Reman folks are a different bunch. Just put us together at a trade show or industry event and we act like Trekkies at a Star Trek convention. We have our own language, our own style (we wear jeans because we are in a dirty business, and we like it), and our own approach to life. I for one have never seen myself as one of those guys in a sexy industry or that what I do can have a lasting improvement to all of humanity. I’m ok with making a living on others junk. I love what I do, and have no desire to do anything else. I don’t want to design new electronic modules; I just want to fix old, broken ones. If we are anything in this industry, we are a proud people because most of us have been told time and time again that what we are doing “can’t be done,” and we do it every day.
Ah, pride and reman – a dangerous elixir. On the one hand, why shouldn’t we take pride in what we do and have done as individuals and as an industry? We’ve done things maybe we didn’t even think we could do at the start, but with enough time, money, and most importantly desire, we accomplished the impossible. We’ve all been taught that many will say things can’t be done, but we’ve learned to ignore that and forge ahead to the goal. We’ve been taught to think differently. We’ve been taught that failure is not an option. We’ve been taught that if it was easy, everyone would do it. If it wasn’t for these founding fathers/teachers of reman, most of us wouldn’t be here.
On the other hand, pride can lead to bad decision making. For most remanufacturers, cash is king. As much as technical failure is not an option, project failure is also not an option as there is only a precious amount of that limited resource call cash. As a young reman engineer, whenever I questioned why we were doing something, I was told, “We went to the moon didn’t we? Anything can be done.” Over the years I realized that statement was not an answer to my question. I was beginning to think about the business implications and not just how much fun of an engineering project it would be. Sure we went to the moon, but why? I was born that year, 1969, so I can’t say that I completely understand the geopolitical happenings of the day, but from what I can deduce from textbooks, we went to the moon simply to beat the Russians there. We were a focused nation; money was no object, resources were no object. The objective was clear. With limited time, but unlimited money and desire, we did it. We beat the Russians. As someone from the next generation, I again ask, “why?” Pretty expensive rock collection mission, although I was very thankful as a kid for Tang.
As a budding business thinker I forged destined to make sound decisions no matter how much pride I had to swallow. Now, as a much older, wiser reman lifer I was reminded that we are all susceptible to the trappings of wanting to prove we can do something nobody think is possible. Several years ago I was confronted with one of those defining reman moments. Those of you that have been in the industry from some time will know what I’m talking about. My division was small but growing quickly and I was riding the wave, when it happened. I was on a phone conference with an engineer and he said it. He said it with such flair, such conviction, such arrogance that the reman hairs on the back of my neck literally stood up. The “IT”? “Russ, what you are suggesting is impossible – it can’t be done and furthermore, I forbid you to even attempt to reman our part. You could face a lawsuit if you continue with this train of thought.” Wow! I can honestly say that I have never heard that before. The “it can’t be done” sure, the “it’s illegal to reman our part” absolutely, but never a forbiddance. I was speechless, and for those who know me – not an easy thing to do. What did I do? I weighed the business parameters? I analyzed the data to see if this was the right thing to do? I pulled my direct report staff together to illicit feedback on the prudent response and approach? Nope! I did what any blue blooded American reman professionally would do. As soon as the phone conference was over, I called in my direct report staff and gave clear specific direction. “You are all to drop every project that you are working on and work on this product. Money is not a constraint, resources are not a constraint. I want weekly updates. Failure is not an option.” I wasn’t just fighting for my reputation; I was going to battle for all remanufacturers globally. No one “phones” into our house and tells us what we can or can’t work on.
Several months later after a textbook development and implementation process where we exceeded all my expectations for volume and profit, one of my direct reports quietly and respectfully asked to talk to me in private. He had one question regarding the previous project, “Why? Why would we risk so much on this project. If we couldn’t solve the technical problems or the replacement parts put us upside down on the financials, it could have crippled our business. We may have even needed to do some layoffs, so I just want to understand what you saw that none of us did.” I sat there quietly thinking of all the good leadership things I could say, or how I could have promulgated my legend by telling him that business is a mix of gut and data and that my gut is pretty good when it comes to these things. I knew the truth though. I knew down deep inside I let pride get in the way of good sound decision making. I had become what I determined not to be. So I did what I would have wanted from my leader. I looked him straight in the eye and told him, “I blew it! I was wrong to let my pride and arrogance get in the way of good business decision making.” I told him the circumstances that led up to me calling them together and giving that ridiculous direction. In hindsight, we may have made the same decision to move the project forward, but under better constraints so that if, at a certain time, it exceeded a constraint, we would re-evaluate and potentially kill it.
It ended up being a great conversation and he and I had many more discussions since on decision making with limited information. Don’t get me wrong, as leaders, many times we have to make difficult decision with limited data, but our motives should be business-pure. The moment pride and ego creeps in, we run the risk of hurting our division or more critically, hurting those we have been given charge over to develop and nurture. I got lucky. My mistake did not have disastrous consequences for me, my people, or my company. I hope through this experience, I have become a better leader and a better remanufacturing professional. I also hope other young reman leaders can learn from my errors. I do know that I don’t like the taste of pride when swallowed.