Critical care at TechniDrill Featured

10:06am EDT July 22, 2002

Jim Kent overhauled TechniDrill Systems Inc. by addressing issues that all good companies face at one time or another. But because of the accident, he had to fix everything at once.

"It's horrible to say it's good I got clobbered. It wasn't good," Jim Kent reflects four years after his accident. "But it made me, and the business, more successful."

Friend vs. employee

Kent's four engineers in 1994-old pals from Firestone-"were good rubber engineers, they just didn't understand machine tools and that hurt me.

"So instead of a part taking 30 minutes to grind, it would take four hours, and the contractor would charge me for it, and that was perfectly within his right."

Though he didn't want to do it, he replaced them.

Pricing process

TechniDrill had no methodology for estimating jobs and analyzing costs along the way. "It was just too much wild guessing. If we did a job like this last year, we'd just add a couple of percent."

Today, jobs are analyzed continuously. "The key to making money in this business isn't the overhead costs," says C.P.A. Bob Littman. "It's controlling costs on each machine."

Delegate or die

"It was easier just to do it himself than to take the time to train," says his wife Pat. "It was a vicious cycle."

But in the last two years, Kent has allowed his plant manager to develop into a true No. 2 executive by handing off many of his former duties. He also hired a purchasing agent and has stopped looking over the shoulders of the engineers who design equipment.

"I can't be the only guy who was this dumb," Kent says. "There have got to be other people out there who don't trust their employees."

Build a management team

The shop foreman became the full-time manager of cost analysis and pricing. A new shop foreman was hired with more emphasis on personnel. The chief electrical engineer was added to the management team.

Collect cash at every opportunity

Despite jobs that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and take months to complete, TechniDrill had rarely asked for deposits from customers.

Now, Kent requires a 30 percent deposit, 30 percent payment on delivery and the remaining 40 percent within 30 days.

Watch the money

Kent used to contract out to five area machine shops for most work without regular cost analysis. "We collect bids on almost everything now."

Kent also stopped using manufacturers' reps and hired a full-time salesman. In an industry with such little competition, he says, "with reps you're just giving your money away."

Plan for succession

Kent knows this will become an issue several years from now, but he hasn't yet decided how to approach the issue of his retirement.