Born Leaders

Several honorees in this year’s Products Finishing 40-Under-40 class have come up through the ranks of family-owned companies, where they spent several summers toiling in their parent’s shop and are now on the threshold of becoming CEO of the operation.

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Dan Brockman swears he was just trying to do right by his son when he refused to hire him right out of college.

Despite having two engineering degrees and an MBA, Phillip Brockman was not about to get hired at Techmetals Inc. in Dayton, Ohio, a company started by his father, Dan, that was growing into one of the largest finishing operations in the Midwest.

That was a decision Dan made on the advice of a mentor, who told him that it would be best that Phillip work at least three other jobs—and get three promotions—before he even considered hiring him full-time.

“That was so hard on me, because I love my son,” Dan says. “But the reasoning was that, him being the owner’s son, the question would always be whether he truly deserved to be here and maybe someday run the company.”

Dan says it wasn’t so much the employees questioning whether Phillip would be a good leader, but more about whether Phillip would look back and see that he paid his dues.

“I would never want him to question whether he earned his way to run this company,” says Dan. “One of the other benefits to this exercise was for Phillip to understand that all companies have problems and shortcomings. No company or person is perfect. I wanted him to fully understand that concept so that he had a frame of reference to measure what good or bad performance looks like.”

Phillip went off on his own, working at ITW Hobart and Dolly, and then for FCx Performance, a company specializing in the pump industry.

He started as an application engineer, then moved into management and turned around a struggling sales territory before leaving to go at it on his own as an engineering consultant, with AkzoNobel as his largest client.

In this issue of Products Finishing, we celebrate 40 individuals under the age of 40 who have become—or who are on the path to become—great leaders in the surface finishing industry.

Several honorees in this year’s class have come up through the ranks of family-owned companies, where they spent several  summers toiling in their parent’s shop and are now on the threshold of becoming CEO of the operation.

It’s a double-edged sword for many. They are in the line of succession to a company that might just make them live comfortably for years, and yet maybe they didn’t dream of owning a plating or powder coating operation. 

“It’s not easy being the kid of the owner,” says Dan.

After sending Phillip out on his own for several years—to which he did very well for himself—the father mentioned that there was a position open at Techmetals … but Phillip would have to apply for it and go through the regular vetting process like every employee. No favors here; he had to earn the job.

Eventually, Phillip left his lucrative consulting company and came on board as a technician—taking a significant pay cut—then went to R&D, followed by operations management and then director of business development. Several years ago, he succeeded Dan as president of Techmetals, helping to double sales and take the shop into a new realm of finishing excellence, winning three Products Finishing Top Shops awards in the process.

Ask Phillip about his path to success and he will say it has been a team success. General manager Tony George, CFO Sherry Evans and all of the technicians and platers who have come together to add new coating processes and systems, improved their training and reduced their environmental footprint.

And what kind of leader has Phillip become? He is on the National Association for Surface Finishing national board and is a voting member of a Nadcap committee. But he also gives back to his community; he served on a STEM board in Dayton, works with a local manufacturing advisory panel, volunteers as a youth soccer coach, and donates his time with a wellness group dedicated to fighting cancer and heart issues in his hometown.

Dan says it all worked well when he took his own mentor’s advice and sent his son on his way years ago. It could have broken badly, though. Phillip could have fallen in love with a career far away from home. Or he could have taken his father’s messages the wrong way and built a wall between their relationship. 

Dan took a chance for the benefit of his son, to make him forever feel like he had earned his way to every rung on his career ladder. It was a father’s love, a risk he had to take.

When you peruse the 40-Under-40 leaders we highlight in this issue—and we had almost 150 nominations from readers—I hope you’ll get the same feeling I did, that the finishing industry is in good hands with tomorrow’s leaders.

It doesn’t matter where they started, it’s all about where they are now and where they may end up. We can all be thankful for that.

 


Originally published in the July 2017 issue.