Just wrapping up three great days (May 17–19) with AGMA members who descended on Fort Worth, Texas, from all corners of the country (and industry!) for the 2023 Strategic Networking and Leadership Forum sponsored by Gleason Corporation, WD Bearings, Blaser Swisslube, and Specialty Steel Treating. Professionals from gear shops and OEMs alike gathered to share their experience and insight about where we are as an industry and where we are going. The beauty of a gathering like this is witnessing powers of example like Ruth Johnston, CEO of Croix Gear & Machine, who shared: "The way to better leadership is to work on and know yourself." A quiet came over the room because that's not just something clever to say; it is the voice of experience and sounds different from someone who has lived it.
I think that is a principle that has defined the past few days for me—whether it was hearing the hard truths of workforce evolution from Jason Wasikowski, Senior Manager of Corporate Technical Training at Mauser Packaging Solutions, or the clear sensibility of Anker's industrial monitoring technology as Akshat Thirani, co-founder and CEO of Anker, presented case studies with Mark Ritchie, General Manager of Gleason Cutting Tools Corporation, and Ryan Robertson, President and COO of Master Power Transmission, Inc.
Jason Wasikowski's talk was a fierce and generous distillation of decades of recruitment and training experience. He gave special attention to how challenging it has become for companies to find, hire, train, and retain maintenance personnel with core mechatronics competencies. One of the more disarming, and perhaps counterintuitive, statistics he shared was lack of recognition (not praise) was a prime mover for people to stay with an organization, not money. He was adamant recognition means detailed and clearly defined performance observations, not generalized praise.
Interestingly, that coincides with Anker's case studies—for both Gleason and Master Power Transmission, the monitoring technology was embraced by personnel; rather than being seen as "another stick to be hit with," the quantitative data Anker provides inspired an unexpected qualitative effect—a healthy competitive spirit among colleagues! Beyond the positive embrace from the staff, the insight of this technology into the data offered a concrete roadmap to understand and improve performance and reduce downtime.
Also of note was a lively discussion of multigenerational leadership among Brittany Conner, President of Spencer Pettus; Adam Gimpert, President of Helios Gear Products; Kika Young, President of Forest City Gear; and moderated by Michelle Maddox, Sales & Business Development for B&R Machine & Gear Corporation. In this day and age dominated by private equity firms and the like, it was heartening to see that when asked for a show of hands, the majority of the room identified themselves as working for a family-owned business.
The grand finale was a tour of the R&D wing of Bell Flight. (For the uninitiated, Bell was the first to break the sound barrier and design the first functional jetpack. They were also aboard NASA’s first lunar mission and brought advanced tiltrotor systems to market.) No amount of hyperbole can express how impressive this facility was. There was a little bit of everything new you can imagine there. Of particular note, was hearing about the degree of sophistication in their sensors and data structure which effectively allows them to construct so-called "digital twins"—a digital map of every detail of production in real-time.
I will end with the question that began the event on Wednesday: What Is Keeping You Up at Night? A list of over 30 topics was suggested and then we voted on them to narrow the list to the 10 most pressing subjects:
- Supply Chain (Solution: Vertical integration or develop a portfolio of trusted vendors)
- Training the Next Generation (Solution: Develop apprentice-like training initiatives)
- Capacity/Lead Times (Solution: Production monitoring, automation)
- Sales Representation (Solution: Despite pressures, technology for sales (Zoom meetings, etc.) only go so far, the customized nature of the industry necessitates intensive in-person relationships)
- AI & Tech Barriers (Solution: Discern the wheat from the chaff, don't chase tech for its own sake)
- Industry 5.0 (Solution: Shift from emphasis on tech to reliance on tech to enhance workforce creativity and productivity. Resilience and sustainability where the supply chain is concerned.)
- ICE/EV (Solution: lower volume and tighter standards. 3D printing and standards development.)
- Small Companies Trying to Keep Up with Tech (Solution: Discern what is commensurate to the business. Understand the increasing environmental expectations of clients.)
Please let me know what is keeping you up at night and perhaps I can develop a story for Gear Technology to address your concerns: firstname.lastname@example.org