In the blood: Following in our fathers’ footsteps
Jul. 18, 2016 – Since my father’s birthday usually falls within days of Father’s Day, I often reflect on the influence he’s had on my business life around this time every year. Through my conversations with other leaders in the manufacturing world, I have discovered I am clearly not alone — many of us owe our careers, and some even our businesses, to our father’s influence and role model mentoring.
My co-founder in FreePoint Technologies, Randy Hess, is a third generation co-owner of a 65-year-old manufacturing company. It was started by his grandfather, built upon by his father and uncle, and now owned and led by him along with his cousin and sister. Each generation built upon the foundations laid by the previous generation; nothing was given other than opportunity. Everything else was learned and earned.
Over the years, I have connected with quite a few other leaders that got their first taste of manufacturing from their fathers. Wes DeGier, the plant manager at Anchor Danly Cambridge, recalls being taken to work by his father as a 15-year-old one Easter Monday. Going into Anchor Machine and Manufacturing that day brought back the sounds and smells he remembers from when he tagged along on Saturdays as a young boy. His father was part of a group of visionaries who purchased Anchor Machine and Manufacturing a couple of years previous. Wes states, “when I showed up for my first day of work at Anchor, I knew I was where I should be.”
The manufacturing workplace is a multi-sensory experience. Each workday is filled with a sense of accomplishment — things get done, built and shipped. Thirty-five years later, he, along with three brothers and one brother-in-law at Anchor Danly, have made manufacturing their careers. It’s a tactile kind of satisfaction few other careers can offer.
Ben Whitney is a third generation owner of Armo Tool (near London, Ont.), and Jamie Bowman is the third generation owner of J.P. Bowman (of Brantford, Ont.). They have a lot in common, including now employing people that remember them when they were just kids. Both of them have told me they felt the onus was on them to earn the respect of the people that were there before them, and not the other way around. Ben told me he was never encouraged to take over the business, but was actually encouraged to stay in school and find work elsewhere. He did work there part-time as a young boy though, and that was enough to be bitten by the manufacturing bug. After graduating and working in a different company for awhile, he came back ‘home’ to work at Armo. Similar to Randy’s story, Ben and Jamie built by evolving and expanding the vision, while adhering steadfastly to the values passed down. Times were sometimes tough, and sometimes so were the decisions, but they navigated through with the skills they were taught or learned along the way.
Andy Mavrokefalos is the founder of Attica Manufacturing. He also credits his father as being the primary influence in his decision to make manufacturing his career of choice. Sometimes the influence that extends from father to son is spoken, but most often it is modelled. Such was the case with mine.
My father was instrumental in building Danfoss Canada and it was there I experienced my first taste of manufacturing. Similar to Wes’s first experience, I can still recall it vividly, including the tasks I took the most pride in (assembling motor starters), and the ones I hated the most (sandblasting bulbs). At times, I was convinced my dad made sure I got all the crumby jobs just to make sure no one would think I got preferential treatment. But at the end of every day, whether it was a task I liked or hated, there was always the feeling of having accomplished something. Not every career comes with that.
Like the fathers of everyone else here, my dad worked far more than 40 hours a week, often taking his work home with him. It was more than a job or to just make a living; it was an important part of his life. I could see he found it satisfying and full of meaning. Through the company, he was able to do other satisfying and meaningful things, and I saw that too. The company sponsored all sorts of sports teams, and created many jobs for refugees, many of whom still send expressions of thanks. This month, the parent company is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and although he’s been retired for 25 years or so, they’ve invited him to Denmark to mark the occasion with them. I couldn’t be more proud.
This column is a Father’s Day column — a way to say thanks to all the fathers, and grandfathers, that gave us an appreciation of manufacturing.
This column was originally published in the June 2016 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.