Hiring C-level Executives for Growth – Part II

[Continued from Hiring C-Level Executives for Growth – Part I]

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So as a follow up to this question, were you looking for someone coming from a large company (in your industry or not) who had experience scaling and managing large teams and experience as a leader and a coach… or did you prefer someone from a small-to-midsize company who had scaled and led a smaller team and could coach but was more of a doer and a hands-on, in-the-trenches person?

Todd

I think initially I wanted, you know, that person that had a ton of experience: e-commerce, manufacturing,… all the things that you think that you need. But in the end, I hired a COO that used to be a CEO and had a manufacturing background in a different industry and would really get in the trenches and do things themselves, which he has.

So, over the last… it’s almost been nine months now since he’s been with us, I have taught him everything I knew in five and a half years in this industry and he knows that, and that’s the person I wanted.

And I’ve been hands-off, as far as the manufacturing side, because I didn’t want to step on his toes on what he was doing out there. And he wanted that separation between CEO and the staff where, you know, the staff could just come up and come into my office and complain usually about something… And now that doesn’t happen. There’s a kind of a chain of command now, where everybody has to go through him. So, I wanted to set that tone in the company that they are now to go through the COO because it’s truly his team now.

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So, your company is kind of into hyper growth mode and three times the size of what it was last year. So, when you brought a new leader in your team, what changes and results did you expect over the next three to 12 months? What skill sets did you want this person to have?

Todd

I wanted somebody that could create processes, create different areas of the things that we do, and that had the technical knowledge to bring in that technical skill set to make things work. I think we’ve done that.

There are issues sometimes with those people skills because, like you and I were talking to him before, he comes from an area where he was dealing with white-collar employees, engineers and things of that nature… and in our environment (Tucson, AZ) there’s a lot of high-school educated employees who work really hard but they’re in a manufacturing environment.

So, there’s a big difference.

And having those employees understand the first time what you’re asking from them is sometimes difficult. So that’s kind of a work-in-progress that I’ve been working with him on to be kinder and gentler, I guess you would say… because it’s the culture that I want.

I mean, the culture has always been that I’m going to take care of my employees because they are a large part of this organization. So I want to make sure that they’re happy here.

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Got it. So, in terms of the changes that this person brought to your operations, what would you say are two or three highlights?

Todd

He was able to bring on some new equipment — he does have a mechanical engineering background — and then create some prototypes and some new products for us that are going to be coming online. I think that’s one of the highlights.

He has also streamlined the manufacturing process for the items, the products that we sell the most, which was a huge bottleneck for us. So, the spraying of plates and the forming of plates; that was a huge bottleneck and he was able to streamline how we do that, so we get a lot more… two, three times more out of the same people that we had by just changing the process around. That’s another benefit.

And then he’s got that skill set to help us expand. So, we are working on 12,000 square foot expansion add-on to this building, where we’re trying to create an environment that will attract talent. Because manufacturing is kind of a dirty type business, and so our goal is to have a 12,000 square foot of really nice offices, clean area, that will make people want to work here and see what we’re doing.

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Interesting, because that introduces my last question about the selling point of Spartan Armor Systems in terms of attracting top talent: You need to attract talent for smoothing out your growth and avoiding some road bumps, so what are the selling points of this company?

Todd

I think that our growth is exciting in the industry. You know, a few years back, we’re in the 5000, you know, Top 5000 companies; just that acknowledgement, lends to have people kind of say “hey, what are these guys doing? What’s so special about them?”. And then we’re trying to create a cool brand; the Spartan Armor Systems is a tactical brand that has got that edge, that “cool factor” to it, and just a fun place to work at… You know, it’s been a grind over the last year so it hasn’t really been that fun to work here. But as things settle down, I think we could have it be not so serious and just work hard but also play hard in the long run.

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What do your employees really appreciate?

Todd

I think they appreciate us going out-of-the-way to make things good.

An example of that is, during this whole COVID crisis, we had one employee in the warehouse get COVID. So there was a large panic out there, even though we’re practicing social distancing, wearing masks… So we brought in an outside private company to test everybody, instead of having everybody go out and get tested. We did that at our own expense to try to say “Hey, we care about you guys, we want you guys be safe, we want you to be healthy, we want you to know that we have your back”… and so we were able to do that.

And then we have programs where our staff get 50% off on our products. A lot of our employees are gun enthusiasts, and they like to shoot… So we want to get our products into their hands so that they give us feedback on whether or not we need to change things or improve things.

We have some discount things too where people, our employees get discounted products.

We offer all the benefits. Like healthcare, we pay 75% of the healthcare benefits; we offer a 401k.

We do those little things, you know, and I think eventually we’ll do some other things in the future.

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Thanks so much.

Todd

Thanks, Phil. I appreciate it. Thank you.

Todd Meeks is CEO of Spartan Armor Systems, a Tucson-based manufacturer of body armor, ballistic plates, and tactical gear.

[If you haven’t watched Part I]

Hiring C-Level Executives For Growth - Todd Meeks - Part 1

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