New AME Chief Invites Manufacturers To Open Their Doors To Others

Operations & Policies

Marc Braun’s departure from Cambridge Air Solutions carries import for U.S. manufacturing CEOs for three reasons, thanks to his reputation as an innovative leader.

Braun’s just-announced stepping down this month as president of the HVAC-systems maker in Chesterfield, Missouri, is a significant change in leadership at one of the true workplace-innovator companies in America. Chairman and CEO John Kramer has led in tandem with Braun to push the horizons of manufacturing culture, and it will be interesting to see how the company maintains that approach in the years to come.

Braun also is making way as president for Doug Eisenhart, who was Cambridge’s vice president of sales and marketing and manager of the engineering and customer-service teams. There were other qualified internal candidates as well, Braun told Chief Executive, a condition for succession that can be rare at privately held companies.

A third matter of interest is what Braun will do next. He will take on the volunteer role of chairman of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence on October 1; and on the paying side, Braun plans to speak, write and coach. “I have loved the role of CEO and don’t want to say never again,” he says. “But I believe that by coaching a select number of leaders, we can impact a large number of people.”

Broadly, Braun believes that manufacturing CEOs can improve their management in significant ways. One of them, he says, “is the decision that the growth of their people is the single largest area they need to invest in, for long-term growth.”

Who wouldn’t be thinking that these days, when the value of qualified human capital has never been more apparent in a labor-starved economy?

Well, Braun says, “The piece that’s often missing is the CEO’s courage to stay on that journey for long enough. They must recognize that courage is a big ingredient that they need as a leader.” Often, he adds, business leaders aren’t “taking enough personal risk in this area. They’re standing and waiting rather than acting and serving. They’re consuming rather than giving. They have to become part of the solution to actually build what they want to build.”

One key to demonstrating such courage, Braun says, can be for a manufacturing CEO to open his facility to tours by outsiders. AME, in fact, stresses inter-company mentoring relationships as a key for improving the performance of individual leaders, relying in part on tours by members of other members’ factories. Expect Braun as head of AME to be a strong advocate for collaboration and transparency among manufacturing people who belong to the 36-year-old, non-profit organization that has grown to a membership of more than 4,000 company leaders from executives to senior and middle managers.

“The tag line of AME is ‘share, learn and grow,’” Braun said. “That means with other manufacturers and the greater community of business. But that sharing aspect is missing from almost every CEO I meet whose company isn’t growing at the rate they want.”

Surely Braun can understand why a manufacturing chief wouldn’t be expected to open his factory’s doors to droves of outsiders—as Braun and Kramer have done regularly for the last several years at Cambridge Air Solutions. The practices visitors see include an all-hands meeting each morning and the listing of “Grateful Appreciations” by workers for both professional and personal reasons, as well as the viewing of improvement videos taken by individual staffers across the plant who’ve figured out how to make something better.

“Many CEOs have the fear of the loss of control, and of proprietary information” in such exercises by what AME calls “consortia” of members, Braun says. “They believe the proprietary nature of what they do is more valuable than the reality is. So it stops them from sharing. In [AME’s] consortia, they have a safe collection of companies to start with, and they can begin to share and their people start to grow from the sharing. That comes back 10-fold in the growth of those people who are sharing, including senior leadership.”

Braun points to the example of Toyota Motor, the global automaker that for decades has openly invited competitors and non-competitors alike to tour its factories to see how the company has harnessed the Toyota Production System for maximum efficiency and effectiveness, including culture-building protocols such as granting wide authority to line workers to stop production individually if they see something amiss.

“This attitude is actually one of the greatest keys to Toyota’s continued growth,” Braun opines. “As they share, they learn, and as they learn they keep growing. Other CEOs can create tours for external and internal purposes and get comfortable with that level of vulnerability—and your people will grow.”

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