Industry Watch
These are indeed interesting times, but they are not much different, or more difficult, than any other time in the last century.
Meet Sam. He's not my son-in-law, but he's certainly more than my daughter's boyfriend; he's the father of my grandson - "baby Paul," named after yours truly. I don't know what the heck to call him most of the time, except Sam, the hardest working 30-year-old I know. He has his own company installing and servicing garage doors, and for kicks (while on my sabbatical), I decided to help him out and learn his trade.
There's nothing wrong with being "different," or so we say. As parents, we try to teach our kids to be tolerant and accepting of other kids, regardless of their appearance or nationality. And when one of our own kids is feeling unconnected in their peer group, we encourage them that it's okay to be different because we all have different strengths and talents.
There is a little greasy spoon in a small port town on the Georgian Bay, a block from the town dock. It's a great place for breakfast, especially after a night spent on the boat.
Here's a column that's been brewing for, oh, let's say 25 years. Leadership is lonely. And even if you are surrounded by a great team, you should never be too surprised when you find that you are alone.
These are funny times in the manufacturing world. Though unemployment is still pretty high and many displaced manufacturing workers are unable to find work, it is still difficult to find people to fill critical manufacturing jobs. The toughest to fill are those that involve programming and industrial software.
In the last few months, I have done an extensive amount of travel to the different industrial regions in North America, including the Southeast, the Midwest, the Southwest, the "Rust Belt," Ontario and Michigan, for the purpose of building up my own company. Through my role in the London Region Manufacturing Council, I have participated in numerous roundtable discussions and have listened to industry and government leaders speak of their plans, or opinions, on rebuilding or re-igniting industries in their regions. And through it all, I see hope, sense optimism and hear about "the light at the end of the tunnel."
Sometimes I feel sorry for sales people. They get so little love. They are often underappreciated and unsupported, especially considering the importance of their jobs. They are held more accountable to expectations than pretty much everybody else in the organization. They have very visible and easily measured objectives - their sales quotas - and the level of their remuneration is often directly tied to that.  Their success (or lack of success) has an almost immediate impact in the company's well being, but they often remain islands in their companies, enigmas at best, thought of as cowboys, lone wolves or one-man bands. From my experience, the engineering department sometimes dislikes them because (in their opinion) the sales person overpromises the product's performance; the production department has disagreements with them because the delivery dates are too aggressive; management wants higher margins; and the administration department is frustrated by the paperwork, or lack thereof. The bottom line is that the sales person comes into every meeting within the company as the sole voice of the customer, advocating for them for the performance they expect, the price they want to pay, and the delivery date they require.  A couple of years ago, this all became clear to me. I had been trying to soothe a number of mounting stresses between one of my company's best sales people and the engineering, production and administration departments. It seemed (to them) that he was bringing in nothing but problems that they had to sort out: The product in its current state couldn't do what he promised it could do; the delivery date couldn't be met without great difficulty; and the paperwork was not in the order they expected. I could sense the sales person's frustration and waning enthusiasm, and called an impromptu meeting of all the various department leaders. I knew the sales person was bringing in an order for a big and exciting new job. There were stresses, challenges and uncertainties that came with it, but there were significant growth opportunities, too. Engineering would be challenged, production would be stressed, and administration would be forced to find ways to make the paperwork work. But I recall that my "guidance" to them in that meeting was very simple and very direct: "When he comes in today with that order, I want you all to meet him at the door and shake his hand, because until somebody walks in with a purchase order, nothing important here happens." The truth is that there is no need to design something or produce something unless somebody wants to buy something. Until somebody brings in an order, there's no need for any administrative effort; there's no need for anybody else at all. I have come to conclude that there are two definite indicators of a "true" sales person: The first is that they are the people who bring the purchase orders into your building, and the second is that they are the people who most stress your engineering, production and administration people. It is very difficult to find true sales people. If you are fortunate enough to have any of them in your organization, cheer them on and greet them at the door with a handshake and a smile, because until someone walks in with a purchase order, nothing else meaningful happens. Paul Hogendoorn is president of OES, Inc. of London, Ont., and past chair of the London Region Manufacturing Council. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
All leaders have roots, and the same is true with company leaders. They came from somewhere and advanced through the organization before they were eventually given the opportunity to lead. Their roots, and the route they took, have a big impact on their leadership style. From my observation, most company leaders started in one of three areas in the company: engineering, accounting or marketing. These are their "roots." Often, though, they start in one area and migrate to another before ascending to the top spot. This is their "route." In my own career as a company leader, I have closely followed the career paths of many role models, trying to learn good leadership habits and hoping to avoid bad ones. As I have written before, I believe the essential role of the leader pertains to two fundamental things: the vision and the values of the company. Recently, however, I have noticed a certain pattern - an alignment so to speak - in the leaders I have considered as my "good" role models and in the types of companies they lead. Their roots, and their routes, line up well with their company types.  The leaders in growth-focused companies tend to come through marketing; leaders of startup or technology companies come from engineering; and leaders of bottom line focused companies usually come from accounting. This is not always the case, but it is the prevailing one in the successful companies that I have followed as models over my career. Startup companies are usually founded by someone who believes they have a better idea about a product, or how to make a product. That company's first leader is usually the person with the initial idea, and their roots are usually in engineering or technology development. After the startup company experiences some initial successes validating its technology or product offering, it starts to aim at loftier company growth goals. When this happens, the leadership needs to transition from someone with a focus on engineering to someone with a focus on marketing. In many cases, the leader makes the transition to a marketing focus by delegating the engineering and technology development to someone else in the growing organization. Bottom line focused companies - those operating in mature marketplaces, where top line growth is not as important as profitability and sustainability - are most often led by someone with accounting roots. When head office is looking for a responsible person to oversee their operations, they are usually looking for a person that sees things the way they see them and can report to them in their terms. When a successful family-owned business transitions from the founding generation to the next, its leadership often transitions from engineering roots to accounting roots at the same time. This is because the second generation is frequently groomed to take over the business by getting a "better business education" than the founding generation believed they had (which was learning the basics the hard way). This can inadvertently change the focus from growth (marketing) or development (engineering) to simply maintaining or growing the bottom line.   Growth-focused companies need solid leadership and skills in the accounting and engineering departments, but they have to be deployed effectively and intentionally in the pursuit of the overall goal - growth. The accounting and engineering leadership can be delegated to capable people, but the person in the ultimate leadership position has to keep his or her focus on growth, and that requires marketing. Marketing is more than brand or brochures, advertising or websites. It means knowing your current and future market opportunities, and your key differentiating advantages, and then building your company in that pursuit. It also means knowing how your company is perceived in the marketplace, and how you want to be perceived, and then working to close the gap. Every part of the company that touches either the product or the customer involves marketing. It is nearly impossible to grow a company without that innate understanding, which is why the leader's "route" to the top should have gone through marketing. This is not to say that leaders don't evolve as they grow, or can't change their roles along the way. Two of my best role models were engineers when they started their businesses, but their passion for designing the business grew to eclipse their passion for designing the product, and they migrated into marketing, delegating the engineering to others. One of my role models started out as a successful accountant, but then after discovering he had a true entrepreneur's heart, he purchased and built two successful businesses by focusing on the marketing, delegating the accounting to others. When you look at a leader you admire, be sure to look at their "roots" and their "routes," too. There is much to be learned from where they started, and how they got there. Paul Hogendoorn is president of OES, Inc. of London, Ont., and past chair of the London Region Manufacturing Council. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
Earlier this year, I had dinner with the founder of one of my largest competitors. It was a unique opportunity that was arranged by a mutual customer and friend. This man (my competitor) retired from his company a few years ago, but still served as the chairman of the board. He started his company about 10 years before I started mine, but he grew it to a size 40 times larger than mine. I had much to learn from him. We spoke a lot about the early years of each of our businesses, of the challenges and successes. We also spoke a lot about "vision" and "values," and how important it was, and still is, to remain true to them. And we spoke a lot about the role of the leader to cast the vision and guide the company, making sure it stayed true to its values. But throughout the conversation, one topic threaded its way into almost every discussion - and that topic was why he started his company in the first place. It's very inspiring. He was a professor at a university in a mid-western state where the primary industry was, and still is, agriculture. Most of the students came from the region, but most left when they graduated because there was no opportunity for them to apply their education there. His initial goal was to start up a technology company that would create employment opportunities for the graduates, and then to continue growing the company through the talents and skills these graduates added. The company now employs 2,000 people. I am fortunate to have been mentored by a number of great entrepreneurial leaders, and so often the story they tell is the same. They started their company for a specific reason, and that reason had little to do with any ambition for personal wealth. Most of them left behind solid employment situations, exchanging their careers for new careers that came with great financial uncertainty, offering little more than just the opportunity to pursue their dreams. Most were pursuing business objectives that their advisors and consultants thought were doomed for failure. The other common theme among them was of failures and setbacks, and the resolve to persevere. Often the obstacles were so big and the setbacks so disheartening, it's a wonder that they carried on at all. Some might suggest that fear of failure was the thing that kept them going, but I think it was something else. I think what kept each of them going in those dark times was that, as long as the dream was alive, regardless of how near-impossible it might seem, they were not going to quit and give up hope. Fear may push us to do things we otherwise might not do. Hope, however, pulls us in the direction of our dreams, and keeps us on track. The other difference between fear and hope is that fear often causes a company to plateau when things are going well, while staying focused on the dream always stimulates growth and opportunity. The biggest take-away from the meeting with my competitor was the reminder that the dream has to be bigger than me, and it also has to be bigger than just the company's success. His dream was to create technical, high value employment opportunities for people in his region. Another mentor's dream was to leave the world a better place, environmentally, than he found it. The "experts" would all say that both of them had succeeded, but both of them would say that it's still a work in progress. That's the neat thing when our companies are founded in the pursuit of our dreams; the dreams can always propel us on to bigger and better things. On the plane ride home, I had time to reflect on my own dreams and motivations. Are my dreams still big enough, and important enough, to drive me through difficulties, or to motivate me beyond the complacency that often comes with moderate success? How about you? Are your dreams still big enough? Perhaps it's time to think of bigger goals, or to remind ourselves why we started doing whatever it is we are doing in the first place. Paul Hogendoorn is president of OES, Inc. of London, Ont., and past chair of the London Region Manufacturing Council. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
What's the magic ingredient often missing in a manufacturer's pursuit of success? Most manufacturers will not like my answer, but I think the missing link is marketing. Marketing is not just glossy brochures and a high-tech website. It is knowing what your main differentiating value is, and then conveying that message to your marketplace. A simple test to assess the health or effectiveness of your company's marketing efforts is to ask yourself the following two questions: • What do we believe are our company's key value differentiating features; and • How would our target customers (existing and desired customers) answer that question? If the answers to both questions are close, then your company has an effective marketing strategy. If they are not similar, then marketing is likely the biggest impediment to your company's growth, and perhaps even survival. A company's long-term success depends on two things more than anything else: its vision and its values. Marketing is key to making sure that the company's purported vision and values line up with the marketplace's perception of its vision and values. In this case, perception is reality. If a company says that "customer satisfaction is our number one concern," but the consensus in the marketplace is that they are just bottom line focused, their marketing is fatally flawed. What is wrong in this case? It is not that they don't have the right message, it's that they don't live the right message. The most common mistake that I see made by manufacturers is that they do very little to create or promote the awareness of their company's actual vision and values in their target marketplace, and it's their vision and values that separate them from their competition. Every purchasing decision by every customer or consumer comes down to one of, or a combination of, three things: brand, relationship and price. Brand takes into account reputation, which includes factors like quality and features. Relationship takes into account the personal contact, distribution, after-sale service and support - anything that involves personal connection with the customer. Although price is also related to marketing, the first two are completely associated with marketing. If a company has a good brand, and if it has good relationships, it doesn't have to win business on price. However, if a company does not have a good brand and its relationships are weak, it has no choice but to win on price, and only one company can win on price - the lowest bidder. My company has a scoreboard division that was successful selling to pro venues across North America, but wasn't successful in the main marketplace - elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. Although our products were good enough for the pro venues, we had no "brand" in the main market and didn't have any relationships with the target customers. The missing ingredient to success was marketing: we believed we were "the choice of the pros," but the marketplace didn't know that, and that's the only opinion that mattered. By persistently conveying this message to the marketplace through tradeshows, in our brochures and on our website, we were able to convince distributors - the people who own the relationships - that our company and our product was sufficiently different, and that difference would be enough to separate us from our competitors. Conventional logic suggests that expansion into a contracting market, with a more expensive product that competes against a half dozen established competitors, is not a recipe for success. But it was for us, thanks to marketing. We had a vision and values that were advantageously different from the rest, and accurately conveyed that message to the marketplace. Does your company have a vision and values that separate you from your competition, and is that what your customers and target customers think? If not, you need to zero in and define that message, and get that message out to your marketplace effectively. If this is your company, it doesn't need more Lean, or cost reduction, or quality improvement, or even more new product development or innovation. It needs better marketing, pure and simple. It's often a tough pill to swallow for many engineering and technically minded people who have started, or now run, most of our industrial companies; but it's true. Sorry to break the bad news. Paul Hogendoorn is president of OES, Inc. of London, Ont., and past chair of the London Region Manufacturing Council. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
While some people seem to have the Midas touch when it comes to realizing their dreams, others aren't as fortunate. It's true that sometimes the difference may be timing or luck, but more often than not, the difference is within the control of the dreamer. Here's my formula for converting dreams to realities: Dreams + Imagination = Possibilities Possibilities + Determination = Probability Probability + Planning = Realization  It's a formula I have followed nearly my whole life - in both business and personal arenas. Everything starts with dreams. It doesn't matter what company you are working for right now - a big one, a small one, a new one, or an old one, your own or somebody else's - at some point, it was just somebody's dream that was converted into a reality. Most companies continue to identify their dreams to keep all the stakeholders on the same page. It's called "their vision". Possibilities, or better put, opportunities, are a company's biggest assets. Opportunities are what you need when facing life-threatening challenges, or when looking to grow a company beyond normal organic growth. When things are going well and the order books are full, the tendency is to keep focusing on what's working well. But when the order book starts to shrink, and the future starts to look a little dimmer, that's when the company needs to draw from a healthy inventory of possibilities. Possibilities are created by applying imagination to the vision. Converting a possibility into a probability takes determination and tenacity. Some might think that planning is the next big step but, actually, it's determination. Nearly every new idea is met with resistance, skepticism, doubt and sometimes even opposition. All the planning in the world can't plan away those things. When it's a new idea that no one else has thought of before, one common reaction is that if it was such a good idea, somebody would have already done it. Another reaction is that it can't be done for the simple reason that nobody has found a way to do it. Some form of proof or base level of performance is needed, and that will take a determined effort. Think of it this way: if it was obvious and easy, others would already be doing it. Because they are not, though, indicates that it was neither obvious, nor easy. Thomas Edison reportedly failed a thousand times before finally perfecting the light bulb. Determination is the main ingredient required to convert the possibility into a probability. Planning is also important. Planning provides a roadmap that keeps you from covering the same ground again and again, or from failing to stay the course. It provides an order and method by which to effectively apply your efforts. It is also the discipline that keeps you from blindly spending all of your resources, or from failing to convert your achievements into positive commercial gains. Because imagination and determination by themselves know no boundaries, good planning is needed to make sure you don't go broke pursuing a dream you don't achieve, or to make sure you profit properly from it if you do.  Of the four ingredients listed, though, imagination and determination are the two most critical for companies today. The dreams are already captured by the company's vision, and effective planning skills can be taught, learned, hired or acquired. But imagination and determination are the unquantifiable intangibles needed for success. They can't be measured, inventoried, mandated, bought or sold. For imagination to be effective, it almost always requires determination. Imagination without determination seldom yields any positive results. Neither does sheer determination without any real imagination. In today's industrial and manufacturing world, most of the emphasis is on refining and improving the processes, protecting profitability (and even viability) in challenging times. It is a bottom line focus and considers the "realities" of the business - input costs, labour costs, competitive situations, and customer expectations. Growing the business however is a top line focus and considers the possibilities of the business - and possibilities are the result of imagination and dreams. Many dreams do become realities, more often than we realize. The proof of this is all around us. All companies that were ever started, including the one you are working for, started simply as somebody's dream.  With imagination, dreams become possibilities. With determination, possibilities become probabilities. And with good planning, probabilities can become realities. Paul Hogendoorn is president of OES Inc. and a founding member and past chair of the London Region Manufacturing Council. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
George Harrison, a Dallas Mavericks' game and a cab ride to the airport. How could these topics have anything at all to do with a column about the manufacturing industry today? The editors of this fine magazine have graciously extended me a lot of latitude over the years - let's see if they let me try to put this one together! Actually, it won't be too much of a stretch at all. In previous columns, I have written about what I believe are the three key ingredients for survival in the manufacturing industry today: adaptability, excellence and attitude. The fourth ingredient, in my mind, is "passion." Last month I was in Dallas and was watching the Mavericks play the Lakers. One of my company's divisions designs and manufactures scoreboards, and Dallas is one of "our" venues. During one break in the action, the camera spotted a couple of celebrities in attendance and put their faces on the big video board. The crowd erupted in spontaneous applause, and the celebrities smiled and waved graciously. I had no idea who they were, so I leaned over and asked a colleague sitting beside me. But, since he was in my age bracket, he was equally clueless. We started polling the people immediately around us until we got to a couple in their late teens or early twenties. "It's Beyoncé and JayZ," they said incredulously, amazed that we didn't recognize these two mega-stars. I had heard the names through my kids and, probably, some of their music too. But it wasn't "my" music, from my era - an era that I would describe as "when music mattered." I don't want to argue that music in my era was the best, or most creative, or most popular, but I think I can make a strong case that music in my era - the late 60s and early 70s - mattered more than music before it or after it. The music of that day tried to actually change the world, a truly audacious objective - and in a lot of ways, it did. There were all the songs about "peace" trying to stop the war in Vietnam; about "love," trying to change society's focus from capitalism to personal enlightenment; about a new generation coming of age, with anti-establishment protest songs heralding its arrival. And then there was George Harrison's classic two-record masterpiece, drawing our attention to the poverty and misery in Bangladesh. My colleague was in complete agreement with me. John Lennon, The Who, CCR - so many of the bands and musicians of that day had something important to say. It wasn't really their music that could change the world, though - it was their passion. Their music was their means of change, but the power that drove it was their passion to affect change. There are many today who suggest that the changes in the U.S.S.R. that led to the eventual dismantling of the Iron Curtain and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall began when the Beatles first toured The Soviet Union and a new generation had been awakened with a fresh sense of their own ideals, ambition and identity. Today, we have many companies in need of life-saving change. They are holding on by their fingernails, hoping for "the economy to turn around," or a life-saving concession from their workforce, or a government guarantee or bailout. But what they really need is what I wrote about in three of my previous columns - an ability to adapt quickly, a focus on excellence, and an all-inclusive change in attitudes. And, they need world-changing passion; a passion strong enough to change their world. The next morning, I took the shuttle to the airport. In a casual conversation with the driver, he told me he was from Bangladesh. "Do you know anything about Bangladesh?" he asked me. "Only what I know from George Harrison," I replied. "Oh, George Harrison," he said, breaking into a reverent smile. "He is a true hero in my country; everyone knows about him!" He went on to tell me that, in his hometown, there is a big museum dedicated solely to George Harrison, because he drew the world's attention to that country. He told me how the country has never been the same, and that there's a picture of George's face covering an entire wall. George Harrison did change their world with his music, but it was far more than his talent for writing words and creating melodies, it was his passion and commitment for that cause. Passion is what makes you go on when logic tells you to stop. Passion is what makes you deaf to unbelievers and blind to distractions. A good idea may attract people to your cause for a quick look-and-see, but passion is what keeps them there. Passion is what makes your efforts powerful beyond simple strength; it's the critical ingredient needed to change a world. Paul Hogendoorn is president of OES Inc. and a founding member and past chair of the London Region Manufacturing Council. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
Most of North America has felt the effects of the downturn in the automotive industry the last two years, but my region - Southwestern Ontario - has been hit harder than most. In fact, I have read many reports and stories about how the London region in particular has been hard hit. But it's not all bad news; it's just that it seems that the bad news is printed quicker, and more often. The other day, I needed to drive from my office to the airport to pick up a colleague. The drive took me east on Highway 401 and then north on Veterans Memorial Parkway - about 16 kilometers. It was a route I have taken many times, but on this particular day, I was more sensitive to the indications of success than I was to the evidence of failure. I noticed a Germany-based seat manufacturing company, in a bright new building with a full parking lot. Following that, I saw an American transmission part factory. And then on Veterans Memorial Parkway, I passed a brand-new food manufacturing facility, a new Korean building-materials facility, two other German Tier 1 companies, a Canadian high-tech environmental company, another advanced manufacturing Tier 1 supplier, a local, family-owned packaging company, and then at the end was an aircraft company that built airplanes entirely from composite materials. There were many apparent differences between these companies, from their places of origin - be it local or from the U.S., Europe, Asia - to the industry they were in -be that automotive, environmental, packaging, food or aircraft. But there were also many noteworthy similarities: they all appeared to be successful, despite the difficult business climate, and they all appeared to have an air of "excellence" about them. After giving that some thought, I realized that I had been in most of those facilities, and they were all concerned with the pursuit of excellence in all that they did. They were concerned about excellence in their products, in their processes, in their staff, in their staff and management relationships, in their buildings, and even in the landscaping around their buildings. Everything about them had to be "excellent"; good enough was never good enough. One company took it to such an extreme that even the shrubs in the front garden had to be the same as the exotic shrubs in the front gardens at its head office in Europe. Common sense would suggest that those would be the first things to be disregarded in a downturn. Gardens, foyers, receptionists, building appearance, etc.; none of those things add value to the product or for the customer. But the evidence, what I tuned into on that particular day, suggested otherwise. These companies weren't spending money in the pursuit of excellence because they were successful enough to afford it - it was that they were successful enough to afford it because they pursued excellence in every facet of their business. One company official told me about how visitors from head office took as much notice of the shrubs and office furniture as they did of equipment on the production floor. I guess the theory is that excellence isn't more important in some areas of the business than in others. If the gardens are well tended, then so are the relationships with the employees. If the office furniture is clean and in perfect order, then the production equipment likely is, too. It made me think of other factories I had toured in earlier years that were no longer around, and it seemed to suggest a correlation between a company's lack of attention to excellence in all areas of their business and their eventual demise. The domestic Tier 1s with the worst gardens, building maintenance and office furniture also seemed to be the factories with the most stressed employee relations and the poorest equipment conditions. And they were the first factories to be closed. So what does the pursuit of excellence really cost, even in supposedly non-critical things like gardens, parking lots and office furniture? Not much, really - maybe only a percent or two of the total revenue of the operation. But what does it return? I'd argue, "Nearly everything": morale, attitude - everybody settling for nothing short of excellence, in virtually everything they do. That's the difference between success and failure, between those London companies that have survived and thrived and all those that failed. History, recent and longer term, suggests that the pursuit of excellence in all facets of a business is a better strategy for success than even a collection of the singular goals popular today, like product quality, production efficiency and cost reductions. Partial excellence isn't excellence at all. Excellence is an attitude that has to permeate everything in order for a company to be truly excellent. Paul Hogendoorn is president of OES Inc. and a founding member and past chair of the London Region Manufacturing Council. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
How will things get done 10 years from now? And will those things even still be done here in North America? So much has changed in the last decade, and if the recent past is any indication, more will change in the next 10 years. The manufacturing industry is facing many challenges. Some of the current threats have been created by external forces, but some of them are monsters we (the industry) have created ourselves. And most of these threats are nothing more, or less, than attitudes. Some of our governments’ attitudes have led to the current weakened state of our manufacturing industry. Although most have changed their tune recently, big damage was done in the years leading up to the current crisis. In Canada, employers carry the burden of the cost of public health care, and manufacturers in particular carry a disproportionate share of the cost of our public education system. The laws in most of our jurisdictions are what many would describe as so “pro-labour,” “pro-environment” and now “pro-safety” it leaves many business owners shaking their heads, asking, “Do they think that I don’t care about my employees, or the environment, or safety?” The assumption is that without the government’s enforcement, employers aren’t interested in doing the right things. This attitude has to change — if there is to be a manufacturing industry in North America in 10 years. I believe a good case in point is the scheduled closing of the Ford plant in Talbotville (St. Thomas), Ont. I’ve read quotes from politicians suggesting that their government offered the biggest incentives they had ever offered before to keep the plant open. And I’ve read quotes from labour leaders saying that they had offered concessions that they never before had been willing to offer. The inference is that these two groups had done all they could to keep the plant open, but that despite that, the company was closing the plant anyway. My point is that if they were doing things right in the first place, you would never have to offer incentives or concessions to get a company to invest or keep it from closing. Ontario has deteriorated from a province that manufacturers chose to invest in to a province where they need incentives or concessions to keep from leaving. This slide didn’t begin two years ago; it began many years before that. Our governments need to change their attitudes about our manufacturing industry: society owes its economic well-being to this sector, it doesn’t need to be protected from it. Labour needs to change its attitude, too. Healthy manufacturers, that make a profit and that reinvest willingly, provide more meaningful jobs, and more secure jobs, than manufacturers that need artificial stimulants to do so. Companies with healthy relationships with their workforce are the ones that adapt more quickly (and more naturally, with less need of incentives) than companies with structured and more rigid relationships. The more adaptive companies are the more proactive ones, and the proactive ones are the ones on which I’d be more comfortable betting my family’s future income. Companies need to change their attitudes, too. Too many companies have placed too much control in the hands of the purchasing department. The engineering department is usually responsible for creating the product that differentiates the company from its competitors, and sometimes for the company’s formation in the first place. And the sales and marketing departments are responsible for the company’s brand acceptance, and for the relationship with the group that matters the most: the customers. Despite this, the purchasing department often has power disproportionate to its real importance in the organization. If cost truly is king (and not a product, or innovation, or customer satisfaction, or anything else), then it becomes a race to the bottom. When nothing has value except cost, we all lose eventually. (Some faster than others, but we will all lose.) Yes, these are challenging times, with many things outside of our control: the economy in general, the value of the dollar, consumer confidence, the cost of energy. If we want to, none of us will have any difficulty finding a reason beyond our control to explain a failure. The government can point to its prime culprits, the economic crisis or other levels of government; labour will point to bad companies or bad government policies, or both; companies will point to foreign competition, or unfair government policies, or shareholder expectations. But the bottom line is, there is no future for anyone by hanging on to these excuses. If we are to have a healthy manufacturing industry in 10 years time, it will be as simple as — or as difficult as — changing our attitudes. Paul Hogendoorn is president of OES Inc. and a founding member and past chair of the London Region Manufacturing Council. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
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