I couldn’t believe the news when I first heard that one of my all-time favourite rock and roll bands was coming to my city, London, Ont., and performing live. The Who were kicking off the Canadian part of their North American tour at the John Labatt Centre, and better yet, a friend who knew of my admiration for the band bought two tickets on my behalf.
It seemed too good to be true, and in the days leading up to the show, I began to wonder what type of performance I would see. Would I see two old guys trying to recapture their glory days? Would I see a mechanical rendition of songs they have likely played a thousand times? Did they still have the same fire and passion they had in their younger days, not to mention the energy and physical stamina required? After all, Peter Townsend and Roger Daltrey were now 61 and 62 years old.
At 61 or 62, many executives and business leaders are either already retired, or they are set in a “glide path runway approach” to their retirement years (the plane is on autopilot and the landing strip is in their sight). Those still working are now in a position to have earned umpteen weeks of holidays, enviable salaries and benefits, and occupy positions of significant control and influence, while at the same time enjoying the luxury of having ever decreasing day-to-day responsibilities. Tasks and responsibilities are delegated to younger staff – people with more energy and more up-to-date skills and education; people who still have to “work hard for as many years as I had to, to earn the perks that I now enjoy.”
Considering that our typical working life spans 40 years, I too am clearly now “playing the back nine.” In the hours and moments before the start of the concert, I was not only wondering what type of band I would see and what type of performance they would give, I was also questioning what type of leader I had become, and what type of performance I was delivering – sort of a “Who are you?” professional analysis on myself.
My role could easily evolve to one like I described above. After all, it is easier to delegate tasks to someone who already knows a technology (or platform, or program) than it is to learn those new things yourself. Working 24 hours straight to meet a critical deadline is something I no longer have the energy to do. Plus, other interests are now more firmly developed in my life. Whereas before I could have been accused of living for my work, now I find golf, the cottage, community involvement, politics and of course family, to be equally important aspects to my life.
Before I had all the answers, The Who came on and played, and played, and played. For two solid hours, the place was electric. People from all generations (not just “my generation”) cheered and applauded after every big song. They played both old and new songs, including a “mini-rock opera” composed by Townsend. On one song, Townsend sang lead while Daltrey stood in the background, out of the spotlight singing harmony. These two guys were enjoying themselves; incredibly skilled and still very passionate about their music and their performance. Gone may be the concerts filled with the reckless expenditure of energy smashing instruments, but instead is a tour of 38 concerts in 70 days crisscrossing the continent, with a 20-day break in the middle. The energy level is just as high (albeit spent more wisely), the passion still evident, but their skills have been honed and perfected by many years of practise, and their new songs based on even more life experience. Their performance was amazing – well planned and delivered by very talented, motivated, committed, and very well prepared leaders in the music industry.
By the time the concert ended, I had the answers to all of my pre-concert questions about the band and the concert – they had exceeded even my highest expectations. All that remained were the questions of myself: Who am I and what has my recent performance been like?
The challenge to deliver a great performance in the manufacturing industry today is critical, not just to our longevity, but to our survival. The U.S. dollar is making it tougher to sell products profitably in our primary export market. Labour costs in low-cost regions make it difficult for some to justify keeping their manufacturing facilities here. And government regulations and controls impose even more burden on the beleaguered sector with every new law they pass. This is the time when our experienced leaders and senior managers need to leverage their skills and experiences, and apply them with renewed passion and intelligent pace. It is a time for innovation, experience, commitment, good planning and determined effort. From the top of the organization to the bottom, there is simply no room for placeholders on the organizational chart these days.
Now is the time to ask yourself: Who are you and what has your recent performance been like?
Paul Hogendoorn is president of OES, Inc. and chair of the London Region Manufacturing Council. He can be reached at email@example.com. For more information about the LRMC, visit www.manufacturinglondon.com.”