We constantly focus on identifying production and process constraints to help optimize throughput, while including our front-line people to help develop creative solutions. A significant example of this dates back a few years when we looked at reducing changeover time on one of our laser-welding cells. We took each of the eight functional stations of the cell and, working systematically and starting at the station with the longest setup time, managed to reduce cell setup time from 10 hr. down to 20 min.
Another great book I reference often to friends and coworkers, and which was recommended to me by members of my PMA CEO networking group, is Arthur Herman’s “Freedom’s Forge.” It describes how General Motors’ executive Bill Knudsen and shipbuilder Henry Kaiser helped bring together leaders of several U.S. business to support the U.S. Army during World War II. I think our country could use this type of leadership right now, as the book illustrates how you can bring together diverse entities such as GM and Chrysler, Boeing and Lockheed, and GE and Frigidaire, to work toward a common cause for the better of the country.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you face as a company leader?
Adler: For the past couple of years, it’s been related to personnel management—not only keeping our existing people motivated and engaged in their work, but all of the time and effort spent trying to add to our core employee base. During COVID, we had to get creative to incentivize several healthy workers to show up for work, even when they knew they would be paid if they stayed home. We created a bonus pool of PPP money to incentivize attendance, and several of our operators earned $4000 bonus checks for good attendance over a 2.5-mo. period, as we continued to ship 100-percent on-time deliveries.
In addition, to help grow our labor pool with new employees, we recently have hired a few Congolese refugees, one of whom does not speak English. We had a bilingual spouse spend a half-day providing some initial training, and since have used Google translate to help integrate them into our team.
Q: What are two or three of the most important things you look for in a mid-level manager?
Adler: I really want our supervisors and management team to be good listeners. Employees need to feel comfortable in bringing up “bad news” or problems, rather than burying them. You need to know where to “put the hose on the fire” before a problem becomes critical.
I want everyone—but especially our supervisors and managers—to view problems and opportunities as if they’re an owner of the business. And I want our managers to be consistent and fair when applying coaching techniques and offering praise.
Q: What are two things that you believe your company is doing well? What's one thing that you wish you could change?
Adler: The Stripmatic team has excelled at taking a standard piece of equipment and customizing it to maximize its efficiency and tolerance capabilities. We’ve also been very successful at adopting new technologies, such as laser welding and automated part handling, to help grow our niche in the fabrication of wrapped tubular shapes, to enable us to compete with suppliers of imported cut tube.
As an example, our biggest customer has been asking us for years to supply large-diameter rings, and to reshore that work we’ll soon add a Bihler highly automated, servo-driven multislide machine to which we’ve integrated a 4-kW laser-welding head into the final forming station. And on the drawing board: yet another laser-welding cell—our fifth—that we’ll use to make orbital welds and address the growing need to fabricate flanged tube assemblies for BEV frame designs. Most of these flanged parts previously had been sourced as cold-headed or machined parts from Asia, and subjected to unreliable lead times and the continually rising costs of overseas shipping.
If I could change one thing, it would be to improve our
ability to attract and retain workers, even unskilled but highly motivated
people who we could continue to grow with and would fit into our family-oriented
Q: How do you encourage and motivate your management team?
Adler: I think that simply listening is one of the keys. We always try to attack issues and challenges as a team, and I try to celebrate our wins—especially the big wins—as a team. We recently had one of those big wins, when we landed seven electric-vehicle parts from a Tier One customer.
Frequent reinforcement to let people know they are on the right track is something that might seem small but is very important. In some cases, I will close the office early on a Friday, especially during the summer months if we’re not slammed. I like to see our team enjoy a favorable work-life balance as a reward for going the extra mile.
Q: As technology seemingly evolves at an accelerating pace—automation, ERP/MES software, Industry 4.0, etc.—how do you and your team stay informed, and decide when to adopt new technology, or expand its use?
Adler: There is no doubt that PMA is our key resource for learning about the latest technologies, methods and processes. Much of the information we’ve collected over the years on automation, sensor technology, laser welding, robotics and vision systems came from attending the METALFORM and FABTECH tradeshows, from reading MetalForming
magazine, and from attending plant tours organized through my PMA executive
networking groups. In addition, my team
and I have attended numerous PMA technical seminars to help make us a better
company and give us that competitive advantage.
Q: I assume it can be “lonely at the top” for you at times. How do you relax, release your stress and rise above the endless list of problems you have to deal with each day? What’s the last concert you attended?
Adler: I can’t say that Cleveland sports relax me or even relieve stress for that matter, but I am a die-hard fan of the Cleveland baseball team, the Browns, and my high-school sports teams. My real stress release is to fly fish, fish on Lake Erie or shoot sporting clays at my local gun club. There’s also nothing like sitting on the top deck of our lake house at night with a cigar and an adult beverage with our good friends or kids.
My last concert? An Irish rock band called Gaelic Storm (who played in the movie “Titanic”). And every Christmas I attend an annual holiday concert at Severance Hall performed by the Cleveland Orchestra and Choir. That’s always an incredible way to kick off the holiday season!