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Focus and Perseverance – interimCEOinterimCFO Features Bill Edwards, Interim CEO, COO
Robert Jordan -- Author - How They Did It - President - InterimCEO Robert Jordan -- Author - How They Did It - President - InterimCEO
Northbrook , IL
Thursday, March 10, 2011

interimCEOinterimCFO (www.interimCEO.com), the worldwide network of interim, contract, and project executives announced their newest Platinum member, Bill Edwards. Bill has experience across operations, strategic planning, engineering, marketing, distribution, purchasing, and human resources. Edwards has grown revenue, commercialized technologies, and revived five businesses in turnaround situations. View Bill's interview here.

Interview Posted at www.interimCEO.com:

How were you able to quadruple profits in six months at ADS Logistics?

We used what I call focused perseverance, meaning we focused on the right things and ignored distractions.

Such as?

We had a poorly implemented information system that was holding us back in one of the businesses so we fixed that. We also re-engineered some processes and took out about $3 million a year in wasted effort; reduced head count and shut down some facilities that were not creating value; and decentralized decision-making by breaking up a business unit (where one person made decisions) into seven service delivery units. In a one day meeting, we settled on a list of actions that needed to be taken.

You accomplished a lot in a short period of time.

It was a structured process, but it worked quickly and had great effect. This was in a terribly tough market and customers had a lot of leverage. They were able to put a lot of price pressure on us. Even though changing leaders in some of these divisions was seen as a risky process, we did it—we took bold action even though it didn't always fit with what the customers wanted.

How did you get started in interim?

The breakthrough for me was around 16 years ago when I was able to use my experience across the value chain in order to reengineer a service center company. It wasn't just reengineering their process, but reengineering the fundamental strategy of the business. It took around two years to complete the process and we had some phenomenal results.

What kind of results?

When I got there the company was break-even at best. I ended up on an annualized basis at about 32 percent return on assets. We were able to increase EBITDA and decrease the assets that were being used by improving inventory turns. It ended up having the best profit performance of any of the 55 plants the company owned. On top of that, when I arrived at the company, they could not operate for more than 30 days without a workday injury. I was able to change the safety culture of the operation so that we set a record of 836 days without a lost workday injury. That was a home run for me.

And that led to more interim assignments?

Word got out in the industry about what we had accomplished and, out of the blue, I was called to move 400 miles away and become president of a different company to make the same kind of changes—to basically do it again. I quickly realized that I had a knack for leading teams and making quick changes that lead to improved results.

That is your expertise.

It's fixing systems - production systems, distribution systems, service systems. Using techniques to identify where value is being created and destroyed; using bottleneck techniques to remove constraints to success; and using reliability techniques to create systems that safely and reliably satisfy customers and create value.

What lessons have you learned?

The value of diversity. As an engineer, you're trained to think that you can calculate the solution to any problem and the answer will be obvious to everyone in the room. Well, that's not true! When I started managing people I had to learn a whole new skill set in order to draw information out of people who traditionally were either ignored or allowed to be silent. A good leader has to draw out all of the relevant contributors and get them into the conversation. You can't assume people have nothing to say just because they are quiet. I learned that team building requires creating an environment where all of those people can contribute.

What's an example of creating that kind of environment?

I was called into a family-owned steel manufacturing company. One of the family members decided that he liked owning the business more than he liked running it, so he left a committee of managers to run the place and that turned into chaos. Everyone was pursuing their own agenda, relations with the union went downhill, customers were not satisfied, they were not operating safely, and financial results declined to break-even level.

There's a challenge.

I was able to get this dysfunctional team working together to rally around the goal and go in the same direction. We paid a lot of attention to quality and opened up communication with the unionized work force. We became profitable again and it enabled the family to sell the business and recoup their investment and then some. This was just before a real downturn in the market so it was a great success.

What is success to you?

I see success on three levels—a real high level, an operational level, and a personal level. At a high level, success is whatever the people who hire me think it is. With the steel company, the people who hired me said success will be if you can improve the profitability of this business so we can sell it and recoup our investment. I knew what I had to do. When ideas came up that didn't fit with the goal, I had to set them aside and keep pushing in the right direction.

And at an operational level?

I define operational success in terms of achieving the right amount of improvement in each of five areas—safety, quality, customer satisfaction, operations, and profitable growth. Finally, at a personal level, I know I've been successful when a business becomes viable again. When it operates safely and pleases customers, generates a reasonable return on investment, and provides employees with a great reason to get up in the morning and come to work, that's success to me.

Tell me about the revolutionary product you worked on at IRMCO Advanced Service Technologies.

They had developed a dry film, metal-forming lubricant. Normally people would use these horrible oil-based lubricants that would stick to everything. IRMCO people developed a product with friction similar to Teflon, so it was very slick, non-stick, and had the chemistry of shampoo so you could wash it down the drain when you were done with it. I had been working with them while I was at the steel company. When I sold the steel company, IRMCO asked me to keep the project going.

What was the challenge?

First of all, we had to prove to people who were used to working with oil products that this other type of product would make their parts as well as or better than what they were used to. Second was to demonstrate that all of the environmental claims were true. The customer had to get to the point where they believed us and were willing to purchase the $500,000 equipment that was needed to apply the product.

Were you able to do it?

Within two years we were at positive cash flow. It was just dogged determination to follow up on leads through trade shows, advertisements, and magazine articles, and we put on many demonstrations in facilities to prove that our claims were true.

Is there a common method that you bring to your assignments?

First is strategic vision or figuring out what needs to be done. Second is courageous leadership. This is where things begin to fall apart for many people. People know what they have to do, but they don't have the courage to do it. People like me know there are risks, but have the courage to manage the risk and make the decision. That separates people who produce results from people who don't. Last is the idea of focus and perseverance. You can't get distracted by some new idea or new challenge or new interesting path or you will never get the job done.

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Northbrook, IL
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