The Manufacturing Executive
The Manufacturing Executive

Episode · 1 year ago

Restoring Glory and Dignity to Manufacturing w/ John Kramer and Marc Braun


Would you rather focus on people or profitability in your business?

You can’t have it all.

But maybe you can…

Maybe people and profitability go hand in hand, and each makes the other stronger.

In this episode of The Manufacturing Executive, I talk with John Kramer, Chairman & CEO at Cambridge Air Solutions, 
and Marc Braun, President at Cambridge Air Solutions, about what it means to restore glory and dignity to manufacturing through both culture and business practices.

We also talked about:

  • How to build a culture that celebrates people.
  • How profitability fits in with a people-first culture
  • How to adapt to crises in a way that cares for people and drives business forward.

Subscribe to The Manufacturing Executive on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or our website.

Manufacturing is this beautiful space where you can come and learn and grow and you can learn how to problem solve, you can learn how to make things that are of value and you can make those for the world. And so inside of manufacturing, if we can do this, if we can restore glory and dignity inside of the hearts and minds of all of the adults here that are listening, that can pour into that next generation of leader, then all the ships rise with that. Welcome to the manufacturing executive podcast, where we explore the strategies and experiences that are driving midsize manufacturers forward. Here you'll discover new insights from passionate manufacturing leaders who have compelling stories to share about their successes and struggles, and you'll learn from B tob sales and marketing experts about how to apply actionable business development strategies inside your business. Let's get into the show. Welcome to another episode of the Manufacturing Executive podcast. I'm Joe Sullivan, your host and a CO founder of the Industrial Marketing Agency guerrilla. Seventy six people are profitability. Which one is it going to be with your manufacturing organization? Because you can't have it all right. Or maybe you can. In fact, maybe those two things can go hand in hand, maybe each can actually make the other stronger. Today I'm talking with two business leaders from an organization that's built a profitable business and an incredibly engaged and loyal workforce side by side, and these two are about to share their experiences from what they describe as a journey to restore glory and dignity to manufacturing. So let me take a moment to introduce them. John Kramer currently serves as the chairman and CEO of Cambridge Air Solutions, headquartered just outside of St Louis in Chesterfield, Missouri. Cambridge is a second generation family owned manufacturing business founded by the Kramer family, with a rich fifty five year history. John Strives to build a people centric culture at Cambridge where growth of the people and organizational health drive healthy, sustainable business growth and where every employee goes home better than they arrived. John has been open about his faith in God with the Cambridge Team and considers himself blessed beyond measure. Cambridge Corps values include demonstrating unconditional love for each even when setting high expectations for growth. Ultimately, John Has a vision to restore glory and dignity to manufacturing in the US and beyond. Mark Braun joined the Cambridge at family in April two thousand and eight as the VP of operations. Mark has also served as Executive v fee of sales and marketing and in two thousand and seventeen was promoted to president. Through marks leadership at Cambridge, has been able to set Strang to g that works on the internal and external growth of the organization. Organizational health is everything and Mark's goals for the organization are to double sales and five years through healthy and sustainable growth by holding employees to the highest of expectations and to love them unconditionally. John and mark, welcome to the show. Thanks you. It's great to be with here. Well, guys, it's always great when I get to highlight another St Louis Area Company on the show. I've been able to do that handful of times and this first year of this podcast, and always makes me feel proud of the city. So say, Louis is a freaking awesome town. Awesome it is. It's been good to me. I didn't grow up here, I grew up in Milwaukee. I want up down here for college and I always tell people I've I met my wife right after college and learned years later that St Louis Girls don't leave Saint Louis. So I've built my life here as an adult and I've lived here more than half my life now. And and yeah, I love it. It's really the cities. You might be better at sales than you think. I think that is fair to say. So yes, yes, Great. Well, well, guys, we probably could have zeroed in on a number of different topics for this conversation today, but when the three...

...of US chatted a few weeks ago to flush something out for this episode, one thing that we talked about kind of stood out to me, and that was this idea you talked about related to restoring glory and dignity to manufacturing. So we're going to dive deep on this topic today and in particular how the concept comes to life through people and culture inside of a manufacturing organization. But I'm hoping you guys could kick things off by just telling our listeners at a very high level, what exactly does that mean when you say restoring glory and dignity to manufacturing? Jo That's good question. Let me start out with that. I is is growing up. I grew up in the manufacturing did a little bit of manufacturing and being in sales, I got to travel and see all over manufacturing firsthand and I fell in love with the people and and building a product, building some and as I continue to travel and journey and seek world class I ended up going to Japan, actually been there three times, and being Pashi about lean and operational excellence, did a deep die and what I was trained and saw and schools and books is all about lean and people. Is about efficiencies and profitability and somebody else is a smarter person room, they get a degree and they tell people what to do and you come to work one day and and your next day and your whole workstation's change, and I didn't see that as really helping people threaten. And so in Japan, what I really saw and learned was there's a in Toyota learning, studying them, toyter production system. There's a deep respect people, okay for the environment, the people, but that's what that was missing as an Ahah. And so how can we teach people what mean is and teach weights, you know, and so for me it's we want to teach people what are the waste. What are they responsi before, what is their span of control, because I'm always thought your you're the managers, provide, you the president, you're going to be the smarst person. We get to tell people do and how to do it, and that's kind of heavy and then wears you out. And what I saw is when we teach people and give them time and space to make improvements, to create more value for them, they go home being better mother's, Father's, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. They have the ideas, they can impacted. So there's a whole span of control that they have and that, to me, is a big part of this where they can threaten when people thrives, family thrive, community thrives and cities thrive. I love the idea behind all of that. It's a great mission and and just way of operating. Can you put that in contact for our listeners a little bit in relation to what Cambridge actually does? Yeah, I can take this one, Joe. So Cambridge, as you heard, was a family owned business. We actually help leaders in manufacturing and distribution create healthy working environments for the people and you know, I think there's whenever I walked in to manufacturing. It wasn't my background. Discreet manufacturing was my background and John was so passionate about it and he wanted everyone to be on one team. You know, when you think about glory and dignity to manufacturing. He wanted everyone to feel like their job matter. And what was interesting is a lot of places we go the comfort in the facilities it's either too cold in the winter or too hot in the summer, and then you go into the offices and it's exactly the perfect temperature all the way through and through. And it's just one example of the barriers and the blocks, the building blocks between those in the plant compared to those in the office. And so you think about glory and dignity, one example of that is how do we make it comfortable for everybody to work? How do we do that? And so our equipment is designed specifically for that and that's one way we can help the manufacturing sector do that. I mean the other is culturally and being able to help them see a different way to treat employees where you get the best out of every...

...single person. How do you get the problem solving mind, the genius out of every level of the organization? People on the front line have the best problem solving capability of their processes that they own. And so how do you do that? Are An ongoing basis, and so that's another example of how you do that. So we do that on both sides, helping manufacturers inspired and encourage them on the cultural side and also helping them solve the comfort problems in their plants and get them on a better path forward, which has impact on their productivity and and on their dignity. Well, on that topic of culture, you guys have talked to me about the idea of building a culture that celebrates people. So can you go a little deeper on that? What's that mean to you? Why is that's important? So thirteen years ago John invited me in to the organization. He sat down with me and he told me as vision of he wanted to build a growth based business that celebrate people. He wanted all the beautiful values of his family to be held on to while we built a growth based business together, and some of the tangible ways that looks like today. So we set aside forty five minutes of our production out of a ten hour shift to just focus on the growth of our people. There's two sections to that. One is a fifteen minute we call it a morning meeting and everybody in the whole organization is there. It's a different person leads by volunteer every single day, and so anybody in the organization can lead that meeting and they we look at the company metrics, but we also celebrate what people are grateful for and how their life is going. They can teach us something that they want to teach us. They can share improvements that they're working on in their own processes and we've got a thirty minute section of that forty minute time where their only goal is to improve their job. We set it aside. We call it leaning clean time, and so their job during that time is to make improvements to the work processes, and so they spend that time collaborating with each other and figuring out how to make their processes faster or simpler or easier to do or safer or better for the client, and so they keep on working on those every single day and then we let them share those improvements in a unique way in those morning meetings. The next day they take a quick selfie video of that and they share those videos with us the next day. So we get to see the improvements that were made the day before by all the employments throughout the organization. So that's a tangible way that we celebrate the people inside of Cambridge and the number of people that grow during that morning meeting and the leaning clean time. It's just so fun to watch them grow and learn and celebrate what they're improving. That's really cool. It's something sounds like something very unique to me. I haven't really heard this from other other manufacturing leaders. Is it how to how well? Do People respond really well to this inside the organization? Yeah, they do it. It comes from I'll actually let John share how it came in. But if his investment in myself and all of us to be able to be exposed outside of the organizations to best practices and we all just steal from other manufacturers. We borrow their best practices, and so John Tell them how that came about or what that was from, is really fun. But I have a friend, Paul Acres, who wrote the book to Second Lean and he's was really brilliant. People that synthesize down the suppliciat toy, re production, toy to production systems and talk about what are the eight wastes and really they are overproduction, transportation, inventory defects, over processing, emotion and, the worst of the ways, unused employee genius. And here's where we like to camp out. You're doing the work, you know where it's where are, where's your struggle? Where's your string? Already say fix up bugs, and so we exposed some of our team to that, more of our team to that, and came back excited. And then also Durn leaning clean. We have teams to clean the bathrooms and so it's very common that you'll see a mark from yourself. Are there seeing your leaders clean the bathrooms of other people, having time. You get to know people, you get you know you don't get to talk to all the time. We get to work with them and where you cleaning here? What's your story, what's happening? What you do this weekend? What's your hobby or whatever? So it's just a different way... live life and get to know people as your humanizing work. That I just love because he's a real people just like me and and they got all the same problems I do. You know kids, aging parents, you know marriage, all sorts of stuff, and yet we're able to live it together and just different ways to celebrate it and also so I guess it was about six years ago, Joe that John sent three leaders out to actually see two second lean in action. That that book that he mentioned from Paul Acres, and so they got to see it in action and they had a morning meeting and a dedicated time of improvement. So they came back excited about the potential for that and we looked at it as a executive team and said Hey, you go for it, if you want to try this inside of operations, let's figure it out. And so that started, I guess, in two thousand and fifteen, and we've had a morning meeting every single day since that time and we've documented by by video over sevenzero improvements made throughout the company all across areas. It's just unbelievable to see the improvements and those all add to the ability to deliver profitable value to the client and so our clients get better delivery, better quality. That our cost and our teams are just lit on fire on half on having fun improvement things growing right in front of our eyes. You guys. It's really cool to hear that. And my next question here I had prepared. I'm going to phrase it a little bit differently, just based on what you've told me here. But you know, so many companies are about profitability at all costs and would probably listen to some of the things that you're saying and say, well, you know, we're we needed to run a profitable company like we that needs to come first, and I think what I'm gathering from you guys is that's almost a product of this way of operating rather than you know, I was gonna see how do you find balance between these things, but it seems like they kind of go hand in hand. So I'll let you guys kind of, you know, address that how you'd like to, but really it's, you know, how do you find a balance and how does profitability fit in with this? People first culture. In a nutshell, we also celebrate winning together. I grew up with gre gracious parents, grandparents and giving learning, and so I always love it defining winning together. So we do have a quarterly incentive. We make a profit and everybody gets a part of that every quarter because we want celebring winning together and it builds on that. And then when we went through covid it was really, really hard time, but we we go to care after our people to make sure that they're doing well and thriving. And and yet we held everybody together and we powered through it when they saw a lot of their peers, their friends, their companies had other different responses, and so just makes you happy to see people able to thrive and grow, particularly when you have critical infrastructure that you're trying to build it, but to give them a reason why. And so it's big part of that is celebrating and the people. Yeah, Joe, I think it's so interesting. You know, this question comes up a lot about you know, is it about profits or is it about people? And I actually think it's what I would call a false choice, you know, the idea that most people believe that you have to live in an either or world where you choose between two things. And so I think manufacturing leaders. One of the attractive pieces for me for manufacturing is that we lead a diverse group of people. Every manufacturer has folks from the front line all the way up and in every type of field, engineers, sales, marketing, manufacturing service, and all of those have a lot of diverse ideas about what is important in life. And so what we want to do is to be able to lead a unified group towards a common goal. And it's above it's above those two things. It's actually the purpose. has to combine both profitability and care for people. That's what is critical and it's we talked about it all the time. When we went into covid there were...

...people yelling that we had to keep people safe, and you heard those yells loudly out in the marketplace. There were people yelling that we had to keep business open, and they were loud about it. And we decided to do both. We said we have to keep people safe and we have to keep the business running. There's not an either or here. There's not a choice between two things. How and then then we then we asked the geniuses inside of Cambridge to figure out how we were going to do both. And so that was you when you've got a culture that says it's not an either or game. We're going to figure this out together. We have to be able to do both, care well for our people and be profitable. We have to do both. How do we do that? Well, we got to keep everybody safe and we've got to take care of our clients. How are we going to do both? And so they just went to work and just knocked it out of the park this last year. It's pretty cool. Well, I was going to ask you about kind of Covid and you know, the last fifteen months or so, you we're recording this in late May of two thousand and twenty one. Seems like we're starting to crawl out of this thing. I guess that's still to be seen, but you know, it's it's looking brighter. So how have you guys managed to me? You've kind of given me an example there, but what have you done to to, you know, not only stay afloat, but to continue to move the business forward and other things you've learned that you're going to carry into the future, even beyond this pandemic? I think real quick first of all is keeping our daily rhythms. Are Warning meeting. We went virtual right away and that kept a sense of normality here and we then we started inviting other visitors, are customers, in with us, to go to join us and see. I think that's really, really important as we navigate, because everybody has, you know, your home situations, school situations and all, and so I think that was one of the most important things, is trying to keep and working and keeping the daily rhythms that morning meeting and specific and then having an incredible covid team that collaborated other companies to share best ideas of practices. Yeah, I think the inspiring part. You know, you watch what human resilience can can bring. I mean the what challenge, whenever thrown in front of a group, can do for growth. And so I'll share some of the internal stuff. But, but, but, before I do that, I just want to share the manufacturing community has such, has been such an amazing collective group this last year. So an example of that, there's twenty two manufacturers in St Louis Who are part of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence Consortium in St Louis. And we started moving. What? What? What? In Times of crisis, the couple things you do you increase frequency of communication and meetings instead of decrease so that you can communicate. Because changes were happening rapidly across all of our companies. All twenty two of us were like, holy cow, what is going to happen? Right, and so we started collaborating and helping each other with rapid changes for safety protocols and for systems that are going on inside and for you know, the legal world is all changing drastically. The amount of decisions we had to make in those first three months coming into covid I mean I think we're making massive decisions every week, and so we partnered with all the manufacturers in St Louis and said we're going to get together weekly and share what decisions were making so that we can hear them from the people, directly, from the presidents, directly from the h our leaders, directly from the operational leaders, to say what are you doing right now, and then we would adjust our plan because they were making decisions in one area really well, but we were making another area really well. It was so complex that we needed everybody up and running, and so that collaboration, I believe in manufacturing is better than in any other industry I've ever seen and I'm just excited about the St Louis Region for doing that so well over this time and we couldn't have made it through without them. Internally, we had to do the same thing, increase frequency of communication. So if we were meeting weeklies, we moved those two Bi weekly, if we were meeting daily, we kept them daily because we had to be able to talk all the time because things were changing so rapidly. We set three level, three high level...

...goals. One was the safety plus continued operations. The second one was around cash conservation. We wanted to make sure that we did we had as much leeway as possible without having to make any payroll adjustments, and we were successful. Thank you. Thank you to all the powers that be for being able to not have to make any payroll changes. So we re made it without a layoffs or furloughs. And the third was to grow and innovate through this. And so the growth and innovate through that had to come out of after you dealt with the safety issues and the client you had to be able to grow above and beyond that, and so our teams have learned so much. He mentioned one of them. So we started bringing manufacturers in to help share best practices about how to deal with this issue and they started learning a lot and so we said, well, let's invite more. So over the last eight months we've had just over eighteen hundred manufactory leaders come and see the daily rhythms and we've gone to see there's. They've come to see ours. One thous eighteen hundred people have come to see our morning meeting in this last eight months and that is an innovative approach to you could call it marketing if you wanted to. It's a way to share that we're in this with you and for you. And, by the way, if you'd like to make your plant comfortable, we would love to do that as well. And so being able to do that, letting them come in have a positive experience and us to pour in and some of them raise their hand and say, Hey, can you help us with our heat? Could you help us with our indoor air quality issues in our plants? Could you help us with our cooling? And we say of course we can, we can do that. So that has been an innovative growth approach. When we couldn't travel to our clients, they could come see us and we could celebrate them and grow through them. Man, that absolutely is marketing, whether you want to call it that or not, but it's the best form of marketing where you are actually doing good and helping people. They're band a fitting from it, they're learning from you and in naturally some business relationships will come from it as well. I think it's just fantastic. I'm a huge fan of content marketing and even or guerrilla marketing. Yeah, guerrilla marketing is as we called it years ago and inspired our company's name. But but you know, I the thing I always say is create value, just create focus on creating value for the people you're trying to reach and if you're doing that like the consistently good things are going to come from it. And I think what you just described as a very unique, niched way of doing that that I don't know I've really seen something quite like that before, but I think it's super smart. Well, it seems like you're doing it as well, and so you know, the idea that you're openly sharing best practice is across the platform of podcasting is one of your givebacks and it's how you can pour into the industry and help lift up and encourage, and so it comes from a deep heart of generosity that John had deep inside of him and we gets all celebrated in and pay forward and there are manufacturers around the world that we can name by name that have done it for us and we just want to keep on paying that forward. Love it. I just love the approach. I think it's really great. was there anything that we did not touch on today that you guys wish we had. I want to just kind of open it up to you here. I know that we would love, of course, for your listeners to come and visit if they would like to. They can go to tours that Cambridge arecom and come see US anytime and if they've got things that they're open to and willing to share with us, we'd love this and our teams there to learn from them. I believe that. You know, back to the glory and dignity piece, I had to be convinced by John After I got here actually that manufacturing was this beautiful, worthy cause I knew that business, I loved business and I loved people, but I didn't really have a love or passion for manufacturing. I do now. I think about the you know what, I what I view it as is, when I grew up, people were talking about manufacturing as it was the past, not the present or the future, and that it was below me and the people who were telling me. And I think about how painful that is to hear right now. I mean I...

...can feel it it deep inside bones, because it it hurts me deeply to hear that our kids are hearing that message from people and I want them to have the opposite message, that manufacturing is this beautiful space where you can come and learn and grow and you can learn how to problem solve, you can learn how to make things that are of value and you can make those for the world. And so inside of manufacturing, if we can do this, if we can restore glory and dignity inside of the hearts and minds of all of the adults here that are listening, that can pour into that next generation of leader, then all the ships rise with that. If you do it for manufacturing, all business rises from that. But if you think manufacturing is to below you, and you think gutting grass is to below you, and you think business is to below you and you think whatever it is the next thing that gets demoted in your mind and all you want to do is sit around and do nothing, it's not going to work out well. So I want the US, I want the world to know the power of manufacturing. I have bought into John's vision and I'm with him and would love to help anybody who wants to be in that space get more connected and keep on pushing forward. If they would like to start a consortia. If they'd like to be something in their community, would love to help them. I am mark. I love that. I cannot say better how you summarize that and I'm grateful for that. One of the things to is the stood journey you manufacturing granting me is is not a destination. We didn't start out well, are right, we did. We had, we have all those problems that are first meeting money, meeting who, brutal, you know, somebody had to tag team. whose days to be the encourager while trying to figure it out. But we figured out and another copy shared with us and we grew and we learn, and so we invite other people to join us that because we're there, because you're here to hear their stories, the people in the plant, for you want to hear John or mark speak. You know, we could talk all about it, but it's them, they are those stories and it's still a journey, and so the more people that join this journey, the more impact we're going to have, and it also we grow and learn from it, and and that's what's so anyways, that is enriching. You know itself. That was great, guys. I Love, love the way you wrap that up there. It's really powerful and really strong messages and well, Joe, I just love what you're doing highlighting and celebrating folks around and it's great to see your organization doing that. And you know at one more comment. You know you help people tell stories about what's already successful inside and I think the power of that we in the Midwest, in St Louis Specifically, we have a lot of people doing incredible things and if we could get them telling those stories more effectively to be able to help encourage and inspire others to take the path, I think it could really could change the community, change the world, and so thank you for what you do as well and helping people do that also. Joe. It's interesting. Many in manufacturing turnover. I think the average is sixty percent right now. Turnover. That's a different conversation of the what are why, but the realities that's what it is and and we just bumped up to ten percent and we're trying to figure it, figure it out. So there's there's something there that I'm proud about with our employees and because they are doing well, then we do well, I do well. I think it's fantastic. I completely agree with you. Well, guys, awesome conversation today. Really enjoyed this and I know if you're doing you know and bringing in a manufacturing so rich and rewarding and I'm grateful for you. Well, thank you, I appreciate that. How it's the best way for our listeners to get in touch with you and to learn more about Cambridge are are solutions. So for general inquiries, Cambridge arecom anytime,...

...anywhere. Obviously connect with us on all the social feeds on Linkedin and facebook and any of those places, but if you'd like to come and see what we're about, it's an hour and a half of your life or less and we'd love to have you as guests. And I that is at tours dot Cambridge arecom. They can go out and actually look at that. So it's fantastic. Well, guys, once again, thank you for doing this today. It was a pleasure having you on the show. Thank you, Joe, for what you do. As for the rest of you, I hope to catch you on the next episode of the Manufacturing Executive. You've been listening to the manufacturing executive podcast. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you'd like to learn more about industrial marketing and sales strategy, you'll find an ever expanding collection of articles, videos, guides and tools specifically for B Tob Manufacturers at Gorilla Seventy sixcom learn thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

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