Kevin Mauger was recently the Robot Industry Podcast's guest. They talked about culture, conveyors, configurators, the Amazon Effect, how to start a company, building a brand and changing your company to an employee owned, purposeful, positive entity.
Feel free to jump to a specific section below , listen to the full podcast, or just read on.
- Introducing Kevin Mauger, President of Glide-Line
- Glide-Line, The Most Flexible Conveyor System Manufacturer
- Glide-Line: Fast, Flexible and Easy
- Customized Standard Conveyor Solutions & Fast Lead Time
- IMPACT! Our In-Context CAD Configuration Software for Application Engineers & Design Engineers
- Being an Employee-Owned Company
Kevin - Automation Systems are sometimes designed around conveyors and that is completely backwards.
Jim - Hello everyone and welcome to A3; the robot industry podcast. I’d like to welcome the listeners all over the world from Frankford, Marsay, Oakland and London. Thank you for subscribing to our podcast, I’m glad that you are here. I’d like to introduce my guest today, Kevin Mauger. Kevin is an entrepreneur, he's a father, he's a fisherman, he’s a graduate from the University of Delaware with a bachelor of Science and Kevin was an systems engineer at NCC for a dozen years. Like they say in the commercial, “you like the company so much that you bought it.” Kevin welcome to the podcast.
Kevin - Well, thank you, it’s good to be here Jim. I have to say something, so the systems engineers at our company would probably roll over in their grave thinking about me being a systems engineer. I was sales engineer. The sales engineers get it close, the system engineers make it work.
Jim - Coming from an old applications engineer in my background too, I’m sure there is a lot of people out there rolling their eyes now too. So, Kevin you are the president of a bunch of different companies, you started at NCC automated systems, you also have a couple other things going on in your life. Just let our audience know what some of those things are.
Kevin - Well, it's a life full of lots of things. First and foremost, I am a parent and a husband. I have three kids. My son Kyle, 29; my daughter Maddison, 25(in about two weeks); and Kelsey is 19. My wife Danielle, who is a fitness instructor, nutritionist, and health coach. So she keeps me hoppin'. Then of course the elephant of NCC, I’ve worked here my entire career. I literally graduated on a Friday and started what was then Northeast Conveyor Corporation the following Monday. So, I had the weekend off! It’s literally the only thing I know. I’ve been working here my entire career.
NCC as a base company is a manufacturer and an integrator in two main industries. The largest industry for us is the food industry, food and packaging and we also do quite a bit of work in the industry. So, two distinct segments. From that base of NCC, we started some other companies. Glide-Line is one of them Side Drive Conveyor Company is another one, and we have another one starting to be announced mid this year.
Jim - So you founded Glide-Line and that's one of the reasons I’m having you on the podcast today as one of the most flexible workpiece pallet and panel handling precision conveyor systems on the planet. So, how did that come about?
Kevin - Yeah, good question Jim. So, again the background with NCC as an integrator we buy, resell, customize and make our own custom conveyor essentially to support customer needs. They are all different all the time. Very rarely is it an out of the box catalog solution. There is always some element of customization. It's the roll of an integrator, everybody knows that. We weren't in the assembly market at all. However we had one machine we built for the optical market and it used a twin strand style conveyor. It didn't even use a workpiece pallet. It was just a twin strand style of conveyor. And frankly we had trouble getting it.
As an integrator, the conveyor is commodity. It's basically something you need. We were seeing lead times from who we were purchasing from that were just crazy. Twelve weeks on like a six foot conveyor. so , we designed our own, not with the intention of turning this into a product line. And by the way it looked nothing like what our product looks today. It was just like oh my god, we can't get delivery, we have quoted and and accepted an order on this delivery and we need the conveyor before it, so I guess we'll just make our own. So, we did that as a complete coincidence. We had another customer walking through our shop going to a FAT and he stopped at this machine that had this conveyer inside of it and he said “hey, where did you get that conveyor?” We kind of told him the story, turns out he buys from the say supplier and having the same problems. They buy 120 of these a year just like that, can you make them for me? So, Sure?! Okay?! We ramped up a little bit on it, still really didn't have any intentions, but once we learned about that market. As an integrator we know what the market wants, they want conveyors quickly, they want them at good value, they want them flexible, they want somebody who is easy to work with and frankly that segment of the overall automation industry, the main supplier, wasn't necessarily those things.
They are many great things, it's a good company but they are a very big company and they weren't fast, flexible or easy. So we literally designed our company around fast, flexible and easy. Heritage, as an integrator, told us we knew what they wanted and we started learning the industry and we said “you know what, this is an interesting industry, we’ve got some baseline technology that would really work, we’ve got the right experience, skill set, manufacturing core, etc. and the industry can really need this. So, it was self serving at first, and then we said we can probably make a business out of this and there we are.
Jim - I have to disclose to the audience too that we are friends and in the early days I helped you out with some projects, so I just want to get that out on the table right away.
Kevin - Well, Jim, I think you could probably say that for most of the industry. At least the friends part, and anybody listening knows that's true.
Jim - Well and I know you’re a fisherman because we actually exchange fish pictures every once in a while over Instagram right? So GlideLine kind of started as your own internal need and then with clients now asking for the conveyors you started building configurations and based on this “fast, flexible and easy.” So what's happening and who's your target audience?
Kevin - We sell to integrators we don't do any integration in the assembly automation industry so our targets are integrators in the assembly automation industry. Which of course is a horizontal over many vertices. Most of the time that is a private firm doing work for their end user which is probably 90% of our customers. But some end users actually have their own integration groups and we will sell to them on those occasions as well.
Jim - What were some of your biggest obstacles getting started? For yourself it’s easy, you can be a little bit late or you can have some challenges but what are some of your start up obstacles?
Kevin - Yeah, you raised a really good point, and actually supplying to our self was a really, really good soft start into the industry because you are right, we have more flexibility and we ended up finding a use for it internally that ended up being quite a bit of use in the the optical industry. So we got a lot of volume and learning as we built our brand. To answer your question, the hardest thing was building the brand. Who is GlideLine? These engineers are doing work for very large companies and didn't want to take risks with something they don't know. Engineers aren't paid to take risks, engineers are paid to avoid risks. So, that was an interesting thing, I've always been in the integration world, presented with a challenge, how good your challenge is from a solution set, cost set, delivery set, meeting the customer needs; that's when you get to work. Well, with selling a product that's a whole different thing. So we really had to build up that trust and credibility. It was a little bit of a challenge, it took longer than we thought.
Jim - I think it's like everything when you're building in the automation industry, everything does take longer than you think and you want to build standard; and the customers want to build custom products. Tell me some of your innovative solutions that you are able to do because I think you are able to do things swiftly and quite creatively.
Kevin - Yeah, that’s a great thing, and there are two elements in there. There’s speed and there’s the ability to customize. Both of those things work hand in hand. The solution that we developed, we had in mind. We knew that people wanted at least configurable solutions, potentially customizable solutions.
That's just the nature of the world. People aren’t designing their systems around conveyors, they are designing their systems around the application and the conveyoreverybody hads need to fit in. We did a couple things there, number one, we automated the design process. A lot of times when a conveyor manufacturer gets an order, it then goes into engineering, and then engineering does their thing with it, then they release it to the shop then the shop does its thing and they ship it.
So basically we created software internally that allows us to cut out the engineering process. So, when we say fast, it's not because we run faster or that we work harder; (I mean maybe we do) but the reality is we have cut out steps of the process, so we can go right from sales directly to the shop. So we have cut out that step, and actually the tool that we use, we also have a customer version of that. It's called Impact. We can give customers that; it’s a modeling, application and pricing tool. So everyone calls these things configurators, but our configurators is completely different than the other configurator market. It takes a little while to get it, but if you think about the best configurators in the market they are cloud based, you go online and fill out a really nice wizard, it creates basically specifications. It creates a quote, it creates a price, it creates a model. You download the model and put it in your assembly; everything is good. There is zero wrong with that process, it works.
The problem is when you change it. When you insert, quote on quote a “dumb model” into a master assembly, your setting is up in solid works. Patching makes and references and then if something has to change, sometimes the model blows up. By the way that model, is a “dumb model” so you can’t really easily change that. And by the way if you do, it's a new part number, it’s a new price, maybe a new lead time. So, ours is basically a native solid works model that has all that intelligence, pricing the part number, how it applies built into the model. So, we have a nifty interface with excel, you configure it in either solid works or excel. They talk to each other, you always have a current, and a current price and you can always check your applications. It's a native, live dynamic model.
Jim - So I’m an applications engineer, I create a system for a client opportunity and then I find out that I need station number seven expanded, so now I have to expand it. So it’s an easy peasy mix, right?
Kevin - Yeah, and you're exactly right. You bring up an important distinction because for an applications engineer, they use it differently than a design engineer. So, what I described kind of works for both, it really does. An application engineer, the beauty is the speed. They don’t have to send it back to us, they don’t necessarily have to go back online. They can do everything they need to do really, really quickly to get it close; so they can get their proposal out the door, with an accurate price.
The design engineer, well same thing, they can model it around. We get dead accurate models with complete part numbers. So their bond is now correct, they already know the price so you don’t while you are designing things go back and forth with the sales engineer. You can if you want, we are here to support that, but basically we give them the power and tools to do it in their environment, where they are already comfortable with it. So if you know Solid Works and Excel you know how to use Impact. You have to set it up, but it’s very simple.
Jim - It’s all about reducing the risk right, so everyone knows you as an apps guy, you can take that, send that up to the purchasing department or design department and there is low risk in the model. I love that, I think it’s very, very clever. So I would like to switch the conversation a little bit to kind of some of the things you are seeing. Are you seeing some bigger jobs, smaller jobs? I know speed to market and some of the other trends you might be seeing.
Kevin - Yeah, great topic. You know I think the amazon effect has really infiltrated our entire industry. Everybody wants everything immediately. Everything from support, to questions to chats to answers to deliveries. So it seems like the industry is extremely busy. It seems like they want faster and faster deliveries and in general I feel like the industry is dramatically standing on many, many fronts. So you know you see some technologies in the industry that are dying a slow death and you see other ones that are just coming out of nowhere.
Jim - But that affects everyone, like that amazon effect. So it's affecting your end customer, your integrator and yourself. So you're seeing that as a big thing that is not likely to change.
Kevin - I think so. I think it's just a mentality. It's just that everything is sped up in our world, everything is immediate.
Jim - So things are rolling along and you're selling a lot of these systems to integrators and then you do something very unusual in the marketplace. You make Glide-Line an employee owned company. So why did you do that? And tell me a little bit about that.
Kevin - Well there is a lot of answers to that question. There is a lot of questions around that answer. I think that overall, I've been very lucky in my career and I got to the point where, I said alright, what do I want to do with the rest of my life? The rest of my career. Am I happy where things are or do we want to shoot for the moon? And a huge part of me wanted to be happy with where I was because I wanted for nothing. I have everything I needed.
I'm very, very blessed with luck frankly. We are in this good situation as a family and as a company, but there is an old adage that says if you're not getting better you are getting worse. If you're not getting bigger you're getting smaller. And frankly the best people on your team really want to be challenged. Our purpose as a company and basically the end of the story as I discovered what I wanted to do, I somewhat discovered myself to kind of figure out what really speaks to me. What is the most fulfilling? And I came to the conclusion that I wanted to create and inspire a positive experience for both our employees and our customers and we had the ability to do that. We had a model that works, we have done this a few times, proven this. We have created this model of a company that basically allows us to get to the next level. However, in order to do that, it's not for the meek of heart, right.
This is not an easy thing, we publicly say that we want to take our company to one hundred million dollars. We are a little over thirty now, so a pretty tall order. And by the way, there is a huge glass ceiling, where; somewhere in the 20-30 million dollar range when a company grows from adolescent to mature or turns into a real company that wasn't just a small company operating like a small company; one that can actually scale. So, I basically knew that the only way to do this was to give everybody a stake in the outcome. It was a perfect parallel to what I have found most fulfilling was to create this positive, inspiring experience. To do this, it's going to be hard. You need everybody on board and by the way it fulfills the passion and the purpose of who i thought i had become along the way. Or figure out who I had become along the way. Sorry for such a long answer.
Jim - No, that’s a great answer Kevin. I saw the news release on YouTube and was very excited for you but I was wondering what were the reactions from staff? I saw some very happy people, people crying. So were there any reactions that surprised you?
Kevin - No, I don't think there was any reactions that really surprised me. I think, like anything else you have some people who get it and really where like “alright, this is awesome!” And you have some people like, “yeah okay, is this some type of who knows what this is, we will see.” And the rest of them maybe are somewhere in the middle with “this seems pretty good, but I don't really understand it.” And I think that was the overwhelming feeling.
Everybody had heard of employee owned companies but not many people know how they really work. The mechanism behind it, the opportunity, the upside. It’s an incredible opportunity to be a part of an employee owned company because you are now, it of course depends on how the culture is set up and the overall rest of the company is set up but, if it’s done right; and you know I hope we are on the way of doing it right. If it is done right, you can feel like you are an owner. Ownership thinking is a very powerful thing not only of the success of the company but the success of the employee. So, rather than just going to work everyday and doing the job, if you feel like you are doing something you are engaged in and have a sense of fulfillment it's a significantly better place to be in life. That is obviously a huge part of it.
Jim - No, I think it's wonderful. And like you said you’ve kind of got the cultural set, and you now have ownership thinking. These are people who are like “ooh don't waste that money, or let's get this job shipped right away because we get paid faster.” You do have some of those things that you wouldn't have in a normal corporation. Is there any surprises that you have seen now in the change of culture, now people knowing they own a piece of this?
Kevin - I think it’s just the power of the team. You know, it's one thing to say it theoretically but then to see it in actual action. I think before it was an employee owned company and as a much smaller company I felt like I was the one carrying a lot of the load, and not just doing the work, because the company has always done all of the work, but I mean carrying the burden, the worry, the stress, the seek to improve. Part of that is because I had visibility and part of the position, but really it's the overall responsibility.
What could happen both on the negative or the positive side. So now that everybody has exposure, we’ve also turned into an open book managed company. We have given full transparency to the dollars and cents so coupled with that tool to help understand how and when we make money. And have an actual stake in the outcome both long and short term, it’s incredibly powerful to get everyone basically rowing in the same direction. And I don’t mean to make it sound like it's completely okay. We still have plenty of problems, we still have plenty of challenges and not everyone is exactly rowing in the same direction. But in any company if you look at; if there is 100 people, pick a number. 10 or 20 of them are going to work like it's their own company no matter what. No matter what they are, that's just who they are. They were raised that way, that's just who they are. You are going to have maybe 5 or 10 people who it doesn't matter what you do, bottoms up. They are coming to work. So it's the people in the middle that you are trying to affect. That could be 70-80% of the company. If 70-80% of your company is even one click better than it was before, that's 70 or 80% of your company. That's a huge number. Two clicks, three clicks; it can have a tremendous impact. That has been the biggest surprise, it's just really the power of that along the way. Incredible.
Jim - Now that you have been an employee owned company I think for two or three years?
Kevin - 2017, so four years.
Jim - So are you seeing as well, being employee owned that is a really good thing for employee attraction and retention?
Kevin - I think so, I think it’s a piece of it. It’s interesting, there is a great upside from a financial perspective. I think its the effect of being an employee owned can have on a company is the actual attraction. It's one thing to be employee owned, it’s another thing to have a company of people who think and act like owners. And care and follow the values that the company has. That alignment is a powerful thing.
Jim - That’s great, Kevin I want to thank you for coming on the podcast. I know you and I have been chatting about getting you on for a long time. And I know how busy you are. How can people get a hold of you and how can they find out more about GlideLine products?
Kevin - We have a website, which is probably the best place www.glide-line.com