A Conversation with William Corcoran

Nadcap auditor, businessman


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Nadcap auditor William Corcoran spent two years as a attorney specializing in business and corporate law, employment law, business formations and acquisitions before delving into the corporate world himself as chief financial officer for a hospitality holding company that owned a regional restaurant chain, several hotels and various real estate holdings. After becoming president of a specialty coating and aluminum anodizing company for 14 years, he runs his own consulting business working with U.S. and Chinese companies facilitating their manufacturing operations in China and locating sources for their manufacturing operations. He also is a consultant to the metal finishing industry.

Q: How did you get involved in becoming a Nadcap auditor?
Through the 90’s into the middle of this decade I was CEO of a finishing company. One of our subsidiaries was a metal finishing shop that we took through the Nadcap accreditation process. It wasn’t easy and took a commitment from everyone in the company. In the end, we had taken that company from being an average “job shop” to being an engineering-driven company with close working relations with the likes of Raytheon, Harris Corporation, and others. My appreciation of Nadcap grew during this time until I recognized it as the very best continuous improvement program in metal finishing and in fact in the whole aerospace/defense industry supply chain. If you want to control a complex process like metal finishing, then Nadcap is the very best program out there.

Q: What is your thought process when you begin to audit a company for either certification or re-certification?
At the beginning of an audit, the supplier is almost always apprehensive. My thought process is to try to put people at ease by explaining that my job is to be objective. I need to find objective evidence that would permit me to put a “yes” answer after each question of the audit checklist. I explain that I come from the “supplier” side of the industry and understand their angst; and that my intention is to be completely fair.

Q: You have lectured on lean practices in the finishing industry. Break down the advice you would give job shops on how to become leaner in the simplest terms.
Job shops in the finishing industry usually don’t have “inventory” problems or “over production” like other manufacturing operations. Most often the opportunities in the finishing industry are in process flow and controlling reject rates. Sometimes just doing flow analysis, or a spaghetti diagram, where you follow work through the shop and draw the flow on a diagram, produces quick and meaningful results. Process flow, process control quality at the source are where lean practices can produce very positive results.

Q: You are an attorney by trade. What got you involved in the manufacturing sector?
I was very entrepreneurial right from the beginning. I got involved in business startups and operations, particularly ones with regulatory issues. Later I taught the foibles of my craft at the Whittemore School of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire. But inevitably I got the itch to get back to running a business. So after some searching, I found this finishing company and partnered with a terrific private equity group, TSG Equity Partners, to acquire the company I described earlier. We had a great run and sold very successfully in 2006.

Q: You own a business that advises business on how to open an operation in China. Tell us about how you came to be involved, and how difficult is it to do business there?
The company I described above had a technology subsidiary that manufactured rectifiers for the anodizing industry. When we bought the compnay they were making these rectifiers on a custom basis. It was very inefficient and costly so the general manager and I took the opportunity while traveling in Asia to explore a manufacturing relationship with a rectifier manufacturer in Shanghai, China. That relationship was very successful; and also very enlightening. As an attorney I leaned toward good documentation of our relationships and contracts in China. Thanks to caution and good homework we were successful and learned well how to conduct business there. Essentially what I learned is that doing business in China requires what is called the six D’s: Due Diligence, Due Diligence, Due Diligence.

Q: What book are you recommending to colleagues or friends?
For business reading I continue to recommend Larry Bossidy’s book “Execution, The Discipline of Getting things Done”. The lessons in that book don’t grow old. And for the finishing industry, getting things done and done correctly is what is going to keep jobs and grow our industry. Just as Nadcap promotes the discipline of doing things the right way and improving all the time, Larry Bossidy likewise teaches that there are no shortcuts to success.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received in the business world, and how did you use it in the course of your career?
That’s easy. My good friend, Bill Campbell, Chairman of Intuit and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Columbia University, gave me great advice when I was taking over as CEO of the company I described above. He said: “Hire people who know more than you do about their particular responsibility and then make them make decisions. Don’t let them out of making decisions. Let them make mistakes. Follow up with them and review their decision making process. Soon you will have a team of leaders who can really succeed.”