A Conversation with Jody Richards of Process Technology
Products Finishing talked to Process Technology president Jody Richards about her forward-thinking strategy, the future of the finishing industry and more.
Jody Richards with her Entrepreneur of the Year East Central Award.
Photo Credit: Process Technology
Jody Richards is the second-generation owner of Process Technology (Willoughby, Ohio), which acquired Dynatronix Inc. in 2018 (Amery, Wisc.). Her long history in the industry has fueled her enthusiasm for what’s to come. Her forward-thinking business strategies have gotten her noticed, too: Process Technology was named an Evolution of Manufacturing Award recipient for 2020, and she also won Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year 2020 East Central Award this year. We talked to Jody about growing up in the industry, the changes she’s seen and her continuous improvement mindset.
Products Finishing: How did you first get involved in the finishing industry?
Jody Richards: I was born into the surface industry. My father, Tom Richards, started Process Technology, and he was very involved with the industry associations. NASF (the National Association for Surface Finishing) is the merger of three different organizations: AES, MFSA, and NAMF, and he was national treasurer of AES and MFSA and president of the Cleveland chapter of AES. He was very dedicated to the surface finishing industry, and there was always discussion at the dinner table about it. There was also always a way for a kid to make money stuffing envelopes for industry events.
I remember as a child going to the SUR/FIN show. They used to have kids programming and spouse programs. I remember running around at the trade shows as a kid, getting all that free swag!
PF: Tell us a little bit about Process Technology.
Process Technology was founded on innovative principles by my father in 1978. At the time, tanks came in 6" increments, but standard heaters started at 13" for a 1kW and increased in 6" increments. My dad adjusted the heater size to better fit the tank, and the industry followed. He also changed the thermal over-temperature device to a standard feature. In the surface finishing industry, monitoring tank temperature is extremely important to minimize risk. After studying the UL (Underwriters Laboratory) requirements, he redesigned different heaters and applied to have Process Technology immersion heaters UL listed. He was the first heater company in the surface finishing industry to do that.
PF: Did you always plan to work at Process Technology, or were there other aspirations?
Ironically, I never planned to work at Process Technology, but it’s been almost 15 years now. My father asked me to come and help out with some issues they were having. I came back to Ohio, and I started working at the company, and one project led to another. I saw many opportunities for improvement from where the company was at that moment. I had been working in software implementations at that time, but I saw many ways to better the company. And it’s kind of funny because after that, I never looked back.
PF: What changes have you seen in the finishing industry since you started your career?
A lot of the changes are related to the drive to improve safety, and Process Technology pioneered many of the changes that have happened in terms of safety. Concerns about emissions have also increased. In addition, I also see huge generational changes. I remember talking to my IT guy one day and he said, ‘Well, our customers won’t use this digital application.’ I asked, ‘Who do you think our customers are?’ He said, ‘50 or 60 year olds.’ And I had to point out, ‘What happens when those people retire and some 30 year old who comes in, who wants to do everything from their phone, or a laptop or a tablet?’ We have to have different options, and if you look at our connectivity on the rectifiers, it’s phenomenal. That’s where I see things going: digitization, automation, more accuracy, more control, more efficiency.
PF: You recently won the Entrepreneur of the Year 2020 East Central Award. Can you talk a little bit about how you achieved that and what the accomplishment means to you?
I really think it’s all about continuous improvement and constantly trying to be better and looking at what's on the horizon. You have to be looking at not only your particular industry — not only looking at surface finishing — but also at what’s happening in the world, and how that’s going to impact you. What’s on the horizon? How do you need to change? Disruption is everywhere. So really, you need to be the disrupter rather than being disrupted, right? And that’s why you always need to be improving as much as you can.
PF: Describe a business decision you made that had a lasting impact, good or bad.
I have two examples for you. One of those was acquiring Dynatronix Inc. We really didn’t know a whole lot about rectifiers when we acquired Dynatronix. Now, we have expanded their portfolio and made it into a top-notch line of rectifiers. We are very excited about that and we’ve put a lot of time and effort into innovation and growing that segment of the business. Our latest power supplies bring connectivity to your fingertips. This is where the surface finishing industry needs to move.
The other thing that we’ve done, and this applies to both the heaters and the power supplies, is that we have introduced lean manufacturing to the entire plant. There’s a lean event going on today at the Mentor facility, and we’ve really taken it to heart. People have bought in, and it’s done great things for our business.
PF: What leadership traits have helped you along the way?
I’m pretty decisive … I have gotten good at making a decision and if it’s not panning out the way I want it to, I just self-correct and move in a different direction. I also think I’m a risk taker. Certainly, buying Dynatronix was a risk-taking move because we didn’t know that much about rectifiers.
We made some mistakes along the way, but we picked up, corrected those mistakes, and kept moving forward. If you don’t take any risks and you don’t fail, you will never grow.
PF: How do you keep your team motivated?
We have constant learning across technologies, and challenges that require innovation. I believe in promoting both personal and professional growth. We recently offered a course called “Becoming Your Best” for our team members. For a lot of people, it impacted them more on a personal level than a professional level; it’s holistic. If you’re not doing well in your personal life, how are you surviving in your professional life? I want to look at the whole person and say, how can we help you be the best you that you can be?
PF: What do you see as the biggest management myth?
I think a lot of managers and leaders think that Human Resources is not very important or that it’s kind of a secondary department, but really your people are your strongest assets. You need to make sure that you surround yourself with great people.
PF: What advice would you give to people just starting out in the industry?
Learn as much as you can. With 5G on the horizon, as well as IoT and data mining, our industry will be transformed. As I mentioned earlier, a new generation is entering the industry, and this is fertile ground for these technologies. Survival is going to depend on who is embracing these technologies and doing it quickly.
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