Whitmor/Wirenetics: Old-school lessons still apply today

Whitmor/Wirenetics: Old-school lessons still apply today

Founded in 1958 by Howard Weiss, father of current president Michael Weiss, the company was located originally in North Hollywood, supplying wire products to the then-fledgling aerospace industry. Today the company provides specialty cables to industry leaders Boeing and SpaceX, among many others.

But this story isn’t about the founding of the company nor the growth and expansion to more than 100 employees and transition from the founder to the son, or the addition of other family members into the business.

Our focus is on the lessons Michael Weiss learned during his adult journey. It spans his decades from a young man just out of high school who joined the U.S. Navy before going to work with his father in the business. Today, he’s a man with retirement on the horizon.

When I sat down with Michael, I asked him to provide me with what he would like to share with his fellow business owners and leaders in the Santa Clarita Valley. Here is what he related as to the lessons he learned along his journey.

  1. Know your limits. Despite what you may think as the owner, you don’t know everything. As hard as it may be, try to keep your mouth closed more than you have it open; and in particular, keep your eyes and ears open to really understand what is taking place not just in your company but your industry.
  2. Worrying is your job. Worrying is the job of the owner because no one else does. As the owner, you have it all on the line. As an employee, a paycheck and benefits are usually the only things on the line. However, owners own all risks, big and small, and that is the source of the worry.
  3. Listen! Listening is key. Most owners don’t do it well or often enough. They dominate meetings by talking too much and don’t ask enough questions or the right questions and when they do, they don’t often listen long enough or hard enough to grasp what are the real issues are.
  4. Respect your employees. What we see today is families where both adults in the household have to work. That means many decisions made are economic ones, often related to raising children and all that is entailed with regards to school, doctors appointments and illnesses.
  5. Keep communicating. Frequent communication to all employees is critical. People don’t want to know just what’s been decided, they also want to know why those decisions were made. Whatever the message is, it has to be repeated enough times so that everyone understands what is being said.
  6. Don’t be cheap. Don’t trip over dollars to pick up pennies. Cheaper isn’t always better; most of the time it is worse. It doesn’t matter what the expense category is; cell phones, office supplies, technology, or services to operate your business; don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Spend where necessary to get the quality required.
  7. Set the right price. An idiot can sell on low price. It’s up to the seller to provide the right combination of quality and service with a price level that works for the buyer. This requires educating buyers who often do not have all the information they need to make the best decision. It’s a process and takes time and effort but it’s by putting in the time and effort you build relationships that can last years.
  8. Sales people are not made; they are born.
  9. See beyond the first impression. Don’t be disappointed when you find out you’ve made a bad choice when it comes to people. Job candidates put their best foot forward when they are searching for work. Set up multiple interviews to give your company the best chance to get to meet and know the real person.
  10. Tend to your vendors. Explore vendor relationships at every opportunity, because it sets you apart from most of the competition. It also moves your company from being a provider of commodities and puts you into a league of top partnerships with your clients.
  11. If appropriate, get certified. Wirenetics is ISO 9001-2000 and AS9100-C certified, which makes a difference to clients. It also sets an internal standard for everyone in the company to reach for. Having these certifications makes a better, stronger company.
  12. Support your industry. Michael strongly believes that every company should belong to, and actively participate in, their trade association. It’s a source of ideas and support. For his tenure and contributions to the Wire and Cable Manufacturers Alliance, the Charles Scott Award was given to Michael in 2008.

Most folks in business understand how tenuous the lifespan of a family-owned business can be. The average lifespan of a family owned business is 24 years, according to the Family Business Center. Only 40 percent of businesses make the leap from the founder to the second generation, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

What made the difference in Michael’s life were the four years he served in the Navy. He told me he learned that it was there he learned to play well with others. He has observed that this is a tendency that’s missing from the makeup of many workers today.

The Navy showed Michael their way to get people aligned, assign them a role, provide corresponding responsibilities, to work as a team to achieve team goals.

Michael said that the one question he has worked hard to answer, is “How do you make people care about what they do?” He said that since 1972, the answers have been eluding him but he hasn’t given up hope of finding the answer.

Ken Keller is an executive coach who works with small and midsize B2B company owners, CEOs and entrepreneurs. He facilitates formal top executive peer groups for business expansion, including revenue growth, improved internal efficiencies, and greater profitability. Please contact him at Ken.Keller@StrategicAdvisoryBoards.com. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The SCVBJ.

 

 

 

 

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