Jason Howey, president and CEO of Okay Industries, Inc., New Berlin, CT, which engineers and manufactures components and subassemblies for OEMs in the medical, surgical and other precision specialty markets:
Three years ago, I read The Advantage, by Patrick Lencioni, and then asked my entire senior leadership team to read it as well. Culture is the most important part of running a business, and Lencioni preaches in this book that the team comes before the individual. It also stresses that toxic people are exactly that, and that there’s no room for toxicity in the organization. So, at Okay we hold people accountable not just for their performance related to the technical aspects of their job, but also for their behavior. The best way to get rid of your best talent is by tolerating those that behave poorly.
Q: What is the biggest challenge that you face as a company leader?
Fellinger: Establishing the long-term priorities for the business and ensuring that we have enough resources dedicated to accomplishing those priorities. I’ve been at the company for 17 yr. and president and CEO for the last 4 yr., and since I became president, our priorities have changed significantly to meet the big changes coming in our industry in 2023. That’s when all-new residential central air-conditioning and air-source heat-pump systems sold in the United States will be required to meet new minimum energy-efficiency standards, so we’ve been very focused on changing directions from a product standpoint. We’re engineering a different-style fan that requires us to retool many of our facilities. It’s a big investment, and we also anticipate further regulations that haven’t yet been finalized.
Howey: Without question our biggest challenge is the battle for talent. So, we greatly value retention, again by focusing on culture. We have a good onboarding system that includes assigning existing employees to new hires to, among other things, teach them all about our culture and values. We also create cross-functional mini teams that work together on customer-focused collaborative projects.
The way we see it, employees have two reasons for being here—to either service the customer, or to help us satisfy regulations (OSHA, medical, etc.). As most of us are here to service the customers, we believe that we do that best if we do it together.
Q: What are two things that you believe your company is doing well? What’s one thing that you wish you could change?
Fellinger: I’m proud of our level of customer service, and our consistent financial stability. I’m working on changing the way that we engage employees so that everyone understands their essential and positive contribution to their own success and to the success of the business.
Over time the level of participation in our customer-satisfaction surveys has fallen, so lately our focus has been on conducting the surveys via in-person interviews. We make sure to ask them for sincere and honest feedback so that we can make the necessary improvements, and this approach has been very successful.
Howey: We’re excelling in the new-product-development process. In 2019 we created a small division within the company called NexTech Labs, with a small sniper team of dedicated people to partner with customers and collaborate with them to bring new medical devices to market. We added state-of-the-art prototyping and process-development equipment to a dedicated space, with equipment, resources and staff who work collaboratively with customers.
Where can we improve? Despite a lot of success with automation, I wish that we could do more and do it faster. We’ve automated much of our assembly processes using vision systems and pick-and-place robotics and see automation as delivering a trifecta of benefits—safety, quality and productivity.