Lessons Learned, Experiences Remembered

A Turning Point

A big change in my thinking occurred in 1986. The Chairman of the enterprise where I worked, a student of manufacturing practices, read "World Class Manufacturing" by Richard Schonberger. He was passionate about the book and hired Schonberger to lecture the top 100 manufacturing personnel in the company for an entire day, on Lean Thinking. This coaching soon became important.

A few quarters later, in March of 1988, I was serving as "Assistant to the President" of the corporation. The President, one of my most outstanding mentors, sent me to visit a floundering division without giving me much direction. After I returned, I wrote a trip report about what I had observed. The only remark from the President was he thought the report was good and I should go again soon. I went, I wrote another report.

After the third iteration of this process, I told my colleagues I didn't know exactly why I was still visiting but I had a good idea what the boss wanted.

The division was a startup in 1983 and an acquisition in 1986. The reason for the acquisition was the rapid growth of sales. The biggest division in my company tried to compete in the same niche. The upstart company, however, kicked the big division of my company around the marketplace, at least from a Product-Market fit perspective. While sales growth was impressive, the company had never previously made a profit, either before or after the acquisition.

What was needed was a more complete business model. Product-Market fit, by itself, was insufficient. Other aspects of the business needed improvement. Quality was very poor, shipments were late, productivity was stagnant, morale was low (so low, there was a union organizing campaign in 1987), and three disconnected buildings held lots of obsolete inventory as well as several unused pieces of machinery, some of it new and never installed. In addition, there were team members who were simply not going to make contributions sufficient to impact strategic success.

In business model canvas language, the company was failing because they were not executing on key activities.

A self-appointed group, six of us, started to meet and brainstorm what might be necessary to accomplish profitability at a level which produced an acceptable return on investment to the corporation. We decided to identify the changes necessary. The group put together a 14 step action plan. And we decided to do everything by the book, Schonbergers' book.

The Division President at the time, didn't buy in to the plan. Nothing was implemented.

One thing led to another regarding accountability and when I agreed to take the position as Division President later that year at the urging of my mentor, I blew the light coat of dust off the plan, and implemented all 14 projects in the first 30 days. The company immediately became profitable and ultimately grew five-fold.

Important Takeaways

Today, I see this as the key turning point in my career as there were so many lessons:

  1. I became an ardent supporter of Lean Thinking. I have been a student and practitioner in every business since.
  2. I am still friends with team members who were part of the planning experience and recognize the importance of all their contributions. I could not have succeeded alone.
  3. Similarly, I learned the importance of strong team members in the organization. I'm proud of the fact that several eventually became C-level execs themselves.
  4. I learned the importance of acting on strategy, pivoting even if you save none of your previous work.
  5. I appreciate the advice from my mentor. He knew I was a fit for the Division President opportunity and encouraged me to take it. I feel 360 degrees blessed. I had a boss who was a mentor, peers who were willing to study, brainstorm, and advise, and a team working for me that could move rapidly to make change.

How Do I Add Value

Best Practices for Strategic Planning

Strategyzer is the world's leading influencer in the tools for strategy development. To ensure proper understanding and communication, development of a Business Model Canvas is an important first step for discussing your business strategy. 

Every business leader needs their advisers. As I learned from my first turnaround situation, a team of interested and talented executives were necessary to develop a plan. Maybe not all plans require 14 action steps, but most businesses won't make it by doing just one thing well. To this day, I respect people in my career who were advisers and mentors.

what makes working with me different:

  1. Broad Experience. For many small or startup businesses, finding advisers and mentors can be a challenge. Daily operations, team building issues, the "secret sauce", finance issues, and a real life away from business are important, leaving little time for working on the business rather than in the business. My background is broad enough and long enough that I can advise or consult in many areas of a business. If I feel I am not qualified to make a valuable contribution to an issue, I will work to find the proper referral.
  2. Proper Focus. The job of an Owner or CEO is not the same from industry to industry or from business to business. And the way you serve the business might evolve over time depending on the size and scale of the business, the nature of your competition, or your personal place in life. What might be important for the business today likely is something different than it was a few years ago. To add value, it is important to be working on the right things at the right time. Some consultants have a canned approach to their coaching. I prefer to craft a plan which is specific to each client. You can learn more about some popular themes here:
  3. Change Maker. The focus on STRATEGY EXECUTION, is the biggest value added by executive coaching. While it is important for you to have advisers who can coach you about the "secret sauce", you also need advisers who can help you profitably commercialize your idea. To start, we use tools from Strategyzer to develop a basis for discussing the strategies you have for your company. This provides a foundation for developing your pitches to potential investors, employees, and customers. Your vision and your message can become a single, concise thought. From there, the tools allow us to discuss your value proposition, your choices for reaching customers with your message, customer retention, key activities in your business, key resources, revenue streams, partnerships, and cost structures. When things don't go well, we also have a way to discuss possible pivots you can make.
  4. Dealing with the Unexpected. How do you manage managers if their field is not your background? What do you do with an under-performing or misbehaving employee? What approach should you take towards a dispute? As a coach, I've engaged in many discussions with senior leaders to explore alternatives, discuss implications, and find creative solutions. 

Experience enables you to approach issues differently


Bob Kroon
Founder and CEO, Expeerious

My career includes a variety of senior management roles primarily in durable goods manufacturing. Since 1988, I served organizations ranging in size from $5M to $300M annual revenues as General Manager, President, COO, CEO, and Group Vice President.

I credit much of my business success to a commitment to Lean Thinking. I championed business improvements where productivity increased by 50%, inventory reduced by 65%, margins improved by 10% and defects reduced by 80%. I successfully led three companies from turnaround situations to sustained profitability. In four assignments, my team implemented strategies where businesses grew over 20%. My background includes leading contract manufacturing Tier 1 supply chains serving technology businesses with multiple deliveries per day.

Clients value my experience and skills in Mergers and Acquisitions. On four occasions, I served as the central figure in buying or selling companies. I provide services such as sourcing and pipeline management, diligence, financial modeling, identification of synergy opportunities, creative deal structures, and post-close business integration planning.

Product development is the the most endorsed skill by those in my network. I have successfully launched over 1000 new products in my career.

My education credentials include a BS Industrial Engineering from Iowa State University and an MBA from Drake University.

Want to know how I think?

I've written over 250 answers to business questions on Quora. The links below will take you to key question categories inside Quora.