Reflections on a First Year at Speakman

Today marks the 1 year anniversary of Rob Cook becoming President of Speakman Company, to mark the occasion I asked him to write a blog entry about what he’s learned in his first year in the Plumbing Industry with Speakman:

March 15 marks one year for me as President of the Speakman Company.

Like all transitions, this was a year of learning…Learning the product line, the industries, the customer base, our pricing and product strategy, our associates, our processes, and our opportunities.

Here are some reflections:

In our Global economy, the strength of a company’s Brand protects it.  Because there is much more supply than demand in most consumable product areas, and because the Global South can duplicate just about any product, what your Brand stands for becomes your hedge from inexpensive duplicates which are flooding most marketplaces.  We are making a real effort to strengthen our Brand to the trade, the end user, as well as to the ultimate consumer.

Quality reigns more than ever.  There is clearly a low price, poor quality, backlash which is growing in the United States.  We source from factories in various countries, and we insist they meet our quality specifications.  The cost of doing otherwise is too high.  Because of quality fluctuations and other reasons such as long lead time, currency swings, political unrest, and the often unrecognized soft costs, I believe more manufacturing and assembly will migrate back to the United States.  That is, unless our Federal Government continues to make it very difficult to operate these types of facilities in the US.  Our customers are looking for consistent and dependable quality.  The enormous volume of poorly designed and manufactured goods is pushing the B to C marketplace as well as the B to B supply chain to reward companies which provide a high quality to price ratio.  We are looking to exceed expectations regarding this ratio with our customers.

Success is all about execution.  There is an old saying which goes, “pick a strategy and execute like Hell.”  Executing on all levels—design, manufacturing, marketing, customer service, selling, and shipping, is more valuable than formulating a “break-through” strategy.  Survival depends on executional excellence at all levels, and in all departments.  Having a sound strategy is just the first step.  Executing better than the competition is the game breaker.  Our leadership team understands this, and is committed to get better, each day.

People determine success at a company, especially at a relatively small company such as Speakman.  Like Jack Welch did at GE, we want to compensate the high performing 20%, motivate the solid 60%, and give the bottom 20% an opportunity to go work for the competition.  Every company needs “maniacs”, people who have a nose for the deal, the tenacity to envision a preferred future and make that future real, and who have a passion for getting things done.  We have a few maniacs at Speakman, and we are always looking for more.

There are two macro paradigms existing simultaneously in commerce now…the world where things are sold, and the world where things are purchased.  We live in both now, although I believe the world is quickly moving to a place where things are purchased more than sold.  To thrive in that world, you have to be found.  So your web presence, your social presence, your search rankings, and your digital content better be top notch.  We are working hard in this area, and starting to see some real success.  This is exciting.

Almost all of the people who run companies are smart, well educated, and technically proficient.   Yet a high percentage of them fail.  Why?  I believe it is because they don’t listen well, they don’t communicate well, and because they misunderstand leadership.  Add in the spice of arrogance, and the recipe for failure is almost complete.  I remind myself every day to try to listen more, communicate more consistently, and let the talent in the company run.  If the talent starts to run, we could have an outstanding breakout year in 2011.

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