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Brad Kuvin Brad Kuvin
Editorial Director

What Athletics Teaches Us About Business

March 26, 2021


Among the effects of the seemingly endless skills shortage plaguing U.S. manufacturers is escalating emphasis on process automation—in the office and on the shop floor. In the shop, this includes automating equipment setup and production flow, and streamlining troubleshooting and maintenance efforts. Sales of robots and cobots continue to climb, shops are showing renewed interest in cellular manufacturing, and fabricators are adding sheet-storage towers and material load and unload systems at nearly every opportunity. Also, machine controls on the shop floor now provide operators access to oodles of useful setup, operating and troubleshooting instructions and guidance. 

These capabilities fit perfectly into the management and operating philosophy preached by former college-basketball star and coach Michael Davenport, now co-owner and president of western-Michigan-based metal former Jireh Metal Products. We profile Jireh in an article beginning on page 14 of this issue of MetalForming; I’ll explain in a minute the reference to Davenport’s basketball background.

Prior to making the foray into the manufacturing world, Davenport worked as a regulatory attorney. With zero knowledge of metal forming, he explained to me, he quickly had to learn how Jireh could stand out from the competition, “and win customer awards,” he said. 

Then, building on his athletic-based leadership background, he said, “it all comes down to our team, and giving our employees the tools to succeed. I understand the value of ‘team’; I know how to build teams. We hire smart, hard-working people, and then it’s my responsibility to ensure that we have the right processes in place—the right plays called for the team—to help them outperform expectations.”

Since joining Jireh Metal Products in 2015, Davenport has sought to introduce new technology and automation to help assist his team members, “to make them more effective in a shorter period of time,” he explains. Davenport and his managers continuously prowl for the tools that will empower their operators to succeed, almost from the day they first walk onto the plant floor. As described in the article, this includes press-line controls with embedded software that provides setup, operation and troubleshooting guidance and instruction.

“That’s critical for us,” Davenport told me. “We can get new operators quickly up to speed by leveraging this technology, so that they can be effective in a short period of time.  This technology also alleviates the downtime and adjustments that occur with people who don’t fully understand the process or the equipment, quickly bridging the skill-set gap from a green operator to a skilled operator.”

Spoken like a coach, and a business leader—two roles that clearly have much in common. As an illustration, consider an Ohio University infographic (tinyurl.com/vcbdj8hx) that compares coaching to business leadership. I list a few of its theorems here; feel free to interchange the terms “player” and “employee,” and “coach” and ”manager.”

  • Successful coaching can hinge on helping players achieve their personal goals.
  • Coaches manage the process, and develop the strategies to improve team performance and advance growth opportunities for all players.
  • Coaches establish standards of effort and performance, and they keep their players safe.
  • Coaches promote growth and development—personally and as team members; they teach and communicate team goals effectively; and they constantly evaluate and adjust.
Industry-Related Terms: Forming
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms

Technologies: Management

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