Cutting Tool Engineering
April 2011 / Volume 63 / Issue 4

When it rains, it pours

By Keith Jennings

One weekend when I was in college, I went to visit my then girlfriend—now wife of 22 years. While returning home on a rural stretch of road, I inadvertently drove into the path of an oncoming pickup truck at a two-way intersection and caused a moderately bad wreck in which, thankfully, no one was seriously injured. Unfortunately for me, I received several citations because it was my fault.

As I sat nervously in the state trooper’s car waiting for him to write up everything, he politely made a comment I’ll never forget: “Well, Mr. Jennings, when it rains, it pours, doesn’t it?” He was right and knew the accident would be an expensive lesson for a college kid, although not an insurmountable obstacle. His simple, truthful words had impact.

Recently, the trooper’s words rang aloud once again during a tumultuous 2-week stretch at our shop, when, if something could go wrong, it did. Thankfully this didn’t include work-related injuries, but it was an unexpected series of events that was tough to deal with. The events tested my ability to manage the shop and still go home and smile to the wife and kids, do my family chores and read insightful business material, among many other responsibilities.

It started when a production manager was suddenly out for a week with a kidney stone. Then two employees who are brothers were placed on medical leave so one could donate a kidney to the other. Two production machines were down for repairs, causing us to fall behind schedule, a key mill machinist was terminated, a server crashed and disrupted our operation, and sales levels were inconsistent to boot. Add my dad—our retired CEO—who was happily traveling with no knowledge of this stuff, but still was calling for regular updates. It was a stressful mess.

We got through the rough patch, but the events took their toll and it took us several weeks to recover. Nothing can prepare a manager for this type of scenario except experience. Inevitably, some dramatic event will suddenly occur, requiring shop owners or managers to step up, lead, and instill confidence in employees that they can handle it.

When I was growing up, it was my parents’ responsibility to handle these issues and my turn seemed a long way off. I can remember as a kid hearing them discuss the roller-coaster of shop life, at times sounding unsure if they’d survive or not. Sometimes, their stress even concerned me, but in every instance, they somehow developed a strategy to deal with the problems and persevered. It was always a relief to hear them finally say, “Everything is going to be OK.”

Now that I’m the one handling these situations, I’ve realized how important it is to maintain professionalism and confidence, even when the task seems overwhelming. Many situations require effective management on the fly. Learning to manage and handle them effectively will certainly increase your chances of success.

There’s no doubt running a machine shop is a serious responsibility and the expectations are high. I’m sure many of you have already had similar unexpected and unpleasant experiences, maybe even worse than mine. (Send me an e-mail if you’d like to share your experiences.) Even so, it was eye-opening and my worst 2 weeks so far. It rained, it poured, and it won’t be forgotten. CTE

About the Author: Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, laser cutting, metal fabrication and metal stamping. He can be e-mailed at kjennings@jwr.com.
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