Frank Perryman Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2007
Frank Perryman’s formula for success is simple: good people, good products and good planning. But simple doesn’t mean timid for Perryman, who with his brother, James, and father, James Sr., leads Perryman Co., a 110-employee titanium products company with 2006 revenue of more than $100 million. Perryman Co. produces an exotic metal mostly for the needs of the aerospace and medical products industries and poured $40 million into building a melt shop, which opened this year and is designed to vertically integrate operations and meet the company’s needs for titanium while weaning it away from dependence on suppliers. Smart Business spoke with Perryman about the value of experience, leveraging technology and the need to understand your market.

Leverage human resources across the experience spectrum. What we see a lot of is people discounting people in that retirement age group, where there is a wealth of experience to learn from. We have quite a few on staff now, and it’s amazing — you put them in the right environment and see how they get invigorated.

We’re not asking them to run the business, we’re telling them, ‘Here’s the ball, go run with it as part of the team, here’s where you can be part of the team.’ ... It depends on where the need is and where the fit is. You couple that with strong middle management and also bring in young engineers and build for the future.

So, you’ve got to balance the combination of a certain amount of young engineers as they’re coming up, and you’ve got to teach them, and at the same time, you’ve got another group of engineers who are carrying the ball. And you’re also bringing up older, more experienced people. So we look in a lot of directions for the best combination of our team.

Run a lean operation to survive the business cycle. You can’t eliminate it. It’s a matter of being able to flex and bend with it. That’s why I talk about the automation. The automation allows us to ramp up. When we need to stop or slow down, we can move people around. What we’ve been able to do is smooth it out a little and keep it a profitable company on both sides of the cycle by being a lean facility, by being a low overhead facility. We’ve been able to retain our people; we haven’t had to have layoffs.

Anticipate where the market is going so you get there first. If you always wait until it’s a perfect time, you’re going to miss the boat. We have our own forecasting models, and then it’s being completely in time with your market. It’s being intimate with the market.

We eat it, we drink it, we sleep with it. What we saw coming in the build rates from the publicly available information from working with our customers at Boeing and Airbus, they were projecting build rate increases. We’re an industry that traditionally never believes it. They don’t react until they’re in it.

At that point we said, ‘Here it comes,’ and we believed it. We were looking at the 20-year forecast and we said, ‘This has merit to it. Let’s make plans to double our capacity by 2006.’

So over the course of ’04, ’05 and ’06, by January 2006, we had doubled our capacity. So we are in a position now to support all the capacity that we’re going to need by 2010. Sometimes you make decisions, not based on return on investment but on whether it’s going to be able to ensure your livelihood.

If you don’t make the investment, are you going to be around in 10 years? Are you going to be around in five years? Next year?

Stay focused on the present — and the future. Are we concentrating on today’s market? Absolutely, but you’ve got certain sectors within your company saying, ‘let’s run today’s business.’

These guys are worried about today’s product — this is what I’ve got to make, this is today’s focus, this is what we’ve got to do for the overall company. I don’t have to worry about them; they’ve got my back. Then you come up a level, and you’ve got your managers that are going to be managing the groups. Then I’ve got my directors that are going to be working on today, the month and the year. Then it comes up to our group where we’re going to be looking at the vision, and that comes up to the executive group, usually myself and my father, where we’re looking at 10 or 15 years down the road. What do we need to look like, what do we need to change into, are we prepared for the growth? In our vision, we’re looking out 10 and 15 years at a pop.

Look for entrepreneurial spirit. If I have to manage people, this isn’t the right team for them. You’re going to get the ball; I’m going to let you run with it.

I’m going to support you, I’m going to block for you, but don’t expect me to pick you up on my shoulders and have to carry you. Our biggest strength is to be able to find those people. We don’t find them all the time. We’ve been wrong.

It’s almost finding that entrepreneurial spirit in all of your employees. When we’re out there talking to people, looking in the industry, talking to people in other industries and meeting people, they kind of stick out if you know what you’re looking for. You can find the ones that are willing to give the extra effort and are willing sometimes to put their neck on the line. Those are the kinds of people we look for and we have found.

HOW TO REACH: Perryman Co., www.perrymanco.com