By the time most of you read this, a new champion will have been crowned at one of my fa-
vorite sporting events, the Tour de France. Right now, riders in this year’s edition of le Tour are just getting started on their 3,500-km, counter-clockwise lap around France.
There are many reasons why I love bike racing. For one thing, it’s a great team sport. Rarely does a rider single-handedly win even a one-day bike race, let alone a three-week Grand Tour. A strong team is essential for cyclists who want to contend for the Tour’s overall title. Lance Armstrong won the race seven times, but he did it with the help of some great riders who were willing to sacrifice their own chances for the team.
Another reason is the suffering and drama inherent in the sport. The cyclists of le Tour—from the eventual champion to the last-placed rider (lanterne rouge, referring to the red tail lights attached to the last carriage of a railway train)—leave a lot of themselves on the roads of France. Only those who are able to suffer, persevere and recover well enough to do it all again the next day survive all the way to Paris.
Looked at this way, the race becomes a metaphor for life. Each of us faces hardships, doubts and uncertainties, and folks who can handle the setbacks and keep moving forward tend to be the ones who are most successful in the long run.
It’s the same in business, especially a business as challenging as contract plating. One of the feature stories in this issue focuses on how a plater overcame some rather severe cash flow and quality problems to achieve a level of profitability that many job shops would find enviable.
It wasn’t easy for Jon and Jeff Rasche when they took the reins of Valley City Plating (VCP; Grand Rapids, MI) in 2002, a time when many platers in this country were struggling to keep the doors open. The brothers invested in needed technology upgrades and dealt with a serious quality issue that could have cost them one of their largest customers, if not the business. But they persevered, made some strategic investments and some management changes, and kept moving forward.
There’s no formal lean manufacturing program in place at VCP—no kaizen events or value stream mapping or other buzzwords—but there’s an entrepreneurial spirit that enabled the business to tough it out through the hard times, and there’s a common-sense approach to continuous improvement that has resulted in productivity gains and substantial bonus payouts from the company’s incentive program over the past three years. You can read more beginning on page 16.
P.S.: The headline on this column may seem a bit cryptic to many of you, but cycling fans will know that Overcoming is the title of a Danish documentary film chronicling the personal and professional ups and downs of members of the CSC professional cycling team in 2004. It’s inspirational whether or not you’re a cycling fan. Just make sure you get a copy with English subtitles—unless you speak Danish, German, Italian or Spanish.