Circuit Chronicles: What Is a General Manager?

Editor's note: In this new column, industry veteran Kim O’Neil discusses what it’s like being a general manager of a small domestic PCB shop. From facilities to manning issues, from cash flow to material shortages, Kim candidly discusses the daily challenges of running an American PCB fabricator.

His open and honest style makes for some very interesting as well as informational reading. You’re going to like Kim’s approach to general management as well as his writing.

What is a general manager? Let’s start by breaking down the definition of those very words.

General: All-encompassing or the leader and highest-ranking officer in the Marines, Army, or Air Force. One who sets the clear vision for the organization. Provides the required tools. Let’s go and trust the team.

Manager: A person responsible for controlling or administering all or part of a company or similar organization. Having the authority (power) to put plans, actions into effect.

Recently I was fortunate enough to attend a webinar sponsored by Arizona Small Business Boot Camp & Collective called “How to be a Great Boss,” presented by Tom Wesner of Traction Experts, Real Simple Results. They presented a formula that went like this:

Leadership + Management = Accountability

That’s the job. Over the course of the next several columns, I’d like to expand on this concept and take a deeper dive into the subjects that, in my opinion, directly relate to becoming, surviving, and succeeding being a GM in a small PCB shop.

There are seven basic subjects that I’ll address in this column. Most are obvious at their face, but looking closely, you may find the details can be a make it or break it point. Becoming a GM is something like, “The best things in life can happen when you’re not even looking for them.” Any businessperson has goal and objectives they want to achieve in their career and becoming a GM might be one of them. But if that’s your focus then I don’t think you’re focusing on the job you already have. Do the work. You’ll get noticed; if you don’t, I’d say you’re not at the right company.

  1. Making sure you have a great team. Pretty obvious but do you have the right people in the right slots? Prototron would rather promote from within the company; it’s just a culture that we aspire to. If you haven’t been looking for qualified management team members in PCBs, the pickings are slim. This strategy also shows the employees that there can be a career in your business. Retention is key.
  2. Watch the P&L. Remember that accountability thing. In my opinion the number one job of the GM is to be profitable for the owner and the company in general. No excuses. You are responsible for everything on that P&L, from cost of goods sold to accounting/legal cost. You must be in the numbers and be there as proactively as you can. More to come on this subject later.
  3. Quality. You may be saying by now, “Gosh, this guy really is Captain Obvious.” What I’m really talking about when it comes to quality is your quality management system. Do you have one? Is it formal or is it, “I’m just too busy with voids to get to a meeting.” Prototron Circuits, with its 48 full-time employees including the president, direct salesperson, salaried non-direct and operations, is AS9100 Rev D, ISO-9001/2015 Certified, MIL-PRF-31032 & MIL-PRF-55110 for the past several years. The vision was established to have a QMS that we could run the business by. And we do. I’ll guarantee this: If your company implements a QMS and works it the proper way, you’ll have plenty of time to attend meetings about the company’s direction, quality objectives, and resources that are needed to run the business. From another famous program, “It works if you work it, it won’t if you don’t.”
  4. Delivery. That’s become a real sore spot for everyone’s supply chain today, but it’s reality. Our customers still expect their PO’s to be delivered on time, just like we do. Just don’t lay it all on the supply chain. We all still have scrap and remakes. Processes fail, equipment goes down, some days, you’re just in PCB hell. Be honest and empathetic with your customers. Don’t just go the easy way; find a way. If you can’t deliver on time, tell them, and do it early. If you’ve established a real business relationship with your customer, they’ll work with you. The more you communicate the better it will be.
  5. Service. Establish your vision/definition of customer service. Be specific and find a way to measure it. For instance, how long does it take from the time you receive a PO until it’s released to the floor? You may find that you buy a few more hours in reduced cycle time to ship that order on time. At Prototron, if it doesn’t reach the customer’s dock when promised, we pays the shipping. No sand bagging either. No overcommit and underperform. If you can, have a person answer the phone. The boss gets mad if he calls in and no one answers the phone. Just this past week, our office manager took a couple of days’ vacation and her back-up unavoidably also had to take two days off. It was bad scheduling by their boss, so for part of the two days, I had phone duty. It’s that accountability thing again. The only call I got was for me anyway, but I was ready.
  6. Technology. Very tough subject for the small shops. You can’t be everything to everybody so utilize your resources wisely. Involve every person you can in making those decisions, but you are the manager of capital for the company. It’s not just new technology. Sometimes that etcher just can’t go anymore. Buy new or used. How much can we afford? My opinion is, don’t get caught on the bleeding edge of technology. Be creative on how you approach the subject. Our approach is no debt. It’s tough to do in our society, but once you learn how to do it, you sleep better at night.
  7. The facility/shop. I’ve had the privilege of working in some of the best PCB facilities in the United States. Not only did the processes work well, but the floors were shined and walls were painted on a regular basis. I guess the easiest way to set the vision for your shop is, “I want to look like it should be my house.” Except my desk, of course. Come to think of it, I don’t have a desk at my house, so I guess I’m okay. It’s just you’re packaging. It’s the first thing a customer sees, and it will make an impression. So will the shop when you have a tour. But even more, it’s where we all spend most of our time. Establish that pride with your employees.

Remember, “The best things in life can happen, when you’re not even looking for them.”

Kim O’Neil is general manager at Prototron Circuits.



Circuit Chronicles: What Is a General Manager?


There are seven basic subjects that I’ll address in this column. Most are obvious at their face, but looking closely, you may find the details can be a make it or break it point. Becoming a GM is something like, “The best things in life can happen when you’re not even looking for them.”

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