Leading edge

Manufacturing First focuses on importance of leadership, innovation

Posted on Nov 12, 2019 :: Feature
Jessica Thiel
Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

Leadership, whether at a small manufacturer or a large global business such as Kohler Co. or Oshkosh Corp., combines with innovation to set companies apart. Cultivating effective leadership emerged as a major theme at the 2019 Manufacturing Expo & Conference.

A record crowd of more than 1,300 attended the Oct. 30 event at the KI Convention Center in Green Bay. It kicked off with a pair of keynote presentations. Kohler Co. President and CEO David Kohler shared the story of how his family came to the United States as immigrants and built the company whose bathroom products have gone on to become the No. 1 brand in the United States, China and India.

The company and its processes have undergone immense change since John Michael Kohler started it in 1873, Kohler said. Today, technology and process control play a large part in Kohler’s work, but the craft remains.

“This idea of craftsmanship in manufacturing has been core to everything we do as a company since the inception,” he said.

Kohler, who’s also serving as general chair of the 2020 Ryder Cup being held at Whistling Straits next September, also shared the company’s dedication to innovation and developing smart, connected products, sustainability, training the next generation of workers and incorporating artistry and design into the company’s work.

On the sustainability front, Kohler invested in a Kansas wind farm and purchases 100 megawatts of clean energy every year, which helps offset the company’s North American electricity footprint. It also developed the WasteLAB, which takes foundry sand and glaze lost in manufacturing processes and uses it to make tiles sold under the company’s brand name.

Kohler conducts STEM outreach with eighth-graders, offers a nine-week program to high school students, partnered with others in the industry to put technology centers in high schools and created the Kohler Center for Manufacturing Excellence at Lakeshore Technical College. Kohler also delivered a special presentation to more than 550 high school students who attended the event to meet with manufacturers and learn about careers.

“We continue to be very inspired by manufacturing and the opportunities for us in this world of manufacturing, and it remains the core of what we do as a company,” Kohler said.

Internationally recognized speaker, coach and author Mike Staver presented the day’s second keynote: “Leadership Isn’t for Cowards.” It’s inspired by his book of the same name.

A great challenge in leadership is the gap between intention and results, he said. Leaders can face many hindrances to execution, but what matters is how they handle them.

Happy talk, positive thinking and affirmation are not what’s important, he said. Rather, an effective leader accepts the reality of limitations and then strategizes about how to work around them.

“People won’t follow a leader who says, ‘There’s a flag on the hill.’ They will follow a leader who says, ‘I realize it’s tough, but here’s how we’re going to do it anyway,’” he said.

Staver left the audience with the acronym ATTACK as a framework for developing effective leadership habits. It stands for Accept Your Circumstances; Take Action; Take Responsibility; Acknowledge Progress; Commit to Good Habits; and Kindle New Relationships.

In addition to the keynotes, the day included three special presentations and 12 breakout sessions devoted to topics such as automation, Industry 4.0, SEO, workplace culture and talent.

The event’s presenting sponsor First Business Bank held a special session focused on alternative financing for manufacturers.

With some manufacturers concerned about protecting themselves during an economic downturn, alternative financing options are likely to be used more, said Bill Elliott, president of First Business Growth Funding. He shared the alternatives manufacturers have to obtain funding.

“It’s not just financially troubled businesses that look at alternative financing. Manufacturers can utilize it, too, as they look at adding a new product line or replace equipment,” he said.

For manufacturers, the best options are factoring, purchase order financing, asset-based loans and loans from the Small Business Administration, Elliott said. “Sometimes, the products are combined in a package,” he said. “It’s best to find an experienced commercial lender to walk you through the process.”

Sara Ackermann, an attorney with business law firm Ruder Ware, presented “Employment Law is Not for Cowards.” It included a top 10 list of what not to do in the workplace.

Ackermann hit on timely topics such as sexual harassment, disability and accommodations in the workplace. In the time of the Me Too movement, Ackermann has seen an increasing number of harassment claims. Immediate action is vital. Once a supervisor knows about harassment, the clock starts ticking and it’s important to eradicate the harassment without delay, she said.

“It’s really difficult, and sometimes what you think you should do is the wrong thing,” Ackermann said of employers navigating employment law.

Bryan Brandt, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Oshkosh Corp., delivered the day’s final presentation on the company’s new branding and headquarters. The manufacturer recently completed its new global headquarters at 1917 Four Wheel Drive in Oshkosh. It’s a nod to the company’s year of inception and first product.

Brandt discussed the Oshkosh’s Corp.’s School 2 Work program with high school students in the Oshkosh Area School District and its diversity and inclusion efforts. The company has conducted unconscious bias training, and its President and CEO Wilson Jones signed the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge.

Oshkosh Corp. recently marked its 16th quarter of beating earnings expectations. “Can you have a people-first culture and get results? Yes,” Brandt said.

The day concluded with a networking cocktail hour, which included First Business Bank’s cash cube. Three lucky winners took home a total of around $2,000, and the NEW Manufacturing Alliance’s scholarship fund received a matching donation in the same amount. NEWMA raised $13,700 for its fund between that donation and money raised at its annual Excellence in Manufacturing/K-12 Partnerships Awards held the night prior.