A Conversation with Darrick Gula, Bolta US

Darrick Gula is director of North America business development for Bolta US and will be the keynote speaker at the National Association for Surface Finishing’s 2018 Sur/Fin conference and trade show.
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Darrick Gula is director of North America business development for Bolta U.S. and will be the keynote speaker at the National Association for Surface Finishing’s 2018 Sur/Fin conference and trade show. His previous experience includes running the chrome plating line at Harley Davidson’s Pennsylvania plant and working in the paint shop at its Kansas City plant. Before Bolta, Darrick was the global process lead for chrome plating and anodizing for General Motors Supplier Quality and more recently served as an executive business manager for global supplier quality at GM, which managed more than 7,000 suppliers around the world.

PF: How was transitioning from the customer side to the supplier side?
DG: Since I had previous experience in the supplier side, it has not been too bad. I think the toughest part was moving down the food chain and having to follow the rules instead of creating them. In the past, I tried to use the partnership approach and not the dictatorship one, trying to understand the challenges from our suppliers and work together to find a common solution. I continue to use that approach from the supplier side, but sometimes you just need to know when to keep your thoughts to yourself and when to reach out to your customer. It is really interesting to see the similar challenges and approaches from other OEMs. At the end of the day, we are one team and really have to work together to make the finishing industry better, stronger, and keep us relevant in the future for many generations to come.

PF: What drew you to Bolta?
DG: Two things really. First, it was getting back into the plating industry. I was moving out of the finishing industry during my time in GM. I loved my role there, and GM is a great company to work for. I learned so much in my role of executive business manager of GM’s Global Supplier Quality team. But as I progressed at GM and got further away from my roots in the industry, I couldn’t get plating out of my blood. I really missed the people and felt a desire to continue in the industry. I felt I had put too much time, effort and passion to walk away from it. The second was the opportunity to be a part of something from the ground up. Creating something is more fun than inheriting something. It may be more work, but it is much more satisfying. It will not be without its challenges, but helping to take a great company in Germany (Bolta Werke) and creating a true global company with presence here in the U.S. really drew my interest.

PF: How did you get your start in the finishing industry?
DG: It’s actually a funny story. As a mechanical engineering graduate from the University of Pittsburgh, I never knew really what the finishing industry was, let alone wanted to be a part of it. In our placement office at the school, they posted job interview descriptions from companies recruiting new college grads. These postings were numbered, and if you were interested in being considered for an interview, you were to place a copy of your resume in a slot with the corresponding number. AMP Inc. (a former connector company that was bought by Tyco Electronics) had multiple posting for jobs, such as machine design, product engineering, etc. One just happened to be plating engineer. I never meant to sign up for that role, and must have put my resume in that slot by accident. When I returned a couple of weeks later to see what interviews I was scheduled for, I noticed that I was to interview as a potential plating engineer. Needless to say, I was surprised to see that I had the interview. and my initial reaction was to change it to a more traditional mechanical engineering role. I ended up doing the interview and, as they say, the rest is history.

PF: What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
DG: The best advice is to not have a victim mentality, but to look for solutions when problems exist and not just complain about them. In most situations in life, we have the ability to choose to make a positive solution instead of letting those problems define us. Another great piece of advice I received from a previous leader was to focus on improving others instead of just improving myself. If you can improve individuals of a team versus just yourself, the sum of the improvement is much greater.

PF: What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?
DG: At 17, working at a high-end breakfast/brunch buffet at a ski resort/convention center in Pennsylvania. I learned many things from that job and really feel all teenagers should experience employment to learn many universal life lessons. Many people only look at training/education as a technical side of a career, but the most important lessons are how to work as a team, respect your co-workers and focus on the company, not yourself.

PF: If you had $100,000 to give to a charity, which one would it be?
DG: The ALS Foundation. My mother-in-law has Lou Gehrig’s disease. The foundation has been very supportive in her fight with the disease.

PF: What was your first car, and what is your dream car?
DG: A 1988 Camaro Iroc Z convertible was the first real car I bought coming out of college. It was one of only 3,761 Iroc convertibles made, and I ended up selling it to buy our first home. With the low production numbers, I wish I still had that car. Anyone who knows me knows my love for performance cars. My dream car would probably be the new ZR1 Chevy Corvette or current Cadillac CTS-V for business use.

PF: What leadership traits have helped you along the way?
DG: Accountability, respecting and empowering others, and being open and trustworthy. Also being positive and creating a fun work atmosphere.

PF: What did you want to be when you grew up?
DG: I grew up racing motocross as a child, and my dream was to race motocross or supercross professionally.

PF: Night owl or early bird?
DG: Night owl, for sure.

PF: Favorite place you’ve ever lived?
DG: My wife and I have been fortunate to live in many different states and areas. Our family really loved Kansas City, and it really helped that we were in a great neighborhood. Other than not loving the cold winters, we also really enjoy Michigan, and with my automotive passion, it’s a great place to be.

PF: What organization or company, aside from your own, do you most admire?
DG: I can’t say that I have a strong favorite, but I have to say the things that Space X is doing are pretty awesome. The innovation as a private industry to improve the chance of affordable space travel is impressive. I admire the fact that they are thinking outside the box to revolutionize the way space travel can work. Just watch the booster rockets from the Falcon Heavy Launch return to earth and tell me that’s not impressive.

PF: If you could trade jobs with anyone for a day, who would it be?
DG: Politics aside, probably the president of the U.S. We live in a society where a lot of people have an opinion or think they know the answers without truly understanding everyone’s challenges or viewpoints. But one thing I have learned is that you don’t understand until you walk a mile in their shoes. This is true in industry, life or leading a country. It would be great to see a true picture of the challenges of running this country with such a diverse population. And who wouldn’t want to know what’s in Area 51?

PF: Where would we find you on a typical Saturday?
DG: Catching up with the family at home, cooking, and spending time with friends and my wife over a few drinks in the evening.

PF: What’s the best way to keep a competitive edge?
DG: Keep a strong network, and make sure you keep in touch with the world outside of your organization. Along with dealing with the day-to-day tasks internally to your role, it is vital to look ahead to what is happening in the world around you and understand where the world is heading. In this time and age, things are much more dynamic, and you must be aware so that you are able to plan a proper strategy. The Sur/Fin show is one great example of this. If you are worried just about what happens within the walls of your own organization, you are very likely to fall behind the times.

PF: Personal heroes?
DG: My parents. My dad was Special Forces and served in Vietnam. I have the greatest respect for him and for our military and their service to our country. Both of my parents worked hard to raise me and my brother, and gave me my work ethic. As a parent of four, I know it’s a difficult job.

PF: How do you motivate people?
DG: Empower them, make sure they know their importance, and create an atmosphere of positive, high energy. Work should be fun; we spend way too much time doing it. Teams of individuals with their own strengths and weaknesses should exists, allowing each one to utilize their skills and make contributions.

PF: How do you motivate yourself?
DG: New challenges are probably one of my biggest motivators. I am not one who is happy doing the same thing over and over. Your learning curve is much greater when you are somewhat uncomfortable in a new role and trying new things. Also, people are a large motivator for me. Relationships matter in business, and the people in this industry are a big reason for my passion in it. I consider a lot of people I have worked with my friends.

PF: What are your three greatest passions?
DG: Family, friends and religion, then performance cars and the finishing industry.

PF: Most unique office décor?
DG: Probably my custom-made mug created from a V-Rod cylinder liner and timing chain, and a custom-painted V-Rod airbox cover that was signed by many people at the Harley Davidson Kansas City assembly plant. These were given to me as a parting gift when I left the plant to pursue my role at GM in 2011. I miss a lot of the wonderful people I used to work with there.

PF: What was your best business decision?
DG: Taking the role at GM as the global process lead for chrome plating. This job really opened my eyes to the needs of the customer and what it really means to have a high-quality, stable process. This opportunity also gave me a global view of the entire industry and its challenges and opportunities. I was able to connect globally with a lot of key companies and people within our world of plating. The experience was priceless and allowed me to grow tremendously in my career.

PF: Worst business decision?
DG: Going into business with four other friends in rental properties. It may be possible to have a business venture with one or two other friends, but trying to align business goals with five individual friends just didn’t work out well.

PF: What is the biggest management myth?
DG: You can do it from the top down. People need to be a part of the solution/process, and it has to be customer-focused. If ideas only come from the management team, you are more than likely not going to deliver a truly effective result.

PF: What advice would you have given yourself 10 years ago?
DG: Look at the bigger picture and understand the world beyond the walls you work in every day, be patient, and keep learning.

PF: What word best describes you?
DG: Energetic.