A Conversation With Brad Durkin, Coventya

Brad Durkin is director of international product management for Coventya, and the chairperson of the SUR/FIN Technical Advisory Committee that puts together the conference sessions each summer.
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Brad Durkin is director international product management for Coventya, where the Bowling Green State University graduate works closely with his company’s international product managers, R&D teams and local managers to continually improve their product’s effectiveness. He also spends quite a bit of time as chairperson of the SUR/FIN Technical Advisory Committee that puts together the conference sessions each summer.


PF: What are the elements of a good technical presentation?

BD: The number of technical points to cover depends on the audience and time allocated for the presentation. Above that, I have found there are a few important considerations for being effective. Know your audience so you can speak their language; craft the presentation with the audience in mind. For example, American analogies, humor and certain U.S.-specific English colloquialisms typically don’t make sense to many audiences, so avoid them. Use a large enough font, even if that adds additional slides. The worse thing is to show a slide and utter the words “you probably won’t be able to see this.” Know your language. Don’t use affectations or filler words (such as “so,” “um” and similar words) throughout the presentation and keep your laser pointer directed on the emphasis point of the slide as making circular motions with the laser pointer on the slide can be confusing. Finally, when you move from behind the podium, the audience focus becomes you and when you stop or stand motionless, the audience looks at the screen, which is great way to put emphasis on some points. Content is important, especially after the presentation is done and three weeks later when an attendee looks at the presentation and can’t remember the meaning. For heavy content slides during the presentation, don’t read them; summarizing them works best. These techniques can be very effective toward delivering your message.

PF: Travelling the world, seeing customers, what are the current drivers in the finishing industry? What are customers asking for?

BD: They want education and training; it’s difficult to find and hire people with a lot of knowledge about surface finishing and plating, so basic and intermediate training seminars about technology is appreciated. Customers want to understand how REACH and other regulations will impact their finishing operation, what alternatives exist and the cost for full implementation.

PF: How did you get your start in the finishing industry?

BD: I graduated from college full of enthusiasm with a chemistry degree and needed a job. I was hired by a manufacturing company that needed a plant chemist to manage the plating chemistry and waste treatment. Great first experience, but that job hooked me into metal finishing forever.

PF: What’s the best piece of advice you were given, either personally or professionally, and who gave it to you?

BD: Jack Horner, one mentor to me early in my career at Allied Kelite always gave the advice, “When you hear hoof beats, look for the horses first instead of the zebras.” The translation is that in any troubleshooting situation — or in solving any type problem — first look for the obvious things and leave the not-so-likely or bizarre situations until the last. This has really helped focus on successful problem-solving. Ask a lot of questions first before giving answers or input. Often, situations are not always known or fully understood without more questions.

PF: What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

BD: At 11, I signed up for a paper route to earn money. In those days, the paper carrier was responsible to have the morning papers out by 5 a.m., the afternoon papers by 4 p.m., six days of the week, except Sunday papers which was 7 a.m. You were also responsible for collecting the money from your customers each month. It was my business that earned $250 a month. if all went well. That experience taught me how to manage money, accepting the responsibility of going to bed early so I did not miss the paper deadlines and dealing with people — especially the difficult ones — to collect the money. Realizing the rewards of saving to purchase a new bike, a new 13-inch TV, a new bowling ball and my aunts calling me “money bags” got me hooked on a desire for that independence through developing a great work ethic.

PF: If you had $100,000 to give to a charity, which one would it be?

BD: Hope for the Warriors charity provides full cycle of care to service members, veterans and their families. It focuses on health and wellness, fostering a sense of community and providing support for those transitioning from military to civilian life.

PF: What was your first car, and what is your dream car?

BD: A 1974 burgundy Mercury Capri, sleek and European look. I loved that first car, but do not have ambitions for a “dream car.” I drive SUV platforms. I just want good reliability that has new gadgets and, more importantly, a great sound system.

PF: What leadership traits have helped you along the way?

BD: Maintain confidence in your decisions, have integrity and be ethical in business decisions. Try to inspire others, set good examples, stay committed to project outcomes, improve your communication skills and understand how accountability plays in your success. I have always admired the Arnold Glasgow quote, “A good leader takes little more than his share of blame, a little less than his share of the credit.”

PF: When you were 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

BD: Do we really achieve grown-up status? I have always admired someone who could go to a job or career that would help people in some fashion.

PF: Night owl or early bird?

BD: The paper route got me to be an early bird. It’s refreshing to be outside before the sun comes up. I start many of my days bicycling 20 miles, depending on the winds. I am proud that, at my best, I have been able to complete that loop in 65 minutes, but, typically, I routinely finish that 20 mile ride in 75 minutes.

PF: Favorite place you’ve ever lived?

BD: My father had a government job that had our family moving every couple of years for a period of time. I have fond memories of Kentucky, Oklahoma City and South Carolina, but the Waterville, Ohio area, northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan has been more meaningful in my life.

PF: What organization or company, aside from your own, do you most admire?

BD: That’s a good question, but for establishing an answer I would need to think about what ideas that company would stand for, including how the company works because strategy is culture and vice versa. Does the company project consistency in messages and their image, how does the company create leaders throughout its ranks and how does it form relationships with customers and the markets. That would be how I would define the traits that impact my answer.

PF: If you could trade jobs with anyone for a day, who would it be?

BD: Always have been fascinated with fire, so trading with a fireman in a busy city would be something to experience firsthand.

PF: Where would we find you on a typical Saturday?

BD: With extensive travel for work over the past few decades, my wife and I like to stay near home on most Saturdays and do “day trips” to antique shops or dinner out with friends. We have a group that bicycles to the next town for breakfast, which makes for a 50-mile round-trip journey. Then, of course, the rest of the day might be tinkering with home projects. I enjoy woodworking or flying my drone. Flying things – model rockets, drones, and potato projectiles from homemade PVC launcher — keep me busy.

PF: Best way to keep competitive edge?

BD: Try to live a healthy lifestyle – more exercise, eat right and read as much as possible about current events or technology papers to know what people are thinking about that might impact the future.

PF: Personal heroes?

BD: All the people in our military, National Guard, law enforcement and firefighters who put their lives on the line to protect our families, our freedoms and our way of life in the U.S. Without their sacrifice and devotion, our country would not be who we are today. All these people are my personal heroes that I respect each and every day.

PF: What’s your secret talent that no one knows about?

BD: My father taught me to do many types of magic tricks, and other fun illusions that, given the right opportunity, provide fun times at social gatherings and other family events. So I enjoy teaching our grandchildren some of those tricks to pass them down to the next generation.

PF: How do you motivate people?

BD: I have never asked anyone to do something that I was not willing to do myself or challenge myself to accomplish. Compliment people and recognize that micromanaging people works against their empowerment to achieve, reduces job satisfaction, decreases loyalty and does not motivate them to go over and above when it is crunch time.

PF: How do you motivate yourself?

BD: Listen to loud music, organize and plan for each week of events, deadlines, milestones, but, more importantly, value yourself and embrace your gut instincts that you know what to do when the chips are down. Know your values and those core values that you are not willing to compromise. Avoid those people who negatively impact your heart, mind and soul.

PF: Three greatest passions?

BD: Travel to new cultures and new experiences with family and friends, discovering new adventures. Discovery of and support new music bands that are up and coming and enjoying live music from real bands that don’t use autotune. I love the satisfaction from understanding and deploying metal/surface finishing technology and our industry by helping people solve their problems or give them a different perspective that allows them to resolve their problems.

PF: If you could pick up a new skill in an instant what would it be?

BD: The ability to play the piano, especially like Elton John.

PF: What was the first thing you bought with your own money?

BD: It was a Red Schwinn 10-speed bicycle.

PF: Most unique office décor?

BD: I love clocks and time travel, and have many types of clocks in my office, including a couple of antique cuckoo clocks that make great sounds (that are normally turned off during conference calls).

PF: Best business decision?

BD: Accepting that first job in a manufacturing facility as plant chemist for plating copper, nickel and chromium on zinc die cast parts for the appliance and automotive industry. Seeing firsthand how parts are made from molten metal and the satisfaction of going to the appliance store and seeing the impact of my role in the manufacturing process – with all that reflective chromium.

PF: Worst business decision?

BD: Not leaving a company when I had the opportunity that presented itself. I would have been further ahead in my career with greater financial rewards.

PF: Biggest management myth?

BD: Managers need to spend 75% of their time on strategic planning. In my experience, it has been difficult spending a majority of time on executing those long-term planning goals. Strategic thinking about business and projects are important, but with our electronic era today, immediate responses are required since most management activities require swift attention, quick answers and decisions on a daily basis that often are counterproductive to long-term plans. Managers who spend more time strategizing instead of executing, typically, are not effective and are bypassed by those who get stuff done. Effective managers should be spending most of the time actively reviewing, monitoring and overseeing operations and projects. There are a lot of formal and informal meetings and conversations to put out small fires and the day-to-day situations that come up must be addressed in order to satisfy customer requests.

PF: Do you collect anything?

BD: I have always loved listening to music and going to concerts. I enjoy many types of music, so I have collected over 500 vinyl LPs, over 1,200 compact discs and numerous 45s and some 78s for the Vintage Victrola we have acquired. Music is a core of my life.

PF: What advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?

BD: Don’t sweat the small stuff. At the end of the day, don’t take your health for granted, embrace a great healthy lifestyle, don’t allow others to negatively impact your happiness quotient, and try to always see the “glass” completely full. There is always air and liquid in the glass, by the way.

PF: Word that best describes you:

BD: I am persistent and always seeking to gain some type of successful outcome or satisfaction coming from situations, even those not deemed positive at the onset. My wife would say I am stubborn.