“I always tell my managers the smartest thing they can do is to have employees who genuinely respect them,” says Kucway, CEO of Motor City Stamping.
“When employees admire their managers, they want to make them look good. This loyalty results in improved morale and productivity.”
There must be something to this theory, as Kucway has grown the business from working out of her garage in 1969 to a 350-employee operation producing up to a million parts per year, primarily stamping and welded assemblies.
Kucway admits that the last few years have been challenging, but she is up to the challenge.
“Challenges make you stronger,” she says. “The customer is always changing, just as the world market changes. You either demonstrate flexibility by keeping up with the changes, or you won’t stay in business.”
Smart Business spoke with Kucway about how she keeps employees happy and deals with an ever-changing industry.
How do you deal with changes in the industry?
We look at our product line constantly. Smart leaders keep their eyes open and never get too comfortable. That is the kiss of death for a potentially thriving business.
It is dangerous to become arrogant and think your way is the best. You must be consistently in tune with what your customers are planning for their futures.
Staying a step ahead of the demands takes effort, but that is what separates strong companies from weak ones.
There have been a lot of downsizing and pay cuts in our industry recently. Fortunately, we have been able to avoid taking these steps by finding ways to improve on time and motion. We’ve concentrated on becoming more efficient rather than reducing the head count. I always felt that I could not, in good conscience, either downsize or implement pay cuts when we supply products to one of the largest automotive makers in the country.
What is your best advice for business leaders?
Keep your word at all cost. I recently turned down a $5 million contract because the client wanted us to do something that was not possible. The work required a part that I knew would not be approved. It was the right decision because my credibility means everything to me.
Look at your employees as people, not numbers or paychecks. Pay them as much as you can and involve them in profit-sharing. You want everyone to be enthused and involved when the company is making money.
Everyone is under pressure these days in the workplace, so do not forget the little things that remind employees they are valued and appreciated. A pat on the back, tickets to a Lions game, a baby gift when an employee is expecting - these are the little things that reap big rewards in the way of a loyal staff.
How do you set and review goals?
Profitability and customer satisfaction are our primary concerns when establishing goals. In addition to these cornerstones, there are four criteria to be considered when setting any company goal: Will it support us in maintaining or exceeding regulatory requirements? Will it enhance our competitiveness? Does it help us produce a high-quality product? Can we deliver it on time?
We have to look at our product line constantly and change with the times. This flexibility and willingness to change has helped us survive.
How do you make the tough decisions?
I pray a lot and ask for guidance. I look closely at the market before deciding on equipment we need to purchase or product lines we need to expand.
It is imperative to do your research. I think that is where many leaders fall short. They base major decisions on too little or inaccurate information. Plunging in without getting all the facts can be devastating to the business.
My advice would be to slow down and be thoughtful and methodical when making decisions. And, of course, stay in constant touch with your customers so that you can anticipate their needs and prepare accordingly.
These steps take patience and discipline, but they can prevent costly mistakes.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Being a woman in this business has not been easy - I had to prove myself. Not having the cash flow to expand as I wanted to through the years has been frustrating also.
The automotive business is one you either love or hate. It is fiercely competitive, and those who survive must have the stomach for lots of uncertainty and pressure.
HOW TO REACH: Motor City Stamping, (586) 949-9209 or www.mcstamp.com