This post was written by John Anker, the president and founder of Ankerpak.
Let’s hit the reset button on manufacturing.
I recently enjoyed a great conversation with three great minded men over lunch, where we shared stories and perspectives relating to globalization and manufacturing. Bill Fischer, Professor of Innovation Management at IMD in Switzerland, was my special international guest for the day at Ankerpak. Bill Fischer’s experiences have led him around the world to write books such as Reinventing Giants: How Chinese Global Competitor Haier Has Changed the Way Big Companies Transform, a case study on the manufacturing company Haier and their CEO who led the Chinese company’s turnaround.
I invited two of my favorite leaders in my community, who also have extensive experiences with manufacturing and globalization, to share lunch with me and Bill Fischer. I was honored to sit at the table with such profound fellow businessmen. I anticipated not only enjoying each other’s company, but also engaging in a healthy dialogue about business.
As lunch continued over the next two hours, the dialogue was indeed wonderful. We were all sure that we were in good company and could share our experiences honestly and openly. After all, these experiences were our reality, and nothing could change them. At one point, I was considered that there was an attack going on against my guest Bill Fischer due to his views on globalization and its effect on American manufacturing. After listening intently to the conversation of these wise men, I felt it may be my time to interject a comment based on my experience: so I did. I stated my belief that Bill Simon of Wal-Mart exuded great leadership by standing up and vocally announcing some new initiatives to hire war veterans and to buy more USA manufactured products. That certainly got the lunch party started! My good friend, who owns a foundry, turned to me with a smile to call B.S. on me. I guess I could now take credit for saving my international guest from the attack! In reality, the fun was just getting started.
All macro conversations about global supply chain, manufacturing, and government in America will most certainly involve China and Wal-Mart. The conversation was exhilarating, since my two local lunch guests included large manufacturing company owners who have been in business for over 130 years and are now in their 5th generation.
The following morning, I had an epiphany about my ten-year-old manufacturing company, Ankerpak. Maybe Ankerpak is helping America hit the reset button. Is it time for a younger generation of manufacturers to come into the fold? Before you rush in and say, “Yes,” let me try to talk you out of it. You won’t make much profit. You will breathe work. You will worry about the next law suit or regulation that you didn’t see coming. No traditional loans. Rising inflation. Soaring energy cost. Higher interest rates. Faster demands. More government uncertainty. There is one constant: All the rules keep changing.
So why do we do it at Ankerpak? Because we can. Ankerpak is building a culture of doers and makers again, along with my friends of the 130 year old businesses. We are accomplishing this feat with people who have a lot of heart. Our people have experienced many changes over the last 30 years, and they too are scarred from watching the outflow of jobs. They have not given up or given in. They have come to Ankerpak to make a difference and to fight for our jobs. They are working harder and probably taking monetary sacrifices to make the difference. I would say that Ankerpak takes sacrifices as well to be in this segment.
Sometimes, when things get tough, I have to remind myself: This is the job that I chose! Sometimes, I have to share and emphasize the reality with my employees that this is the way it is right now. Over the years, I watched large local manufacturing companies go through difficult changes. Their leaders were forced to make tough decisions for the better of the company. After all, how can you pay a guy $30/hour after 20 years of service in the same building only then ask him next week to work two times harder for only $15/hour? My realization is that the globalization pendulum swung way too fast and will take many years to level out or at least be a little more balanced.
Whether you are in business for 130 years or for 10 years, we all have tremendous challenges keeping manufacturing in America. It is not a level playing field, but my dad always said, “Son, life is not fair.”
I am very thankful that Bill Fischer visited our community and shared his global perspective.
Photo credit: John Pyle