A Conversation with Rick Hunter, A.M. Metal Finishing

His shop has been a Products Finishing Top Shop for both plating and powder coating almost every year since the survey began. Hunter runs the Orlando, Florida, shop with his wife, Sloane.

A.M. Metal Finishing can easily claim it is one of the top finishing operations in the United States, having ranked as a Products Finishing Top Shop for both plating and powder coating almost every year since the survey began. Owner Rick Hunter runs the Orlando, Florida, shop with his wife, Sloane, and he took time while relaxing on his boat near Madeira Beach to give us some insight into how he and is company got to where they are today.

PF: This is your 25th year at A.M. Metal Finishing. What’s the biggest change the company has seen over that time?

RH: A lot of things have changed; it is not the same business it was 25 years ago. There are better coatings out there now; the technology has come a long way. Customers are quality-driven with just-in-time delivery needed. Powder coating was in in its infancy 25 years ago. A lot of the chemical film work has switched to powder coating. We put in a powder coating line 20 years ago, and I didn’t want any of the other platers or anodizers to know. They would treat me as a traitor. It was platers against powder coaters then. Now 25 years later, every successful plating shop is shifting to meet the demands of their customers. The other real big change is there is no one out there to do the work. It is very difficult to find help that wants to put out a continuous-quality product.

PF: How did you get your start in finishing?

RH: I moved from Thunder Bay in Ontario, Canada, to Florida and wanted to try a new career. I bought an existing small plating shop from the owner, who had wanted to retire.

PF: How hard is it to plan an exit strategy in this industry?

RH: It is very difficult if you don’t have family or employees or a next generation that want to take over the reins. Metal finishing is a very steady, profitable business. Unfortunately, it isn’t sexy, so it takes a special kind of person who wants to own and run a demanding finishing shop.

PF: What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?

RH: I am very open-minded, so I listen to a lot of advice in case there is a better way to do something. I don’t know what the best piece of advice I received was, but I know the worst: A metal finishing supplier told me when I was starting out to know how to do everything in the shop. This probably held me back two to three years. To learn how to do every process we offer and be able to step in and fill someone’s boots at a moment’s notice is not an effective way to manage. You must entrust your people to do a better job than you could; that is why you are paying them. Everyone at our place is cross-trained and can work in different departments. If the Teflon application area is slow, we can move them into powder coating; if powder coating is slow, people can move into anodizing racking or unracking. Everyone always gets a 40-hour week; we have enough work for everyone, plus more. To be an expert and know how to do a black oxide job, to hard-coat anodize then laser-engrave it etc., bogs you down in directing the business.

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

RH: My father was a serial entrepreneur. At 12, in the summer, I went with him at 6:00 a.m. to his asphalt paving business. I did errands, cleaned the tools, etc. I got $1 a day, and they were long days.

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

RH: I would give it to the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation. My wife and her brother are extreme diabetics. I have seen firsthand, up close how bad this crippling disease works. I think a better management system or cure is close to becoming a reality. I just hope it is in our lifetime.

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

RH: I had a 1968 two-door Plymouth Fury hardtop. My dream is an Aston Martin DB11 Volante convertible. I just have a hard time parting with the $270,000 needed to buy it. The 68 Plymouth was $500.

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

RH: Be calm, keep the ship steady, treat everyone equal, look for positives in people and the jobs, try to get the team more engaged, and communicate a lot, a real lot.

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

RH: Not a metal finisher.

PF: Night owl or early bird?

RH: Some of each.

PF: Favorite place you’ve ever lived?

RH: Madeira Beach, Florida.

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

RH: None come to mind. Any I name I am sure if you Google it some disappointing information will come up—whether it is true or not, who knows?

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

RH: President Trump or Florida’s Governor Scott.

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

RH: At work or on my boat in Madeira Beach.

PF: What is the best way to keep a competitive edge?

RH: Keep learning, keep trying.

PF: Personal heroes?

RH: Terry Fox, a Canadian who lost a leg to cancer. He started a fundraiser to run across Canada with one leg, raising money and meeting cancer victims. I had a job driving from Toronto to Thunder Bay several times that summer. I saw him many times in the rain, cold and fog making his journey on the highway. He only made it to Thunder Bay, where he found out his cancer was back, and he had to quit his run. He died shortly after, but his foundation is huge and still lives on.

PF: How do you motivate people?

RH: Get them involved, get them participating. Show them what the product will be used for. Whether it is parts on the Space Station, the bleachers in a football arena or the flower box at the local library, they can say, “I did that.”

PF: How do you motivate yourself?

RH: Pride in accomplishment, travel, purchasing luxury items. Fear of failure.

PF: What are your greatest passions?

RH: My wife, my grandson and family. And learning new things.

PF: Most unique office décor?

RH: Charts of Lake Superior. They remind me of my home town of Thunder Bay. My high school sat on a huge hill overlooking Lake Superior. Some days there would be 10 or 11 ships waiting to come into port and get loaded. I always wondered where they were going; it was better than concentrating on math or chemistry.

PF: Best business decision?

RH: Moving to Florida and buying A.M. Metal Finishing.

PF: Worst business decision?

RH: Not buying into the quality culture sooner. It would have been easier spreading it out over 25 years and not cramming it all into the last 10 years. Quality practices have made us a better company.

PF: What is the biggest management myth?

RH: You must be the smartest person in the room.

PF: What advice would you have given yourself 10 years ago?

RH: Don’t worry, it will all work out.

PF: Word that best describes you?

RH: Driven.