“Our skills were as composite engineers … but at some point, we needed a real manufacturing person to run the operations,” Reeve recalls. Bringing in a general manager opened up the company to lean processes, ISO compliance and other standards of excellence in large-scale manufacturing – standards often missing from the typical startup composite shop.
Still, adding new employees – even when absolutely necessary – is not easy to do. Lowell Miles, CEO of Miles Fiberglass and Composites, an Oregon-based fabricator of fiberglass and composite products, learned this first-hand in 1983 when he acquired another company, Tiara Spas.
“It was nearly impossible to run the operations of two facilities and two separate companies, so I needed to have a general manager at each location running the day-to-day operations so I could focus on the businesses,” he shares. It’s difficult for many startup founders, particularly in the highly-specialized composites industry, to divest any of their responsibilities to capable partners. Yet this step is necessary for growth. At a certain point, founders must begin to shift their role so that they spend more time working on the business rather than in the business.
“Some find that transition more easily than others,” Kreysler says. “I have a harder time with that. Maybe it’s because I love working in the shop and being part of the day-to-day or even minute-to-minute decisions needed to get things done. When you’d rather be in the shop, it’s harder to step back and manage an organization.”
Bringing outside experts onboard has the added advantage of alerting company founders to any potential blind spots. “The founders of the business – especially if they are the ones who invented that technology – have likely convinced themselves as to why it’s good and why it’s going to be successful,” Schofield points out. “But due to the complexity of the composites market, there are often a number of barriers to the adoption of that technology of which they’re not really quite aware.”
While finding trusted associates can be challenging, it’s equally hard for companies when a valued partner leaves. This hit home for Kreysler when his long-term business partner Serge Labesque retired several years ago. “He was a very smart guy but also an excellent craftsman. We complemented each other,” says Kreysler. “He did the fabrication design and technical stuff; I brought the work in and took care of the business details.”