Christopher L. Mapes prefers not to use his title and office at Lincoln Electric as a means to get things done.
“I don’t want people to do things because I’m CEO and I asked them to do it,” says Mapes, the company’s chairman, president and CEO. “I want them to do it because they can see the strategic value of driving the business in a particular direction.”
Lincoln Electric has established itself as a global leader in the manufacturing of welding and cutting products, as well as automation systems for a wide range of industries. The company had $2.3 billion in sales in 2016, with about 9,000 employees working in 47 facilities across 19 countries.
“It’s a complex organization,” Mapes says. “We have a lot more skill sets in automation, welding and cutting than we had 20 or 30 years ago. Part of my role is to continue to provide the leadership and guidance to employees around the world as we drive our 2020 Vision and try to continue making improvements in our business.”
Welding products are obviously a big part of what the company does, but its role in the industry goes much deeper. The company has received and answered thousands of questions about welding on its website. In addition, the Lincoln Electric Welding School has trained more than 150,000 men and women in the technology, techniques and safety practices associated with arc welding since 1917.
“We get about 8,000 visitors a year into Cleveland to talk to us about welding,” Mapes says. “I really enjoy going down and meeting with those customers, hearing what they have to say and welcoming them to Lincoln Electric. What they are talking about is an integral part of our long-term strategy.”
Visibility and approachability are two of the hallmarks of Mapes’ leadership style.
“It’s exciting to be part of a process where you’re developing and culturing leaders within your business,” Mapes says.
“We spend a lot of time talking to employees about their aspirations and what they want to do. It’s an essential component in the development process. Individuals aspire for different things within their personal lives and their careers. Understanding that and then working with them to develop and provide opportunities so they can advance in their careers is very important.”
A simple plan
Mapes grew up in Indiana on a large family farm. Early on in his life, he developed an entrepreneurial mindset that would shape his future. After graduating from Ball State University, he took part in a program at General Motors that piqued his interest in leadership roles in the manufacturing sector.
“From that point forward, I’ve really targeted my activities around advancing my skill set in manufacturing,” Mapes says.
Mapes was president and CEO at Lincoln Electric in December 2012, and a year later, he was appointed chairman. He is proud of the company’s history, which dates back to its founding in 1895 when John C. Lincoln founded the company with a capital investment of $200. Lincoln was joined by his younger brother, James, in 1907.
“This company was founded by the Lincoln brothers on simple principles like the Golden Rule and treating individuals with respect and being very much a performance-driven culture,” Mapes says. “People can be promoted from within and recognized for their perspective and viewpoint. Foundationally, those attributes continue to permeate today.”
Mapes does quite a bit of traveling each year. In January, he completed an operating review at one of the company’s manufacturing facilities in Poland. The plant is a past winner of the Chairman’s Award, which is presented to facilities in the company that rate highest in performance around safety and sustainability.
During Mapes’ visit, he witnessed Kanban systems at work in the plant’s machining operations. Kanban is a process manufacturing companies often use if they are bringing materials toward a work center to understand what they might need to produce or make next.
“They were setting up a system where the operators were making decisions around what item was best to run,” Mapes says.
“They understood the setup time, they understood how critical certain customers were and it was all very simplistic on a very large Kanban board with various colored cards. It reminded me that manufacturing execution does not have to be complicated. Our employees can assist us in driving better solutions for the business.”
Do your best
It’s those face-to-face encounters that Mapes has each day with Lincoln Electric employees, stakeholders and visitors that help him position the company for future success.
“You have to be a good listener,” Mapes says. “Generally in these organizations, there are a lot of talented people. I want to put people around me who are willing to come and provide their opinion so we can get to the best answer for the organization, no matter whose idea it is.”
Another aspect to leadership is the understanding that from time to time, things won’t always go exactly as planned.
“You have to be willing to see and hear some things that aren’t going well, but still have appreciation for the hard work your teams are doing to try to execute on the strategy,” he says.
“When I travel around the world, it’s a pretty simple message: If each of us will give our very best in what we’re asked to do and we can accomplish that, then collectively, we should have a high-performance organization that can meet that strategic objective long term.” ●
How to reach: Lincoln Electric, (216) 481-8100 or www.lincolnelectric.com