Join us for an Executive Interview with Barbara Philibert, President and CEO, Industrial Technologies Group & US Wire Group at HEICO as she discusses how to drive cultural transformation.
- What did you find when you came to ITG?
- Where did you start?
- You mention leveraging existing technologies and data, tell me a little bit about that?
- How did you convince people about the need for change?
Hello. Welcome to the IMPACT Smart Manufacturing and R&D Virtual Summit hosted on Quartz Network. My name is Britt Erler, QN Executive Correspondent. Thank you so much for joining us. I would like to welcome our executive speaker here with us today, Barbara Philibert, President and CEO, and she runs the ITG and US wire group platforms for the Heiko Group. Today, we’ll be discussing driving cultural transformation and the keys to success. Before we dive in, welcome, Barbara, it’s a pleasure to have you here. I’d love to hear a little bit more about your background and your current role.
Well, thank you. I’m delighted to be here. Thank you for the invitation. So I have a great, fun role right now. I’m very pleased to be working for the Heiko companies, which is a holding company, privately held here in Chicago. They have a number of groups or platforms where the companies are grouped. I run the ITG platform, which was previously the Pettibone platform. Also, I run the US wire group, which is part of the metals processing group for Heiko. So in all 15 companies, and it’s a lot of fun.
I love it. It sounds like you’ve obviously got a lot of work on your plate. There’s a lot of day to day that goes into the work that you’re doing. But when you first started with ITG, what did you notice? What were some of the first insights that you had?
It’s fun to go back and look at that. I really first noticed the people. I kind of follow a mantra of people, processes, and systems. That’s I learned new companies and new things. I work for great people, I work with great people. If you have that fundamental down, everything else tends to fall in place. So really, I felt like I was in a good spot and privileged from that standpoint.
Absolutely. It’s so refreshing to come in when you have people that are dedicated, passionate, and also open to evolving and trying new things, implementing new strategies. That’s so key to driving an organization forward. So let’s talk about this cultural transformation that your company has been through, this journey that you’ve been on, where did you start?
I started with getting to know the people hitting the road. So I have multiple locations, as you can probably guess, throughout the world. It was all about going on road trips, meeting the people, understanding their products, what they do every day, what their processes entailed. From that standpoint, it was easy to kind of put together a 90 day plan of what did we need to do. A lot of that revolved around communication, change management, and an operating cadence. So the companies were very successful, but we didn’t have an operating cadence. So we established monthly one to ones with my direct reports and indirect reports. So it’s very important that I keep a connection with these folks.
Barbara Philibert 03:17
I coach more than I direct and give direction. I coached these presidents on how to run their businesses, and those one to ones are important. We also set up monthly operating calls not just for the President myself, but our teams. So my platform team, which is finance, HR, marketing, and their teams as well. So we could talk about the monthly metrics, the monthly outcomes, and predict what we’re going to be looking at in the future, and really involve more people. So that cadence was really important.
Britt Erler 03:54
Absolutely. I think that’s such a key point that you made is you have to get to know the people, the organization, the processes that are in place. I always say you have to get your hands a little dirty before you actually know how to move the company forward. I think it’s amazing some of these leaders that tried to implement strategies when they really don’t know what’s going on in all of the departments across the board. So I think that’s such a key point that you made.
Britt Erler 04:18
I want to talk about something that we’re seeing, you know, not just last year because of this new virtual world, but something that’s really been brought to the forefront the past several years. It’s this new technology and data that we’re seeing. Everyone is slowly going through all these different stages of digital transformation. Talk to me a little bit about that. How have you leveraged these new technologies and data to really cope with this cultural transformation as a whole?
Barbara Philibert 04:45
That’s a great story because I was like a kid in a candy store. I got here and in my first week, I found out that Heiko had already purchased many of the tools that I needed. We had the full Office Suite for Office 365, we had the full SharePoint, Teams Power BI,—everything that we needed to get started. Just really communicating with multiple layers of communication. So we started team sites, started councils. So for different functional areas within the company, say, you were in sales, we started a sales council. Every company would have a representative, and they would meet on Teams. They would share best practices. It was really a low cost way to have all the votes raised using technology. But as you can imagine, when you bring on new technology, people are a little timid. So it just took some fast followers to join me and get people into the adoption curve, if you will.
Barbara Philibert 05:56
Three and a half years later, we’re fully implemented on Teams, SharePoint, Power BI. I’m really pleased with Heiko’s commitment to technology because within the first seven days of visiting companies and seeing their systems, I knew we needed new ERP systems as well. So we had over seven legacy, I call them green screen systems. We’re in the middle of a four year D 365 ERP implementation. 15 companies, 26 global locations going to the Microsoft ERP solution in the cloud. So big transformation, but thankfully, we have Heiko’s commitment.
Britt Erler 06:42
Absolutely. think that’s really crucial. Number one, a lot of companies want to stay in the stone age. They think to themselves, putting in these large technologies, it’s a waste of my time, it’s going to create too much change, too much chaos. But in order to stay on the pulse of whatever industry that you’re in, you have to be willing to adapt and evolve. That doesn’t mean that you’re going to get it right on the first try. The first technology you implement may not be the right one for your company, but you’re not going to know what’s going to help streamline that forward unless you give it a try.
Britt Erler 07:14
I think that’s so crucial that you have your company’s backing on that. Because for all companies across the board, no matter what industry that you’re in, we’re going to have to evolve technology wise, data wise, especially to keep up with this virtual environment that we’re in. I want to touch back on something you mentioned, people are always a little hesitant for change, they’re a little timid. I want to dive into that a little bit more, because I think that’s everyone’s struggle. You said you had a couple people at the very beginning that adapted it pretty quickly, but what were some other strategies you use to help convince other people to get on board?
Barbara Philibert 07:49
You know what’s interesting is previously, in previous lives, I’ve used the burning platform. The company’s in dire need while all these companies were very successful. So we didn’t have a burning platform. we really had to capitalize on those folks that enjoy technology, and that were good collaborators and communicators. Truthfully, the the practice of setting up the councils is what really helped us use the technology. Because I just wasn’t communicating with 18 direct reports, we were getting deep into the companies and pulling out people that were good at technology, wanted to communicate. They were curious, and they pulled a lot of people along with them. So that was great.
Britt Erler 08:37
How do you manage keeping them trained up and constantly educated on everything new that you’re implementing?
Barbara Philibert 08:44
We have about 165 people involved in these councils. Each council is accountable to have development and continuing education as part of their charter. Whether it is the Supply Chain Council taking Apex training, or we’re having a half day Manufacturing Summit this week, in fact, sponsored by Microsoft, really going over the elements of their ERP solution. That’s how we do it. By leveraging the technology we have, we can do it very economically. That’s not to say we don’t bring in guest speakers and instructors, but with technology, we can do it at a pretty reasonable rate. People like to keep their skills fresh, don’t they? They they like to stay current. I’ve been really pleased with people’s engagement on that.
Britt Erler 09:36
It’s amazing. If you provide people with tools and access to education, they’re willing to take it. It’s where you just have to kind of put it in front of them and say, “Hey, here it is, please take advantage of what we’re providing you.” For most of this, sounds like you had pretty smooth sailing in regards to a lot of it, with the company’s support, a lot of employees jumping on board. But what were some of the obstacles that you faced, especially we know this is not an overnight process? And how did you overcome some of them?
Barbara Philibert 10:05
You mentioned that you always don’t pick the right technology the first time. You don’t always pick the right solution to the problem, whatever the problem is. So there were a lot of times I fell down, the team fell down. The key is to fail fast—fail, get up, and try again. Communicate what didn’t work, what we’re going to change and adapt, and really take away the fear of failure. Failure is so important to try new things and bringing about new solutions. We had some real issues with brand recognition where we had not been innovative in the marketplace. We were great operators, but we really weren’t focused on the customer and the outside marketplace. So those were really large challenges that we had to overcome while getting the operating cadence down, while learning new technologies. We failed a lot. We fell down a lot. But we also moved the ball forward at every company, and that was critical.
Britt Erler 11:16
I couldn’t agree more. I think that leads pretty well into my next question. You’ve been through all these obstacles now, you’ve overcomed a lot, you’ve had a pretty good time now to really see how these new technologies have made a difference within your organization. What are some of the major benefits that you’ve seen that you would tell any company, you need to do this because XYZ?
Barbara Philibert 11:38
It’s all about communication, Britt. It’s different layers of communication. You just can’t communicate with the top executives at a company. You have to have a messaging plan that gets to all layers within the the companies, whether it’s the newest employee that you’ve just onboarded, the employees that are out on the shop floor, it’s critical that they understand who are they making the product for? Why is this important? What is our purpose? And how do we make a difference?
Barbara Philibert 12:11
We’ve deployed multiple layers of communication, whether it’s Teams or SharePoint. We use a tool called Marlin Boards. We have installed around a hundred boards throughout the world where our platform team can push messaging to people, whether that be information on sister companies or in COVID, I used a lot. I just created these hokey little home made videos, and telling them what we were going through as a platform and a company, and what I was going through personally to maybe help them not feel so alone out there, because we couldn’t travel to see one another. So the layers of communication are just critical. That’s what I would encourage any new manager in a new situation to do.
Britt Erler 13:02
I agree. I think if there’s a silver lining of the pandemic, it was that this need for transparency, humanity, and more communication than we’ve ever had before. It has really been brought to the forefront. It makes a huge difference within the organization when people have an idea of what’s going on, they have an idea of what you’re looking for the future of the company to be. It makes them feel more included, more passionate about their work, like they’re actually making a big difference, which is incredible. As far as some more of the benefits that you’ve seen with this cultural transformation, what do you expect to see in the next two to three years down the road from now?
Barbara Philibert 13:40
We’re on to developing and implementing strategies at this point. We have our new product introduction processes in place, our voice of customer processes in place. Now, it’s about developing new strategies for the five year horizon. That’s going to include new acquisitions, it’s going to include adjacent markets, and to serve those adjacent markets new products. So a lot of opportunity for existing employees, and will mean lots of great new employees as well.
Britt Erler 14:16
Which is so great to hear because after last year, there’s so many credible professionals out there that are looking for careers. So to have companies like yours that are looking to expand and evolve, and bring on new talent is really I think what these next couple years are going to be all about as we really build back up our economy and all of our businesses. So incredible.
Britt Erler 14:35
To wrap up this conversation today, Barbara, there are a lot of leaders right now that are either at the beginning stage of creating this cultural transformation within their company, or they’re kind of in the middle and they’re thinking, how do I now drive the sport, and make sure I’m heading in the right direction? Final pieces of advice for them when they’re in a similar role as yourself?
Barbara Philibert 14:56
There is a messy middle and it’s difficult to to see the light at the end of the tunnel, if you will, when you’re in that messy middle. I would really encourage every leader and every individual contributor to have your own board of directors. Have a handful of people that you really trust their judgment, that they will tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly. They’ll tell you when you’re going off a cliff. They won’t just tell you what you want to hear and bounce things off of them. Don’t be afraid to share with them where you fail, too. Maybe it’s a relationship with a co worker, or a subordinate that is just not working. Really back up and use that board of directors for guidance and counsel. I think that’s very comforting and helpful for most performers.
Britt Erler 15:48
Once again, communication is key. I think that’s so great to know that you have a team and people that you can bounce ideas off of. Because I think moving forward, the biggest space we’re seeing is this new creativity and coming up with these new strategies for every single company. I know for myself as a leader as well, there are weeks where I’m just stuck. I cannot brainstorm for the life of me, but I have this incredible team behind me that is constantly doing that brain work. It’s amazing what new ways they can come up with that you would have never thought of yourself. So I think that’s such crucial advice for making sure that you’re constantly evolving, and coming up with new and unique ways.
Britt Erler 16:27
Barbara, thank you so much for being here. It’s been an absolute pleasure. It provided some incredible insights for all types of companies that are looking to elicit this cultural transformation within their own organization. So thank you for being here, and thank you to everyone who’s joined us. I’m sure you will have further questions for Barbara. Not to worry, we do have a discussion forum underneath this presentation. Please enjoy the rest of the IMPACT Smart Manufacturing and R&D Virtual Summit.
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