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Under the Wing of an Albatross…

Standing in for Mr. Loadlink, Straightpoint’s Aaron Orsak and Wayne Wille write from North America about leadership, team spirit, pie ‘n’ mash, and curry.

US-based business development roles at our company have put us in a unique position to commentate from the inside on an operation that serves as a blueprint for growth and fulfilment. Joining in 2015 (Aaron) and 2016 respectively, the last few years have taken us on a journey from UK to US ownership but, more significantly, seen us navigate the most rewarding and uplifting chapter of our careers.

There have been many contributing factors to this period of personal and professional enrichment, but all roads lead back to one man—David Ayling, global business development director for load monitoring solutions, aka Mr. Loadlink. We’re not sycophants but it’s important to acknowledge the culture that Dave has created and, moreover, suggest that others follow his example. He talks a lot about the DNA that’s consistent in all employees and if that’s true, he’s the father. And there’s a sense of family throughout the entire company that extends to many partners, dealers, and even end users of our range of force measurement technologies.

It’s widely accepted that the US is more dollar driven that the UK, which is simplistic but probably true. That doesn’t mean there aren’t extremely motivated people on the other side of the pond—of course there are—but there’s a less blinkered approach to goal setting and achievement. Many North American businesses have owners overseas so our status is far from unprecedented, yet Dave himself is an albatross—a rare breed. He’s combined a UK-centric approach to work with a personal vision for what business should look and feel like. We’ll explain.

The-albatross-is-a-long-distance-forager

The-albatross-is-a-long-distance-forager

Dave was at the helm of a gazelle company since April 15 2002 and today it is hardly recognizable from the firm it once was; it became a global movement. However, he was never motivated by money. And we weren’t ever encouraged to make dollars our ruler either. Success is best achieved by a long-term vision and balance, Dave believes, and other business owners should take note. We were never expected to be accessible 24-hours-a-day and our value wasn’t measured by air miles, hours at the grindstone, or the usual metrics.

Without wishing to sound cynical, it meant that we, along with all staff, were prepared to travel further, work harder, and achieve more because the collective cause was so important. We’ve both been in roles in the past where the strictest of regimes are in place, yet everyone is only at 80% capacity because emotional and spiritual energy is expired by the burden of working life. That’s not to say we haven’t also had great leadership elsewhere, it’s just reality that we’re blogging about the best we’re likely to find.

When a dream becomes reality

Importantly, upon recruitment, the vision that was presented turned out to be reality, which was refreshing to experience. New members of staff at companies the world over are quickly disillusioned when they find the role or business that was presented to them turns out to be very different on the inside. Leaders underestimate the damage that causes. Think of the demotivation that is experienced and how that manifests itself when people go out into the field or to meet customers. Conversely, everyone people encounter at SP is buoyant, motivated, and passionate and enjoys their work. Other companies could be the same but that vibrancy is drained from the team.

When SP recruits, people are put into roles that are the best for them and the business so there’s no requirement for micromanagement. We can both still hear Dave saying, “Get on with it, mate,” as we accepted positions here. It wasn’t to be understood as, “You’re on your own,” but more that we were trusted to do what we were good at without distraction or interference. That trust is offered here and it’s the employee’s responsibility to run with it or choose to break it. That’s just how it should be. We’ve all heard it said in the past, “Trust is yours to earn,” but what does that say about a hiring process if a new team member is essentially, what, untrusted?

Another commonly overlooked facet of sound leadership is two-way dialog. Many managers and owners are preachers; they only want to hear their own voice. A standout feature of SP is the opportunity staff has to put ideas forward and the company’s dynamism and flexibility that allows the best of those initiatives to be implemented. We regularly network with peers and other professionals who’ve become demotivated because they’ve identified sound product improvements but are told by superiors that the company isn’t structured to make them reality. In other words, “Thanks, but leave the thinking to someone else.”

Here-we-are-taking-a-break-with-Mr.-Loadlink-(left)-and-fellow-Englishman-David-Mullard-(second-left)-during-a-recent-trip-to-the-UK

Here-we-are-taking-a-break-with-Mr.-Loadlink-(left)-and-fellow-Englishman-David-Mullard-(second-left)-during-a-recent-trip-to-the-UK

There have been many occasions when we’ve tabled product, software, and marketing ideas that have been embraced by leadership. One example is the new version of our popular product for measuring tension on static lines, the Clamp On Line Tensionmeter (COLT), which features a series of enhancements, including longer service life and the addition of a calibration verification tool. The accompanying Bluetooth load-monitoring app also includes tweaks based on information from the frontline that we were able to feed back into the manufacturing process. It’s uplifting to have a hand in product development and that should be more widely recognized.

The benefits of effecting such change are widespread. The obvious one is that a manufacturer gets to sell a better product that adds safety, efficiency, and productivity to the end user’s work. However, it’s worth noting the wider impact. When a user sees their feedback acted upon, they remember the brand and its representatives. We’ve personally felt empowered in certain industry sectors because individually we’ve been seen to improve best practices. It can be the difference between salesperson and thought leader. This two-way product development concept is great for business; it can add zeros to the bottom line, as SP has proved.

Culture club

As the company grew globally and became more systemized and scalable over time, it never lost the essence of a small business. It didn’t look like a corporate money machine because it wasn’t. As we’ve said, we look to Dave, each other, and our colleagues as family. It’s a culture that has certainly made working for SP a fun experience and when people are happy they’re productive. When we attend trade events we pack our suitcases and are excited about spending a few days or a week with a teammate and making new connections. When we look across the aisles at other exhibitors, that enthusiasm clearly isn’t matched and customers pick up on the negativity.

Tips to the UK, where SP was headquartered in Hampshire on England’s southern coast, have been a regular part of life in recent years. We didn’t know much about soccer before we joined, and even less about pie ’n’ mash (a traditional London meal) and chicken tikka masala (curry—seemingly the country’s favorite dish!). Dave was always keen to facilitate relationship building, among the three of us and all staff, whenever an opportunity arose. As American visitors, we enjoyed soccer matches at Fratton Park, home to Dave’s local team, Portsmouth, sampled cuisine not so common in our part of the world, and made many more memories besides.

The journey continues, although a new chapter has opened as SP was recently purchased by the largest lifting, rigging, and material handling hardware company in the world, The Crosby Group. It’s fitting that Dave has handed ownership to a perfect successor and we’re all excited about the future opportunities this will create. The success of the company had placed it firmly in the shop window in recent years but we know Dave had rejected offers from those less suited to adopt the family. We’re already seeing the benefits of new ownership and it’s great that the albatross has stayed on board.

Thank you, mate!

Wayne Wille and Aaron Orsak

At-least-in-European-football-they-actually-kick-the-ball

At-least-in-European-football-they-actually-kick-the-ball

Bluelink Live

Rigged using industry standard shackles, such as the Crosby G2130, the Bluelink has been designed to minimise headroom; it measures only 6 inches or 156mm from eye to eye.

As Straightpoint’s (SP) latest innovation hits the market, Mr. Loadlink relives the Bluelink journey—and looks forward to going live.

I was sipping coffee with U.S.-based colleagues Wayne Wille and Aaron Orsak when Bluelink was first discussed. It must’ve been strong coffee; we spoke for a while. We didn’t know we were taking about it at the time though, nor was it clear if a product at all—new or old—could embody the matters we were chewing over.

Many new products start that way. In my experience, working in industrial markets in particular, it’s rarely a case of envisaging the shape, size, look, and feel of a product, and setting a course to it, but more identifying a gap, challenge, limitation, trend, or nuance and mapping a pathway from it.

How do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve come from?

Wayne, Aaron, and I weren’t talking about a load cell that introduces Bluetooth technology. We were wondering when existing and prospective customers still utilising outdated mechanical force measurement products might gravitate towards more high-tech solutions, if at all. The same scenario has played out among colleagues and business partners the world over; the individuals, the product, and the marketplace don’t really matter. The synergy is that there’s habitual behaviour to note that could possibly create a business opportunity.

But we were, and remain, an innovative pioneer in force measurement technology; we’re known for smashing through walls and delivering state-of-the-art solutions. One doesn’t have to be that way to be successful, but it’s how we roll. How then could we tap into a demographic that is gatekeeping tradition? Surely that’s for companies more aligned with their place on the curve. Bentley and Skoda both sell cars, but Bentley don’t covet Skoda’s mailing list.

There’s an app for that

Maybe the three of us gazed out the window at one point resigned to that fact. Still the accompanying biscuits stuck in the throat though. This isn’t the automotive business; we’re nowhere near its cycle of evolution. Think about it: 95% of lifts remain unmonitored. Our conversation arrived at a point, therefore, where it became clear to all of us that we needed to create a product with all the SP hallmarks, but that tapped into the curiosity of less progressive minds. Our target audience here wasn’t indomitable, we surmised. There are inherent advantages, after all, of reading data on a smartphone. More than 5% of people have smartphones and most of them love apps.

We are increasingly engaging with the world through apps, which is a culture that lends itself to Bluelink’s uptake

We’d come a long way over a couple of cups of coffee, yet we were 18 months away from launching the eventual single capacity Bluelink—a 6.5t (14,300 lb.) capacity load cell. As we brainstormed in the days and weeks that followed that landmark conversation, it became even clearer that we needed to stick to our principles but hone the product to a more conventional mindset. I’m sorry if that appears oxymoronic. It’s not, really. We’re wireless innovators and we wanted to roll another wireless innovation off the production line.

The next step was a big one and it’s a leap that some companies forget to take. Sure, Wayne, Aaron, and I know our way around the marketplace but we had to put the concept to distributors and end users to get a sense of its viability. Companies avoid this important phase, typically for two reasons. Firstly, they don’t trust the market’s opinion. In other words, they think they know better. It’s an arrogant stance to take and it’s seen some get caught out. Ok, Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” but generally a marketplace is a great sounding board. Knowledge is power when deciding on performance and price point.

Secondly, people don’t like to hear bad news. And, true enough, some products have fallen and died at the first hurdle. If someone is particularly proud or sentimentally attached to an idea they might be inclined to take it as far as they can without exposing it to criticism. They only see green lights. That’s tempting but naive. The earlier an idea is scrutinised, the sooner one can measure its viability. Often the negativity isn’t about the concept in its entirety but more elements or components within it, so it should be embraced. For example, “It’s a great idea, but could you extend it to this?”

Amber gambler

Did you know that, at least here in the UK, an amber light means vehicles should stop unless it is unsafe to do so? It’s widely misinterpreted, sometimes even as, “Quick, speed up, it’ll turn red in a second.” This is relevant to product development.

If in doubt, stop and check all bases are covered before moving on.

I like to maintain an amber light mentality as we advance through product development. We can still travel with intensity and vigour, yet we don’t move on until it is right to do so. One never wants to get too far too quickly. The mindset adopted during testing should be consistent throughout, as all departments become involved: battery, waterproofing, range, strength, and so on, all has to be recorded, documented, calculated, verified, and tested again.

Eventually, everyone who’s anyone at a company becomes involved, from operations to marketing. Where three of us once sat around a table drinking coffee, now 20 of us are in a boardroom, flanked by whiteboards, buried beneath prototypes, paperwork, and marketing concepts. To help keep a project of such magnitude on track, we use an online tool called Monday.com, which I would recommend. It is essentially a team management solution to connect people to workplace processes. It was founded on the belief that transparency and collaboration create a culture of ownership and empowerment. I buy into that concept.

When a purchaser is out looking for M4 screws, the sales team are in meetings with distributors, the engineers are waiting for feedback from a testing verification body, and marketing are finalising a launch campaign, it’s good to know who’s accountable for what and when delivery is due. Monday.com leaves nothing to interpretation. If Elsie is a day early on this, Abdul is a day late on that, or Gabriella needs more time on the other, everyone knows about it. It’s fun to have an end (launch) date in the system to aim for too.

The reaction to Bluelink’s launch proves the value in our methods. Wayne, Aaron, and I will raise a cup of coffee (or something stronger!) to its success one day soon.

LinkedIn live

Such launches will increasingly feature live video. Business networking platform, LinkedIn, recently confirmed that it is currently piloting live video streaming, as the feature continues to be popular on Instagram and Facebook, for example. It represents natural progression for some LinkedIn users, like me and other SP staff, who already record videos and post them to the site. Eventually, we’ll be able to go live as a trade show opens or to unveil a new innovation—like Bluelink.

LinkedIn is going liveand so should you.

It’ll take some strategising to get it right. It helps if an audience knows someone is going to be there. If a launch date on Monday.com says June 6, work backwards and plug in some social media content and other live videos teasing the launch, advising people to tune in at 3pm when they won’t want to miss the grand unveiling. Of course, it’s important not to give the game away and don’t overstate it. What could live up to expectations if a company has been talking about, “The game-changing, earth-shattering, product of a lifetime, that you won’t be able to live without”? Not even Bluelink! Instead, hint at the problems it solves or the applications where it might be applied.

It’s that time of year

I travel to the states soon where the Associated Wire Rope Fabricators (AWRF) Product & Information Exhibition (PIE) takes place on Monday 8 April. The expo is co-located with the association’s general meeting that runs 7-10 April at Hilton Cleveland Downtown. It’s always one of the most enjoyable and productive events in the calendar and there’ll be greater significance to our stand (booth) next to new owners, The Crosby Group, this year. Given timing and logistics etc., the first official SP-Crosby co-exhibit will also be seen that week, at the Bauma show in Munich, Germany (8-14 April), where David Mullard will represent us.

On the subject of Crosby, it was an honour to host their CEO, Bob Davies, here at SP HQ earlier this week. M&S (Marks and Spencer) sandwiches and Yorkshire Tea were consumed as we discussed many an interesting subject about business and the lifting industry.

I want to close by wishing SP’s Lauren Rose, who will be leaving us shortly for pastures new, all the very best for the future. It’s always a pleasure to be able to influence anyone’s personal or professional journey. She’ll always be part of the SP family and I look forward to hearing about her future successes.

Travel safely if you’re off to trade shows. Thank you for reading.

Mr. Loadlink

It was good to spend time with Bob Davies, CEO, The Crosby Group, at SP HQ this week.