Oct. 11, 2016 – Business is an adventure, and entrepreneurship is a little adventure within the great adventure of life. Sometimes a single business trip can provide more adventure than you might otherwise experience in a whole year, or even a career — and such was my most recent business trip.
I left on a Sunday to avoid the chaos of airports typical on Monday mornings. I made it home late the following Saturday. In between, I visited 12 plants in seven cities, crossed borders four times, stayed in six different hotels, and travelled about 8,000 km. Three of the plants were in the U.S., the other 11 in Mexico. My schedule was fluid — everyday I would make my flight reservation for the next day and my hotel reservation for that night. One night, I got dropped off at a hotel in Juarez, only to find out they didn’t have my reservation, and didn’t have any rooms left either, nor did any others in the immediate area. The next day, I was making a tight connection in Monterrey and our plane was grounded after accidentally being hit by a baggage vehicle. The day after that, we followed our GPS through a weird series of twists and turns looking for a small manufacturing company, but instead ended up at the end of a donkey trail, completely lost. We needed to ask a couple of local folks to lead us back to the centre of a small town, from where we called the customer and arranged an escort. After the last customer visit on Friday, we faced what we believed was a four-hour drive to the airport in Mexico City, but that was before we factored in traffic and experienced the kind of roadside shakedown we often hear others talking about but never personally experienced.
It was just after 1 a.m. We were 2.5 hours behind due to traffic, but we were only about 30 minutes from the airport, so our spirits were picking up — just one more toll booth on the new highway, and we’d pretty much be there. Upon exiting the toll booth, several officers were doing “routine inspections,” and we were “randomly” directed to the side.
Flashlights were shone throughout the vehicle and papers thoroughly inspected. After a while, we were told we were breaking the law. For our own security, we were told, they would not let us drive between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Instead, we had to stay parked on the side of a dark highway and wait until at least 5 a.m. The officer changed tones frequently; one minute he was calm and gentle, the next he was loud and agitated. The person I was travelling with spoke Spanish and did all the talking, always respectfully. I didn’t understand a word that was spoken, but I know the impasse was eventually resolved. We made it to the hotel just after 2 a.m.
Over the years, I have had the pleasure of many other adventures in numerous countries — 18 by my last count. In Venezuela many years ago, I learned my first Spanish words, starting with the word “fuego!”. (I learned that even ahead of how to order “two beers please.”) In northern Italy, I learned the importance of communication; the jobsite engineer spoke no English and I spoke no Italian. We both spoke a little bit of French, and together, we created a serious ground loop which fried the power supplies in our newly installed systems. As we dashed through the mountains from village to village trying to find parts, the other thing I learned there was even one-armed men driving Volvo sedans really want to be driving Formula 1 cars instead.
But, in between all these crazy and zany events are a wealth of great memories and positive experiences; we were able to stitch enough of them together to build something pretty good. I am reminded that good things seldom come easily, and things that come easily are often not as good.
Manufacturing AUTOMATION is celebrating its 30th year in business this year, and I’m sure it wasn’t always easy. As a publication, its goal is to be an accurate reflection of our manufacturing industry today, to highlight and honour the people in it, and perhaps to help nudge along the future a bit as well. Even though it chronicles successes and adventures of people and companies throughout the industry, it has its own unique story, filled with ups and downs and crazy moments. It started with a vision — someone’s dreams and ideas — and from there its own adventure began. Remaining sustainable, and relevant, 30 years later is something everyone in the organization should be proud of.
As I recover from the lingering effects of my last business trip, I am busy preparing for the next one. The manufacturing industry after all, is a very “tactile” industry, and it’s important to meet people where they are at. In its own way, that’s what MA does — it meets the people in the industry, where they are at.
Congratulations, and keep it up! The adventure continues!
This column was originally published in the September 2016 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.