Relationships Are an Important Part of a Manufacturing Business

Originally titled 'The Importance of Taking Action'

Reflecting on the death of a friend, one shop owner considers the role of his business in the lives of others.

The oil price collapse for the past three years and its effect in Alberta, Canada, has broken Qsine’s network, and I have been unable to repair the damage so far. I have been in anguish, or so I thought, feeling sorry for myself. But last week, my priorities were severely and abruptly shaken as I attended the funeral of a friend and colleague.

Fifty-one-year-old Mike Gorman was a gentleman whose enthusiastic disposition will be missed by many. He was the father of twin girls, Catherine and Rachel, whom I mentored for four years at a high school robotics competition called FIRST Robotics (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). The girls are now in their second year of university.

Before the funeral, there was a slideshow of pictures and videos of Mike’s life. I was completely unprepared for the emotions that ran through me when the pictures and videos of Mike and his family in my shop came up.

He and his wife Jacqueline were avid supporters of their daughters, and the family spent many weekends at the shop learning, designing and building robots. I saw them so often, it was no surprise to me that the robot competition was a big part of their family life and that it would be included in the slideshow. What I was oblivious to was Qsine’s real role, which I suddenly felt.

I make Qsine available to several robotics teams. I also teach kids and let them build things in my shop. My motivation is to create a channel to find future employees, customers, suppliers and more. I also want to help divert people who might mistakenly get stuck in a technical or trade career, a problem that I found negatively affected our industry when it was booming. What I underestimated is how entwined Qsine and I get into people’s lives by just doing this.

Now that I see the human part of what we are doing, I feel like an idiot because it used to be lost on me. Qsine is a gathering place for people interested in mechanical gadgets and wizardry. We like to invent and build things because it is fun and interesting.

It must have been 20 years ago or so when I first came across the quote from Mahatma Gandhi to the left, and I thought I understood what it meant. As the years have passed, my interpretation of it has changed, and I think it is more practical and less philosophical than I used to see it.

The “doing” portion of Gandhi’s statement is what brings us together. It is also where our relationships form, evolve and spread. If it wasn’t for mentoring robotics, I would have never known the Gormans. I am sure they would have built robots without Qsine; it just would have been a different experience for them and me.

Another interesting conversation at the funeral was with a customer and friend, Russ. It was not the conversation but rather the person who is interesting. I had forgotten it was through Mike that I met Russ and he became a customer—not because we did something cheaper than a competitor or that he even really needed us to do it. Russ was curious to see Mike’s daughters’ robotics activities. Through personal interest, he took a liking to me and Qsine. Again, Qsine is simply a gathering place for a common interest. Doing it turned into doing more of it.

Last week made me look at my shop and appreciate it from a new perspective. While the economic downturn has made it excruciatingly clear that this is primarily a place where I earn a living, seeing the images of Mike and his family in the shop made it clear to me that this is also where I live my life. The part that shocked me is how the shop embedded me into their lives without asking for permission to be there.

How many times have we heard the phrase “Don’t let emotions get into your business?” The images at the funeral opened a door that let all the emotions I have been forcing out to rush back in. I understand that financially, letting them back in is a mistake, but what do I do about the mistake this creates on personal side when I decide to ignore them?

Even if it does not make financial sense, the slideshow made it evident that saving Qsine, the gathering place, is still an important objective. My previous rationalizations to remove my emotions are a gross oversimplification of the overall situation.

“Follow your instincts” is another phrase that has weight. This advice teaches us to listen to our emotions. While I understand both arguments, I see value in all relationships formed with employees, customers, suppliers, students, friendships and even rivals. I account for the relationships in my decision-making process on what to take on and what to walk away from.

The human elements and my experiences with them are very important in my decision making. I have always known that, but I used to feel like I understood the relationships in and connected to my business. Last week taught me how little was within my comprehension, and it has me curious about how I can be “doing it” differently from here forward.