufacturing process.
Marty Bailey, American Apparel’s
vice president of operations, is a good example. When he arrived, the company
was in trouble. While the story of the production turn-around he engineered is
complicated, one key factor in his success is that he knows how to sew. In
fact, he can sew any garment American Apparel produces. And one of his most
important contributions to date has been teaching the workers to sew more
efficiently. Not just a little more efficiently. Within a few months of his
arrival, production tripled.
At Mag Instrument, founder Tony
Maglica “lives on the shop floor” to quote one executive who works
there. He iplays a key role in the company’s search for continuous improvement,
and is himself directly involved not only in creating new product prototypes,
but in physically making them. (Maglica began his career as a machinist.)
American Apparel employs over
3,000 workers. Mag Instruments has somewhere between eight and nine hundred.
Jeff Steber’s operation is a lot smaller. He has about 30 employees, but his
method matches that of his larger peers. He himself spends many hours on the
shop floor, and creates prototypes with his own hands.
So, what does this have to do
with your operation? A lot, if you’re interested in growing.
According to Marty Bailey, one of
the problems in most factories is that the workers feel management doesn’t know
what they’re up against. I’m sure he’s right. And when the boss does understand what the workers are up
against, as is the case in most small companies, that’s a huge advantage in
designing smart processes.
Tony Maglica says that when he
wants to change something he doesn’t consult with fifty people. “I do
it,” he says. “Then it’s done.” That’s a level of flexibility
corporate giants just don’t have.
Jeff Steber, whose operation is
still small took the deliberate step of getting a partner who could handle
“the business side of things” so he could stay focused on product,
which is his great strngth.
The message: As you grow, you can
no longer do everything. You have to delegate. But don’t abandon the skills
that got you where you are. Make sure you still own a shop coat, and put it on