By Kevin Meyer
If that title doesn’t make sense, Google “daruma.” Or pick up a copy of Matthew May’s The Shibumi Strategy – a short business novel that changed my life a few years ago. Perhaps some good holiday reading?
Regular readers know that my real gig is running a medical device contract manufacturing company. Or was, until yesterday.
Last December, a year ago, while doing some hansei on a beach in Hawaii, I realized that yet another year had flown by. The nth in a row. I decided something had to change if I was to have a more balanced life, one where I could pursue other professional and personal goals, and basically live a little more. So I notified the executive team in January of my desire to step down, which kicked off a year-long transition process, and here we are.
The position has been a great experience from many angles, and quite honestly I couldn’t have asked for more. I had owners and a Board who were very open to even the wildest ideas – we even got rid of budgets in literally three days after our CFO and I attended the 2007 Lean Accounting Summit. We tried and learned a lesson from going down the toolhead path to lean, then backtracked and learned the value of asking “why” and then “how.” Along the way we implemented great programs in 5S, TWI, autonomous teams, value stream management, and the like. Lean helped us be successful enough in the middle of a recession to build a new 120,000 sq ft building. Since we understood that the brains of people added value and made us competitive, and weren’t only a cost, we built that building in one of the most expensive states in an expensive country, and we still out-compete “low cost” suppliers from overseas. Sure there were some hard times and really tough decisions, decisions that impacted people and their families, but we did the best we could.
I learned a lot, and that’s fundamentally what motivates me. I learned about running a complex technology business in a regulated industry and about implementing lean in such an environment – the real world vs. what most consultants would have you imagine. And I learned a lot about myself. Although I’d like to think I’ve become pretty good at general management, I learned that I really enjoy coming up with the big disruptive ideas, building something out of scratch from those ideas, and helping others learn. I also learned that I really enjoy being in control of my own time, being able to go for a run on the beach when I want, and being able to travel and see the world. For fifteen years my wife and I have had – and easily exceeded – an annual goal to visit two new countries a year. We’d like to double that while we still can.
So after eight years I decided it was time to move on, even from a great company with great owners that supported doing great things. The transition process has worked out very well, with a great lean leader identified from within the company who basically started taking over for me last July. I’m excited with what he will bring to the table and how he’ll continue to evolve the company.
As you read this we’re on our way to Uruguay for a couple weeks to decompress over the holidays. I guess if the apocalypse happens we’ll get to see it from the air. After returning I’ll start to work on all the projects that have taken a back seat for several years. Gemba Academy continues to grow rapidly, with thousands of customers including none other than Toyota. We’re actually helping teach lean at Toyota! I’ll do more writing, consulting, spend more time advising a couple companies I’ve been working with for the last few years, and I’ll continue to play a role at my previous company.
And I’ll run on the beach and travel. On my own schedule. My wife already has a list of new countries she’d like to visit. As my favorite shirt says, Escape-Travel-Live.
To which I would add, “learn.”
What have you learned about yourself this year? What will you learn in 2013? What action will you take with that knowledge – before it’s too late?