The Ed Eppley Experience
The Ed Eppley Experience

Episode · 1 year ago

Trapped By The Rusty Handcuffs!


Sam Mason grew up in the steel industry. But it was only when he left for college that he learned how strong was the hold the business and industry had on him. In this episode you will hear how Sam has taken on the President and COO role for Major Metals. Sam shares how he and his dad Jeff, prepared for and executed the move from G2 to G3 and why he likes having a board of advisors he can tap for advice. Sam also describes how he's found being very clear and specific about the end-result he expects has made it simpler for his people to perform at higher levels. You will enjoy learning from this up and coming leader!

Welcome to the Ed Epley experience. 20 minutes that simplifies the complex job of managing and leading people and inspires you to take action on what you probably already know to build and sustain a smart and healthy business. Here's your host Ed athlete to introduce this week's guest and business leader. Welcome to the Ed Epley Experience, The podcast dedicated to helping you. Our listeners get a least one proven and practical idea to run a more successful and sustainable business. Today's guest. Let me tell you a little bit about him. He's smart, He's creative. He's curious. He's extremely talented. And the thing I hate most about him is young. I'm not gonna ask him to reveal his age. He's younger than I would like him to be just because he makes me feel old. He's Sam Mason. Sam, you're gonna have to help me out here. What is your correct title now at major medals? President and CEO. Okay, So, Chief Operating officer, he has not yet taken on the mantle of CEO, but he is president responsible for the day to day operations. Sam, Welcome. First of all to the Epley experience, I know that. Ah, lot of people who are listening are not in the career that they first thought they would be when they left college. I'm curious about how did you decide to go into the business of making welded steel tube? Well, thanks a bunch for having me on. I'm excited. I listen to podcasts pretty much every morning on my way into work. So this is my first experience being on one, and it's gonna be fun. So thank you for the invite here. Well, the steel industry has got something that's known as the rusty handcuffs. And basically, every time you've got a family member in the steel industry, somehow another family member ends up in the steel industry. I had never heard that I hadn't heard of the golden hand because I had never heard the rusty handcuff they call him. They call him in the steel business, the rusty hand because it it seems like families sort of proliferate when they there in steel. The steel business they often times have, you know, succession plans that involve generations. And there's a lot of small family run businesses in the steel world, so that tends to lead toe even more of that. But the real reason I I got into the steel business wasn't really because my family was into it. I really never even got pressured into being a part of the family business. But when I was in college, I took a tour of a steel mill believe it was junior year of college, and I sat down afterwards with my father and the rep that took us on the tour, and they were both older gentleman, sort of in the later part of their careers. And I came to realize the more I looked at it, that it was a very aging workforce in the steel business. And it's not a business that's going away. We're gonna need steel, and we're gonna need steel products. And as much as they, you know, we innovate and come up with new components and new materials to use the steel business is not is not going away anytime soon. And it occurred to me that it was a great opportunity to get...

...into a business that not a lot of people my age were getting into, and to get the experience early on and really give myself an opportunity to be an impactful member of that. You know, that industry in that community, You know, moving forward. That tells me a lot about you. And I thought I knew you're pretty well before, but I never heard the story about visiting another steel mill. Was it a k or who did you say? No, it was actually Steel Dynamics. It's, ah, small mini mill, one of the newer steel companies in the country. And it was their mill out in Butler, Indiana. Are they a supplier now? Yes. Yeah, they are. They They've been supplying a steal for quite some time now. Often on its, uh, it all depends on availability and things, but Okay, So you decided then in college that you recognized this was gonna be an opportunity in a market that was gonna be legitimate and, if not growing, at least stable for the foreseeable future. So now you're there. What's different about welded steel versus I think when most people think about steel, they think about girders. They think about beans. They don't necessarily think of all the different kinds. So you're in the welded tube business Still to business. So what do your products what does the product that you make? What does it become? Where would our listeners see it? So we make we take a flat piece of steel that is rolled up in coil form and send it through a Siris of rollers that make it into a shape either around or square shape that becomes all sorts of different things. One of the most common ones, it's applicable to something these days is we make round steel tubing that ends up in a conveyor roller. So if you look at on Amazon or FedEx Distribution Center, there's all these silver round rollers that the boxes roll down. We're making tubing for that application. We also do square tubing that goes into structural components, whether it be for metal sheds and buildings, sort of to replace, like a piece of wood and a pull barn, if you will, or in like a storage trailer, for instance, it would have There's a frame inside of there that's all made out of square square steel tubing, and I've been fortunate enough to go through your plant and see the operation it and folks, if you've never been inside steel plants, it's not very quiet could be pretty noisy. There's greases and oils and things are moving. And truthfully, it could be dangerous workspace. If people aren't careful, it's machines moving metal and that pretty high speeds. And it's fascinating to watch the metal go from being a flat sheet to being a square or round tube and literally in minutes from start to finish. So now that we have our audience kind of educated about what major medals is and and does, and whether products go, what do you like about the business? I'm curious about what gives you energy that you get to do in the in the work that you do well. It's as you mentioned. It's It's dirty, it's greasy. It's not pretty and shiny, but there's there's a... nature to that because it's very rial. It's not a lot of numbers on a computer, you know. It's not a lot of charts and things that you see in finance that are just numbers dancing around. You're making something that is that is gonna be a hard good that the country requires, and we're making it here out of domestically sourced steel and and with domestic labor, and we're really providing on opportunity for for a lot of people that you know may not have the same opportunity that you see in a big city where there's there's very I guess you could say kind of office jobs. I mean, it's a manufacturing town and to provide manufacturing opportunity to the people who want it. It's very rewarding because you can see people who otherwise would be in a very tough spot really enrich their lives. And that piece of it is a lot of fun. You know, we had a plant superintendent that has been with us for 13 years, and he's gone from, you know, renting a very small apartment to renting a house to just recently getting his first mortgage and and buying the home and watching our business be able to provide that to him with his hard work. And he's He's a very smart guy, not college educated or anything, but is provided an extremely successful career for him and his family. Out of stuff that we've done in that part of it is very fun. Thank you for making those opportunities possible. Major medals. I we should have told the audience where you guys located Mansfield, Ohio. So we're about halfway in between Cleveland and Columbus. Yeah, good location. Busy traffic all the time outside your plant location. There off of I 71. What's the hardest part about the work that you guys do? And the role that you have, Maybe in specific Well, you've got 100 personalities out there and managing 100 personalities is is difficulty in getting them to move in in one consistent direction can at times seem impossible. As you said, the work we're moving around, objects that are 5 £10,000 and we are using forces that air, you know, literally bending metal at hundreds of feet per minute. So it takes a lot of force. And there there is a safety component to it that is very challenging, and it's very riel, and it's something that needs focused on in that part of it can be. It can be very hard because it's it never ends the safety aspect of it. You can always be better. You always have to be better, and it's a zero error game. You can't have a mistake so that part of it can be very difficult to manage. And, you know, the other thing that's that's been interesting is that as a small business owner, there is nobody to go to for a correct answer. There's nobody that you can go to that says, when a problem presents itself, you know when Cove it comes up and it's, you know, you're required to make decisions and do things. There's nobody that has a playbook for you that says, This is how it's done. There's a lot of smart people that you could go to for advice and can give you advice. But even then, even they have very likely not been in the situation that you're in. That's also challenging. Is business owner well, I have toe do full disclosure for the audience. I am on Sam's board of Advisors, and there are three of us,...

...and our our collective years are closer to 200 than they are to 100 in terms of time on the Earth. And Sam has come to us with different questions at different times, and I think to the boards credit we probably haven't given him a told him he should do X or why. But we said you should consider this and this and Sam's not been what I one of things that I should have put his his qualities and characteristics is for his age. He's remarkably courageous and and willing to take risks and recognizing that a lot of times there is not a right answer. It's just there is an answer that has to be provided between a variety of choices and not all of them, you know, necessarily being ones that you want. Let's come back Thio. What's going on in your industry right now? It's in a bit of Ah, I don't know if it's a chaotic, as it was two months ago, but the prices are rising. I don't know if it's that stabilized at this point, Sam, but I know that I don't have a client that uses steel. That isn't talking about continuing toe face supply issues and pricing issues Well, it's starting to stabilize. It seems Onley because it can't really go much higher. I don't believe it's at an all time high. It's the price of steel is, and the month of January there was tremendous amounts of shortage in the domestic steel market, and as a result, the price went from about 34 cents for a particular product that we buy back in August up to, it's probably it's 68 or 70 now. So well, more than doubled, which has been That's tough when you're buying £35 million of something. So it's challenge. Yeah, that's quite a bit of investment in inventory. Oh, yes, yeah, And when it when it doubles it, it doubles quick. I mean, that's that's how it goes. You made me just think of something. Do you get mawr excitement and energy from selling and getting an order? Or do you get mawr excitement from getting a great by on raw material? Well, the fun part about the selling is that it's fun to generate revenue. I mean, that's cool. The buy side can be as fun, but the problem with the buy side is it's It's usually backed up with the sale, so you kind of have to do them both at the same time. It's pretty rare that you could buy something and not really know what you're selling it for our business. We don't speculate a whole lot on inventory, even if we do believe that the market's going up, we might a little bit. But, you know, the problem with speculation is that it can end in collapse versus, you know, which is not something. We're not willing to gamble the company and gamble the company on things. So we do have some speculate Ori purchases, But I would say that the energy really comes from the sell side in getting the big sale and then getting to go out and find the material. Kind of comes second. Okay, fair enough as I referred to you earlier in the in the introduction. You're not the oldest person to be in a role like yours that I've met. You're probably that close to the youngest. What do you find most challenging? I'm guessing that the vast majority of people that you supervise and manage and lead our young I'm sorry...

...older than you. Is that a problem at this point? Now, having done this role for what? I guess a year now you've been in this role. Yeah. You know, I wouldn't say that. It's a problem. I think that inevitably, if you are battling against age, there's going to be some preconceived notion that you haven't put in the time that others have and and so you kind of have to go the extra. You know that extra step and make sure that you're putting in the extra hours that you're really, you know, doing the hard work. And even if at times some of the higher level stuff you know has to sacrifice, you have to be willing to get your hands dirty to earn the respect of the people that you're managing and leading. And that's a big thing that our business has always focused on anyhow. So it's not really been a problem for me or for our team, because since day one we've been I've gotten involved in every every aspect of the business at every level, and so that Z. That's something that goes a long way from the beginning in earning the respect of the team. And our team has been with us for a long time and has seen me really put in the effort since Day one, and I think we're in a good spot in terms of people believing in my leadership. Yeah, I would agree with that. It's been remarkably undramatic in that sense, you know, it's. There's not been a lot of drama that's come along with the transition that sometimes that I've seen in other organizations. How hard was it for you and your dad toe manage this transition from him being in the role that you occupied turning that over to you? Was that as clean and as simple? Aziz. You guys thought it was gonna be Or was it? Has it proven to be more complex? Well, there's no simple answer to that. I mean, it's and it's not done yet, is the thing. We're still, you know, we're still transitioning. There's still a lot of things that happen that my father is still very involved in, and he's still coming into work every day. So it's It's not done. It's Well, Wait a minute, wait a minute. He's not coming into work every day when it's not 70 degrees or higher and sunny on Lake Erie. Well, if there's a boat that's out on the water, he may be out there instead of here. But you know, he's a business geek. He can't get enough of it. And so even on Fridays and times, when most people would be saying, I'm not coming in. He he'd rather be here. He just he loves every length of it. And so it's been challenging in some areas and others. It's been very easy, you know, the whole managing of the commercial side of things. The buying of the steel and managing the sales team and filling the order book has been very easy. He dropped that like a hot potato and had no problem doing it. You know, he didn't want those those stresses. There's been other aspects that are much more difficult to navigate and to figure out who's kind of taking lead. I suspect it's different for everybody. I mean, for us. Like I said, there's things that he didn't want to do that we're very easy for me to pick up. So would you have any advice for others who are either thinking about it, or maybe even already undertaking the transition from one generation to the next? Based upon what you and your dad had gone through? Well, you know, the first thing that comes to mind is that...'s never been done before, right? Your generational transition has never been done before, and with the players involved, it's probably not been accomplished. So understanding that that is the case and that it's developing and it's a dynamic changing thing I think is helped us a lot that every day is something different, and we need to be aware that we're gonna uncover things that we didn't know were there. I think understanding that a management team executing a succession plan and a parent or two different things and a parent and a child to include both sides, that, and making sure everybody understands when each hat needs to be worn is important. I know that my dad, a lot of times is trying to make decisions as a parent, and a lot of times is trying to make decisions as a manager. And it could be a struggle, sometimes toe to differentiate the two. That's another thing that I think is important and something that we focus a lot on. And, you know, also as as the person that is succeeding, understand that your parents want your they want your approval and they want your love. And don't forget that part because it could be kind of lonely if you do and you become just the business person and not the son or daughter anymore. In thinking about where you are today versus where you were when you started this journey to become the president and CEO, what's been the biggest surprise? What's been the thing that you look back and go, you know, good or bad? I didn't expect this. Well, you kind of touched on it earlier in the fact when you said that there's really not correct and incorrect answers. There's just decisions and consequences. And I you know, when you go through college and you go through high school, you you are just ingrained to understand that there are correct answers. You know, you've got a test and the answer is either right or wrong, and when you're in business, it is not that way. It's very rarely that way. In fact, you know, even in hindsight, when you look at something, you look back and you go, huh? I don't know if that was the right call or the wrong call or whether it really even matter, you know? And so that's been that's been surprising how few times I come across the challenge. That's like, Oh, I got that one right. You know, because you just you just go forward and you move, and that's how it is. So I would say That's that's shocked me. As a young person, you know, you've worked really hard in the several years that I've known you now at improving the productivity of the plant and trying to get mawr done with the same or less amount of time or resource. That is an issue that every one of my clients is working on to one degree or another. But one of the great things about your businesses. It's fairly easy to measure when you've made progress in improving productivity. What's been the key toe making that happen in the plant for you? I think clear measurement tools are important. We never really had a really good, clear way of measuring what was expected. When I came in. It was somebody would look at how much we did the day before the week before and write a percentage on a white board up or down. And it wasn't a This is how much you made, and this is how much was expected to be made. And where are you in regard to how good you could have done that's been huge. And...

...communicating those goals very clearly and very often to the people so that they can engage in the process of you know of improvement has been hugely helpful. A lot of times we'll see people who, when they don't have that engagement, you know, they come in and their eyes kind of glaze over and the marginal the marginal difference That just doesn't matter to them. And it, ZZ to understand why you know 5000 ft in the, you know in the scope of a 50,000 ft production day to a person that's been standing there for 10 hours doesn't really make that much of a difference. It makes all the difference in the world to our team, but to them it's not there. And in that little extra push that it takes, you've got to get creative on how you can encourage that, you know, and reward that push on. I've seen you experiment with that. One of the things that I also appreciate is that you've been really quick to embrace the idea of having a board of advisors, and I think that's for the average organization. That's if they don't have it. It's something that could help them. Or what's been your thoughts about the effort you've made in that and what you've gotten from it so far because you're still early on in that journey. Yeah, we started the board. What was that? Probably the this time last year, I believe. And then, you know, obviously our whole plan went. Thio went the heck when we Cove had came along and changed everything. So the process is it's in development. I think that the biggest thing that we've gotten out of it, that's been huge is a ah reason toe Look at the business from 50,000 ft on a regular and consistent basis, you know, quarterly or however you look at it and that's been hugely valuable because it allows us to take a step back and say, Where are we in the scope of where we wanna be? I think that there's a lot of similarity between industries that you know in business that you don't realize until you start talking to people that are kind of outside your world and so bringing some people that are kind of close to what we do. But not right on top of what we do is has been hugely helpful and, you know, as a business owner, and when you are in that small business to even medium sized business category and you're the owner, success becomes kind of like it. Same thing with the correct in the Incorrect. It's it's just a matter of how you're measuring it. And so having some other people that take a look at it and say, You know, this isn't bad That's something maybe you need to look at, You know, we would maybe do this. It's valuable and and even if you don't do it in a completely formal manner, having you know a few people that are consistently looking at your business, I think is something that all businesses could benefit from, you know, big and small. Yeah, I have seen that be the consistent theme of any organizations that I've been part of their board of advisors. They all none of them have stopped, which tells me a huge thing, that the fact that they continue to use their board, even a Z, the board may change and makeup gives... confidence that they find there's obviously some value that makes it worth their while. One of the things that we always ask our guests is to share. If there's one thing you know, like the secret, if there is that one, skill attributes behavior that somebody that's in a role like you're Sam should consider making a part of their skill set to be able to produce better, more consistent results for their organization of their team. What's that one thing that you feel like? If you could only do one thing to be successful, it would be this one thing I would say. Define what? The result is that you want well defined it. Be very clear about what you're expecting out of it. And if you can have that expectation, be something other than just the bottom line, it will allow you to achieve things that are not that aren't just pegged toe. One measurement. One of our big things is our people. I mean, that's really why our organization it exists, and so regardless of whether we're having a good year or a bad year, because we will have both for the rest of almighty time, if we can. Consistently investing, grow and grow our people, then you know it gives us that second metric for success. How did we do? As far as the year goes, how did we do? As far as investing and growing, our people goes, and it's very rare if we've got both of those that we miss on both because one is much easier to control than the other. And so it gives us that extra layer of comfort that Hey, okay, we didn't Maybe we didn't turn a profit this year. Well, that's fine. Everybody got a paycheck. All of these people grew their lives in some way, shape or form. And you know, we've We've grown the company a little bit by, you know, by doing this and then our legacy gets toe live on because the people that have grown with us are still thinking and operating by what we believe is moral values are ethical structure that we operate by, and so I think if you can come up with a couple different ways to measure your success, it helps achieve that consistent result. The thing about Sam is he's always wanting to learn. He's always trying toe become better at what he does. And I think you as our listeners will agree. He's been a great guest for us here today on the at Eppley experience. If somebody would want to reach out to you, Sam, based upon hearing what you've talked about and has questions for you, what's the best way for them? Toe, make contact with you. You can email me three email addresses. Sam Mason s A M M A S O n at major metals dot net. You could call me on my cell phone. That number 4195452047 That's probably the two best ways or I'm on Facebook. Just have to look me up, I guess. Yeah, And you've got a big event coming up later this year. Do you? Not Outside of the business, I dio I have. Ah, wedding. That's been about 18 months or almost two years in the making. Now, how are things going on the planning at this point? Very well, You know, we're just waiting for the date. June 26. That's going fast. It is coming fast, faster than I realized. Probably we'll get our... and in regards. And I thank you so much sand for taking time to join us today on the n F l E experience. Thanks very much for having me on it. It's been fun, you know. Thank you for listening to the Ed Epley experience form or information on building a more sustainable, smarter and healthier business. Visit Www theme Epley group dot com For Resource is Tips and Ed's latest blog's. That's the Epley E P P L E y group dot com plus. Take a free assessment at the Epley group dot com slash assessment to find out how you measure up as a highly skilled and accomplished manager and where to focus on improving your skills.

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