Category: People/HR

How I Built the Most Profitable Industrial Container Management Company in America (Part 2 of 3)

If you missed Part 1 of this series, you may want to read it before proceeding.

After I had set my vision for what I wanted to accomplish with the turnaround of this company, I needed a team that could help me turn that vision into reality. I needed everyone—from my office staff, to my production crew, to my delivery drivers—to be completely on board. If we were going to dominate the marketplace, we needed 100% buy-in.

I’ll have to exert some restraint to not turn this post into a book. There were many details Teamworkthat led to my success in molding a winning team. I’d like to share the high-level points here and leave it to you and your team to determine how these same principles and practices can be applied in your business.

I began by developing my big-picture vision into a set of daily outcomes—how many units needed to be produced, maximum end-of-line rejections due to defects, number of units/day delivered to clients, and so on. Note that I did not make a plan as to how I was going to accomplish these things, but simply that these were the tangible results I needed each day to make my vision become a reality.

Key #2: Role Ownership

Once I had the daily requirements determined, it was time to involve my team. I called a meeting in which I shared my vision and the daily requirements, in terms of output and quality, needed to bring this vision to fruition. I was met with everything from indifference to significant resistance, which was what I expected. After all, these people had collected their paychecks without these requirements in the past. Why change?

Then I got them involved in a way that was meaningful to them…

“I’ve told you what I want,” I said to the group, “Now you tell me what you want in exchange for making these things happen.”

It took a while for their creativity to kick in, but when they saw me readily listing the suggestions that were being made—many of which they clearly thought were excessive—the flood gates opened. When we were done making the list of proposals—which included performance bonuses, early shift termination when quotas were met, company-paid lunches, and other such perks—most people in the group were laughing and making comments about how ridiculous the thought of my accepting these demands was; obviously assuming I would never say yes to even a portion of their ideas.

I asked them if it would be alright for me to take a day and think about their suggestions. They agreed, and headed back to their work stations, still laughing, jeering, and even poking fun at how foolish this waste-of-time meeting had been.

I had already run numbers and knew what I could pay for the performance for which I was asking. Some quick head math during the course of our meeting had already led me to know I could provide everything for which my team had asked, and still have room to provide some additional surprise perks along the way. A formal calculating of the numbers that afternoon told me my preliminary beliefs were correct.

When the team gathered for our follow-up visit the next day, the laughing, scoffing, and attitude that had prevailed the previous day continued. Everyone took their seats, undoubtedly certain they would hear some less-than-exciting news as to my findings. I had debated whether to slide into the acceptance of their proposal, or drop my acceptance like a bomb. I decided on that latter approach.

The Answer They Didn’t Expect

“Thank you for all your suggestions yesterday,” I began. “I’ve run the numbers, and I’m ready to give you everything you asked for.” Many were still talking among themselves and focused elsewhere when I made that statement. Then the room became completely silent. “What?” came a query from my plant foreman. “Say that again,” he went on.

I repeated myself: “I’ve run the numbers, and I’m ready to give you everything you asked for.” You could have heard a pin drop. I went on…

“This is the way it’s going to work. I’m not going to issue any reprimands for being late. I’m not going to conduct surprise status checks on the production floor. And I’m not going to personally handle end-of-shift inspections anymore. That’s all up to you.

“If you have a co-worker who is not performing, it’s up to you to help him see the vision and pick up his performance. When a piece of equipment goes down, your shift is over for the day without pay. Your opportunity to earn money will resume when the equipment has been repaired. You own this opportunity. It’s up to you to make of it what you will.”

I’ve never seen a more wide-eyed group of adults in my life. They were floored!

“Are we in agreement?” I asked. The answer came in an enthusiastic affirmative. “Let’s make it happen then!”

Instant Change

From that moment forward, quality improved until we beat the best of the best in the industry. Daily quotas were almost always met an hour or more before the end of the scheduled shift (which represented somewhere in the neighborhood of double our previous output). Equipment failures diminished to nearly zero. Poor performing employees were coached by their peers to improve performance. On two occasions, a delegation of team members approached me about firing those who were not catching the vision and improving. I still smile with satisfaction when I think of those team members coming to me as a group to get their non-performing peers ousted.

My favorite part of each day was standing by the time clock as my team clocked out early, having made more per hour for the day for having met their quota, and being paid at that higher rate for the hours they would not have to work, as well. “We’re ripping you off, Bryan!” was a common phrase my smiling team members would chant as they gave me high fives on their way out. Although I never said it out loud, my response was always, “Keep ripping me off, guys… Keep ripping me off.”

There is, of course, more to the entire account than what I have shared; but in short, I got my team to buy in to my vision by allowing them to take ownership of their roles in a way that was beneficial to them. I didn’t dictate the rewards. I didn’t mold the culture of the team. They did.

Those who “got it” stayed around and enjoyed the benefits of our joint efforts. Those who didn’t went on their way and were replaced by people who wanted what we had to offer.

My team took control of their work. I had more time to build other parts of the business.

They had a better job than they could get elsewhere. I had a killer team that made things happen.

They made more money. I made more money.

It doesn’t get much better than that. Role ownership by all team members is necessary if we’re to build a top-performing organization. After all, a successful company is a community of successful people. How can you help your people become more successful?

Check in for my final installment of this series when I’ll share the third key that launched this company from losing money to being the top profit performer in its industry.

How I Built the Most Profitable Industrial Container Management Company in America (Part 1 of 3)

“Why do you cut the ends off the roast before putting it in the oven?” Rebecca asked her mother. “I don’t know,” replied her mom. “That’s just how we’ve always done it.”

That answer wasn’t good enough for Rebecca, so she went to her grandmother and asked the same question. Her discovery: Grandma’s pan was too small to fit the whole roast—which was not an issue with the pans at Rebecca’s house.

How often do we carry on with business practices that are less than optimal just because that’s “how it’s always been done”? We’re all guilty of this at some level.

A Larger Proverbial PanIndustrial Site

About 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to take over a failing business. It was in a tightly held, private industry sector dominated by a handful of large corporations and decades-old, family-owned enterprises. I was not welcomed in as a newcomer, to say the least. And I was young—a punk kid of just 30 years old who garnered zero respect in the container management community. Yet I was convinced I could dominate my marketplace. I just needed to look at this industry differently than others had over the prior 60 years or so the industry, in its current form, had existed.

Key #1: Vision

“That’s How We’ve Always Done It” could have been the theme song for this industry. There was talk of innovation at the national conventions, but all discussions seemed to lead back to a place of complacency and comfort. I knew there were better ways. Using my lack of knowledge of the industry as a point of strength, I pictured how I believed things could be done better.

My vision consisted of 3 key elements:

1. Dominate my service region by providing a superior product, on time, and always as promised. (This was not the norm in this industry.) When I saw this vision, it consisted of my company being the preferred provider in the region. Ultimately, it resulted in running two national competitors out of business in the region. Not bad.

2. Get my entire team to own their roles. You can’t build a business powerhouse without a fully dedicated team. And I’m not just talking about the management team. I’m talking about every team member. I envisioned a business in which everyone clearly understood and owned his or her role. This was a far cry from where the company was. (More on this in Part 2 of this series.)

3. Do away with “business as usual” by innovating in our management practices, production processes, product lines, and allied services we could add to our offerings. Nothing was passively accepted as “the way we do it” as we moved forward. Everything was questioned. Consistent tweaks were made, and results measured. In the end, we trimmed fat, increased output significantly, nearly eliminated defects, and brought a new practice and service to the industry that would prove to disrupt the status quo in a way I could not have imagined—even with my aggressive vision. (In Part 3 of this series, I’ll share how my innovations made my company seven times more profitable than the industry average, and the mob threat that accompanied my success. Stay tuned!)

In Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” the following exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat speaks volumes as to the power of vision:

Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
Cheshire Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
Alice: “I don’t much care where –”
Cheshire Cat: “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

Vision matters. Without it, our efforts cannot be maximized in reaching our desired outcome.

In my next installment of this series, I’ll share how I got my team on the same page, and skyrocketed productivity, output, sales, and on-time delivery of near-zero-defect products.


Note: My use of the term “most profitable” in the title of this piece refers to the profits I achieved in this company as a percentage of revenues. I can make this claim because the industry association to which we belonged published industry average numbers for various benchmarks (and every company in the industry in the United States belonged to the association). The highest claims of profit margins of which I was aware were considerably lower than ours—our profits being some seven times the industry average.  I doubt my company was the most profitable in terms of dollars, however, as some of our competitors produced more product than we did, although at much lower profit margins.

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