Doug Hall, Founder of the Eureka! Ranch and self-styled “ideas guru” has recently partnered with the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, and it seems to be a good fit. To over-simplify a little, the MEP focuses on efficiency, while Hall’s area of expertise is finding creative ways to put a firm’s existing capabilities to new uses. I caught up with him recently to see what his thoughts were on success.
Talking to Hall about how U.S. manufacturers are succeeding – or in many cases, failing – is not for the then-skinned. He describes running a manufacturing company that’s part of a large OEM’s supply chain as “slavery,” and that’s one of his gentler characterizations. “Depending on the leadership of the U.S. auto industry for your future?” he asks dramatically. “I’m sorry, that’s stupid. There’s no other word for it.”
Hall’s advice for companies that are trapped in the “tyranny” of serving a single customer or single industry is to reach out to other industries. In the case of Michigan companies, would this mean abandoning auto? No. “Take those great skills that you got working in the auto industry and start applying them to other industries around the world,” he advises. “People who have reached outside the auto industry to other industries are realizing double digit growth every year, and they’re doubling their profit margins.
More generally, Hall states that successful small manufacturing companies have four characteristics that spell success. The first is that they anticipate the future, as opposed to “just reacting to the voice of the customer.” He claims to have data that proves small businesses are twice as successful coming up with breakthrough ideas as larger ones.
Secondly, “They’ve got courage, as opposed to the big companies, that have no guts anymore. Big companies assume they can do it with money. and their brand name. They think they can just tweak it… which is a loser’s game. Little guys know you’ve got to have something that’s unique. “If you’re not unique, you’d better be cheap.”
The third characteristic is that they play on a global stage. And the fourth is that they “connect and develop.” As Hall puts it, “They learn how to play well with others. Rather than trying to do it all themselves, they put together alliances and partnerships with other companies – in this country and internationally.Hall will be a featured speaker at the May 6 Summit for Advanced Manufacturing, which is sponsored by Purdue’s Technical Assistance Program http://www.tap.purdue.edu/Manufacturing_Assistance/Indiana_MEP_Home_Page.aspx. At that time, he promised me he would “rant some more” about the path to success for small manufacturing. It will be a rant well worth hearing.