Global Business Leadeship

Case 1: Building competitiveness via taking care of the customer My first decade in GE was spent largely serving 1 client, Southern Nuclear, an electric utility in the Southeast United States. In 1997, Jack Welch rolled out the six-sigma program and I was one of the first Black Belts (a term used for process improvement experts). At that time, the average nuclear plant lost $1million / day in revenue when shut down for maintenance, not counting maintenance cost. The average duration of maintenance was 45-60 days. So, a focused effort was made to pull together as a USA team (we largely operated as independent districts at the time) and partner with customers for real cycle time improvement without risking safety or quality. As the black belt, I reached out to every project manager to solicit their participation, we reviewed the goals of our customer (cycle reduction) and the goals of the company (stay competitive). We compared scope, schedules and budgets and learned that the average duration varied from 35 to 55 days. Why? Initial feedback was that every plant was different and that drove the variance. But upon analysis and discussion, we found that every plant had common units (high pressure section, low pressure section, stop valves, control valves, etc.) and upon examining each least common denominator, we found some interesting success factors. Some teams were better trained as they had repeat maintenance crews each year, some teams had better tools that were faster and safer, some teams had fixtures that allowed for disassembly faster with less clean up. Over the next several years, teams competed in a healthy manner to employ these various methods and gradually, the average duration moved to and below the 30-day mark. This not only saved the customer money but also reduce radiation exposure to certain employees (these were nuclear plants). The progress made was not via advanced statics (although six-sigma does offer that capability). Basic tools were used comprised of communication, collaboration on common goals, process mapping and logical problem solving. The same approach can be used in financial, “back office”, technical and customer service areas. Case 2: Growing the business in a phased approach My second generation in GE was spent largely focused on downstream oil / gas integrating and operating a series of acquisitions. While the companies varied in focus from vibration monitoring, to controls solutions, to temperature / flow / pressure measurement, to non-destructive test, the challenge was similar. Very innovative companies with great technology had grown to a point and were limited by their business processes and inability to scale. Teams were very customer centric and technical astute but did not have a repeatable process to transfer knowledge that enabled quality and productivity no matter where the work was done nor by who. As the service leader, first steps were to assure safety of the team, building and delivering the proper training and tools. The next focus was on quality. As these teams were global, customers and the company deserved to have the same caliber of work performed anywhere around the world. A global technical training and mentoring program was put in place that not only build that technical foundation, but also built a reputation with the customers that enhanced the brand and enabled price. Third was a focus on business acumen. Many of the upcoming leaders were promoted for their time in service or technical skills, not business skills. Good folks, but they just didn’t know how to build a business plan, manage financial risk or assess the health of the business. But over time, with coaching and accountability, they built their operating or sales business skills to the point of achieving double digit growth year / year and a global business of +$500 million. Teams were from North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa, Middle East, Asia and China. Today, many of those leaders can be seen in executive leadership roles running businesses of their own. Case 3: Building the talent pipeline More recently in 2014, I took at assignment with upstream oil / gas in Aberdeen, Scotland where, as part of our charter, we supported offshore oil activities along the West Coast of Africa. Upstream oil / gas has relied on expats, largely from USA or Europe, to operate offshore platforms and support bases. But a key requirement from the customer and the host country of Ghana was the utilization of local talent. This meant that local persons, who had no experience in oil field services, had to be trained on safety, quality, technical and business culture. Often, localization requirements were met in concept but not reality, by hiring 2 janitors for every 1 expat oil worker, but this does not meet the spirit of the exercise. As we built plans for the shore base (speaking to local real estate personnel, engineering contractors and government officials), we also spoke to local high schools and trade schools about the talent available and how we build a program quickly. We partnered with a local school to put a curriculum together and using expat instructors, began the training and certification program while civil construction began (civil works were done by local personnel). Standards in safety, quality, work processes were different, and it took effective communication, collaboration and goal setting with local community leaders to reach a common approach that maintained high standards without causing any negative messaging. Gradually, local persons were hired and over time they transitioned from the minority of employees to the majority until all the persons including the shore base manager are local Ghanaian citizens. This is great for the country and local community, as it is building economic growth. It is great for the company, as local persons are more cost effective than expats on premiums. And it is great for the customer, as these persons have more longevity and continuity for consistent work overtime.