Seasoned Leadership in Action™ – An Interview with Ron Emery, Continuous Improvement Consultant

Continuous Improvement

At Supply Chain Game Changer we believe in sharing experiences and expertise from people in every industry and from across the globe.  As such we have introduced our “Seasoned Leadership in Action” Interview series at Supply Chain Game Changer. This interview is with Ron Emery, Continuous Improvement Consultant, Author and Entrepreneur.

I first met Ron while at Celestica.  Ron worked for me as the head of the Electromechanical Commodity Management team. Ron had tremendous experience in the field and a wealth of knowledge.

What struck me most about Ron was his approach to business and life. Unlike a lot of the old school Procurement managers who tried to rule with an iron fist Ron approached his job, and people, in a much different way. Ron was very personable and clearly brought a human element to all of his interactions.

Continuous Improvement
Ron Emery, Continuous Improvement Consultant, Author and Entrepreneur

Most notably Ron Emery spent a lot of time informally mentoring a number of the younger people in the area. He was establishing life long relationships that would help those he engaged with to have successful careers also.

Thank you Ron  for your friendship and taking the time to share your experiences and expertise with us.

Here is our interview with a truly leader, Ron Emery!

Tell our readers a little about your background and experience?

I have had a great life.  Now by no means do I hope this is the end but only the beginning. Throughout my career I have learned how to be resilient and have recreated my career many times. Most important to me are the people I have met along the way and how many have become friends that still exist today.

It’s given me the opportunity to learn one heck of a lot, travel around the globe and experience things you never thought a guy from Girard, Ohio ever would. I have flown over four million miles, Been on every continent but Antartica, stayed in a hotel nearly 3500 nights so I guess that qualifies me as a “road warrior” but it really have been a fun ride and fun life.

As I mentioned I have had a great career and my career has gone from permanent roles as VP of Supply Chain to VP of Operations to consulting to operating my own business but I guess none so rewarding as being an entrepreneur. I have lived and continue to live my life as a saying I heard a while back from Charles Sturgeon that I think sums it up well, “What I had I gave.  What I kept I lost”.

I continue to looks at opportunities, whether re-engaging with an old friend or meeting new people as a way of energizing myself. Years ago on a trip to Switzerland a friend and I were having a drink and dinner on Bahnhof Strasse and he told me I should really write down some of my successes and failures to share with others. It started me writing and I have published four books on just how we can be a better person or friend and measure our successes.

Long story, short I want to contribute significantly to this world and everything I do is structured around making a difference in it.

What are some of your greatest achievements in Business?

Like I said, I have had an interesting career but one of my biggest success came when I was asked to do a turnaround project for Cummins in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. This was a transformational project and this site was to be transformed from a muffler plant to an integrated assembly plant assembling diesel filters.  They had invested a huge amount of money into a new production line but forgot about process and culture in the transition.

This plant was thirty days from being closed. Within two weeks we had this operation humming and it was nothing short of a miracle. Sometimes organizations overlook the small stuff that needs to be done in a transformation. It’s not as easy as investing in tremendous amounts of capital or having the latest widget making apparatus.  It is about people and their willingness to understand and adapt.

We started on the shop floor and soon we were making 630 filters per day and hit a peak of 1010 in one day.  They kept the plant there and expanded it. You like to say it is all “blocking and tackling” but that isn’t quite true.  It’s getting folks pointed in the right direction, to have them believe in themselves and empower them to even make mistakes every so often as long as they learn from those mistakes. I kind of became known as the fix-it guy for Cummins and moved onto other locations.  

There was a lot pride in that turn around and Cummins awarded me the “Catalyst Award” as the person who had the most significant impact on their business that year. Pretty amazing and fun. The best part of all of this is we saved 200 jobs and grew the business so much we had to add 700 additional people. That is the most significant thing about the task. 

It always comes back to people. I have discovered the world is about process and people and that is it.  Both are equally important.

How has Business and Supply Chain changed over the course of your career? 

Business for awhile became less human and more impersonal. Hopefully we see it swinging back to where the human element is valued to a greater extent. Nothing replaces the human mind.  A good friend suggested I read “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coeho.

That was a transformational book for me.  It taught me that life isn’t necessarily about the destination each of us reaches but more about the journey and the people we meet along the way and the things we experience on that path.  It was so instrumental in my life that I named my consulting business, Alchemy Associates.

It really did have a profound effect on the way I looked at business and life in general. It made me a better business man, a better problem solver and a better person. The other thing that attributed to my success was my liberal arts education. Dealing with folks who are in the sciences was a daunting task. But I learned early on that having a liberal arts education prepared me to discuss anything with anybody and I was able to pick up the science through work experience. 

As one Cummins operations the chief engineer asked me where I got my Industrial Engineering degree and when I told him I did not have an IE degree only business degrees he was flabbergasted. How do you know so much about IE without an engineering degree?  I said I listen well and learn continuously.

I always tell younger folks that I mentor it is always about learning and being continuously introspective.  Every day I sit down and look at what I accomplished during the day and ask myself, “Could you have done this differently and more efficiently or more effectively?”

What are some of the lessons you learned in your career that you would like to share for others to learn from?  

I have to say be yourself and try to be humble. Now, I say, try because humility is difficult. I have always said treat the janitor with the same respect as you would the CEO.  Great advice because the janitor has saved me many times with the “inside scoop” and has prepared me to go on the offensive.

It does not matter what walk of life we are from treat everyone as you would want them to treat you. Another point, I have learned and by the way, it took me a while to learn it is not to get hung up over the small stuff.  Worry about the things that really matter including the human element.

Engage wherever you can, be inquisitive and be curious. Volunteer on projects and within your community and make a difference. A simple hello or good morning goes a long way. Not everyone will like you.  We are on different planes as humans.  Some of us understand that and some of us don’t.

What challenges facing the world are important to you?

I am worried about what we are doing to our planet and how do we put forth the right initiatives to right the ship. I want to minimize or eliminate social injustice. I would like us as a human race to be accountable and responsible.

The human element seems to be getting less important but in general so make it very important to you and you will be rewarded. Society’s ills bother me and I often sit and think about how we might try and make it better for all. What could we sacrifice for others?

What is the role of Business, Supply Chain and Change Leadership in addressing these challenges? 

Our role as business people is to face these challenges on a daily basis and make sure we are addressing them in what we do each day. Now, keep in mind there is no miraculous cure for these ills, I am saying keep them in mind in everything you do.  I am a Starbucks espresso drinker on a daily basis so I tell them leave the lid off my paper cup.  It is one less lid in the landfill. Use your own cup.  

Every little bit we can do can and will make a difference in our world. Treat people with respect and be honest with them.  Give them challenges and reward them.  Understand what motivates your team and be respectful. Let the team explore the answers, even if you know it won’t work, as long as it isn’t too costly.  Experience is learning.

What are you working on these days?

Technologies that improve our world.  Tomorrow I will be with a client who is looking at an RFID solution to manage their inventory. It will ensure profitability of the manufacturing plant, eliminate waste and enhance profitability.  

I am also working on 3D printing applications that can reduce lead times for tooling and significantly lower the cost.  I solve problems and believe me there are no shortage of those in manufacturing.

What advice would you give people who have a career in, or who are considering joining, Business and/or Supply Chain?  

Find a mentor.  

Pick up my book called “Growing Comes From Planting Seeds” by Ron Emery, on Amazon.

Think about everything you do and why do you do it.  Focus on doing the right things.  And focus on relationships.  

And if you are having trouble, look for my next book called, “How to Network at A Funeral” and we will teach you how to network for success.

How can people contact Ron Emery? 

Ron Emery can be reached at [email protected] or call me at 330.984.7395.

I would be more than happy recommending or suggesting something and driving continuous improvement. If your business problem is large I can recommend someone to fix it or I can help you address it.

Originally published on August 27, 2019.

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