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Golden Horseshoe Manufacturing Network Innovation Breakfast


Glenn Taylor on October 31, 2012 in Advice for Business Owners

Robert Hattin’s words of wisdom rang true for many attendees at a recent Golden Horseshoe Manufacturing Network Innovation Breakfast. 

Two things power the leadership of a company … passion and ethics, however “if you compromise your ethics, you will definitely fail”, he said.  Rob is the President of ProVantage Automation in Hamilton, an engineering company that provides automation controls design and integration services for automated manufacturing across Canada. Also, as National Chair of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, Rob was on-hand to share his insights and experiences to up and coming manufacturers in the room. 

Rob took the many lessons from his 11 years as Edson Packaging Machinery’s youngest and longest serving President & CEO to develop the vision and strategy for ProVantage, his latest venture.  In order for ProVantage to succeed, Rob explained how he had to look at all aspects of his company and do certain things differently. “The Partners knew what we wanted to be and if you’re around great people you should tap into them,” he said. Having the right advisors including accounting, banking and legal made a difference in getting to where he wanted to go.  Lean Advisors taught Rob the how—the power of lean process—and he learned that robust processes are vitally important if you want to manage your business for Cost, Quality, Delivery or … Customer Satisfaction.  At Edson, his ethos was 'make it easy for the customer to do business with us', so processes and attitudes were shaped in order for that to happen.

He also believes that lean enterprise and organizational excellence are based on the same principle. He realized that to succeed, he had to gain the hearts and minds of the people in his organization. However, securing those hearts and minds would take strong leadership. Leadership matters, because it sustains the company culture. He used his leadership skills to engage employees gradually—on a one-to-one basis.

“We persevered and won one heart and mind at a time.  Changing a stagnant culture takes time.  But looking back, one of my many mistakes was trying to fix people whose behaviour did not fit the Company’s Values, especially Trust & Respect. Everyone has a filter for their own ethics, but it is important they align with your business, and you can’t change ethics, as I found out.”  Providing the right incentive to motivate employees is important, however Hattin does not believe in Profit Sharing, believing that there are better and more sustainable ways of creating a dynamic and engaged culture.  He also talked about the importance of family and never losing sight of a work-life balance. “Spending time with family and being home most nights is important,” he stressed.  Businesses come and go; family is forever.

It is essential to think systemically in order to create Organizational Excellence.   He admits his former company had to figure out how to do rapid prototyping, which is more about attitude than technique, and he believes the path to innovation would have been smoother if they had engaged academia sooner.

Hattin urges people to take a chance on young people and to associate with best in class – positive reinforcement of energy. Also, he likens having a highly flexible organization to having high flex automation; for example, in his company everything in the place is on wheels so that things can be moved around quickly – no monuments to work around. 

It’s important, too, to focus on Industrial Design, as it is just as important as mechanical and automation.  Even the coldest engineer or accountant enjoys great style and ID differentiates the product … its worth $$.  Who wants to spend $100,000 on an ugly machine?

See the sample of ProV’s latest automation design …

And for long term success, having a global view is important, even if only acting locally.  What happens on Wall Street or Beijing will influence your business.  Asia is going to grow as a major factor on the economics of Canada, so having people who are skilled in working both the supply (material, knowledge and people) and markets (opportunities) will be critical for business sustainability.  So have the courage to take on a leadership position, whether with your staff, or in the marketplace. 

And never doubt your capabilities … fear only breeds indecision. So when fear creeps in, rush to your most trusted advisors and follow their advice. 

As a footnote, Mr. Hattin together with six other executives from manufacturing industries across Canada were recently presented with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal for their Service to Canada for Leadership in the Canadian economy. The Medal was issued by the Governor-General on behalf of the Queen.