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Pride and respect: could the secret to improved performance be in how we treat each other? (ROI).

I THINK IT is safe to say that business really stinks for all aspects of our industry. We've gone to hell in a handbasket, with irrational capacity build-up while demand falls, ridiculous (and unsustainable) pricing and complete disregard for longstanding relationships.

As I look at my (what often seems incredibly shrinking) backlog, the thoughts that come to mind include, what am I doing in this industry, and what's wrong with this picture? Business this bad makes it easy to digress to "woe is me." And we're all looking for someone to blame. But maybe, just maybe, the problem is something else. And maybe, just maybe, we can--together--do something that will positively affect our condition and that of the industry.

When I get in one of "those" moods--you know, the ones where you want to shoot the messenger, fire the employees, customers, suppliers, investors and bankers and head off somewhere better (like the proverbial hardware store in Maine or donut shop in Wyoming)--I ask myself a simple question: Am I proud of my company? Without pride in your company, or your work, or yourself for that matter, then it makes little difference what others do (or don't do): you are doomed to failure.

That does not mean being proud of everything that happens--we all have day-to-day problems, deficient plans, marginal employees. But overall, when your company's name is mentioned, are you proud of what it stands for; the effort that at least most employees are making; its reputation? If the answer is "I don't know" or "Let me think about it" then maybe some work needs doing on the home front. Are customers avoiding you because you have the wrong capabilities or because you have not gone to the right customer base? Is your quality second-to-none or is it acting more like an "unsales" department? Have you explicitly told your employees what the company needs to accomplish and what each one of them needs accomplish, or do you avoid them for fear of tough questions?

My experience has been that when you are proud of your company--and all those who make up the company--employees, suppliers and customers--the company usually outperforms the industry. It seems like kind of a "gooey" idea, I know, but wait--there's more!

How can you measure pride? What are the indicators of a level of pride to sustain you through those tough times? My measurement: how you treat others, the level of respect that you show them and in turn they show you. Oh jeez, you say--more goo! Not really. Pride and respect are fundamental attributes of character. And in difficult times character makes the difference between success and failure, win or lose, profit or loss. People with pride tend to treat others with greater respect, while those who treat others with little or no respect usually lack pride and certainly do not earn respect. Frankly, having spent the past 11 of my 30 working years in this industry, it seems to me that there is a lack of pride and certainly a need for much greater respect by all.

How many times have you been at an industry meeting, or company gathering, or just chewing the fat when the conversation has shifted to bashing some aspect of the industry? I have been in far too many of those kinds of conversations. Designers blamed for "lousy" designs; fabricators blaming assemblers for "stealing" their customers; assemblers blaming fabricators for making lousy "commodity" PCBs and having "excessive" gross margins; U.S. companies blaming foreign competitors for dumping or undercutting pricing; everyone blaming the shrinking supplier base for providing much less service and at "excessive" prices!

Maybe I'm crazy, but our customers' designs appear to work, and I doubt that the assembly community has stolen any customers, and no one is making much, if any, margin (gross or otherwise), and if I remember basic economics from college a product built to customer specification is by definition not a commodity, and when I ask suppliers for technical support they seem to try to help even my little company, and most of all maybe, just maybe, the foreign folk are doing some things better than we domestic folk are, at least in some areas.

Could it be that if we want to improve performance and contribute to rejuvenating the industry, the place to start is to openly, frequently and enthusiastically start treating each other with respect? Not the "when in public I will behave" lip service. Sincere, genuine respect. The kind that leads companies to cooperate on benchmarking business issues that affect us all, such as how to control healthcare costs or train quality employees. Or to pick up that 400 lb. phone and call competitors and suppliers to work on developing new technologies and processes, with an eye toward satisfying end-customer needs rather than to beat each other up.

I expect several positive things would occur. New relationships--the mutually profitable ones we all seek--will develop. An industry buzz, such as "Your company has a great bunch of people to do business with," will flourish, as will the industry's reputation.

Business is lousy. But respect is contagious and leads directly to greater pride, and with pride it is a lot easier to outperform a weak industry. Don't you think we all could benefit from more respect and pride?

PETER BIGELOW is president and CEO of IMI (imipcb.com), a prototype fabricator of microwave PCBs. He can be reached at pbigelow@imipcb.com.
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Author:Bigelow, Peter
Publication:Printed Circuit Design & Manufacture
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jun 1, 2003
Words:910
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