Newcomer Makes Impact
Compass Precision hired Bill Canning as its Vice President and Chief Operating Officer in March 2023. Bill currently oversees three of Compass’ eight operating companies – Strom Manufacturing, Bergeron Machine and Quality Products & Machine.
A few weeks after his six-month anniversary, we checked in with Bill to see how things were going.
You’ve been at Compass Precision for a little over six months. How is it going so far?
Good good. Always a new adventure. Every day is different, which is good. I like that.
How have your responsibilities changed over the six months?
Obviously, with new acquisitions it adds to it. And then using some of my past experience with ERP implementations, I’ve started to take a little more of a guidance-type role with various companies that I normally wouldn’t interact with given our current setup with Gary overseeing five of the eight entities. I just recently took over the oversight of Quality Products about two weeks ago. So, it’s been growing. I’ve been involved a little bit more with the acquisition due diligence or new company reviews, which has been enjoyable.
What are the other two operating companies you oversee besides Quality Products?
How is it managing companies on opposite sides of a country?
To be honest, I’m kind of used to it. With my two previous jobs, one of them I was based out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I had sites on the West Coast in Fremont, California, and Portland, Oregon at one point. So I’ve kind of gotten used to that. Then with my last role, I was spread out between Charlotte, London, Madrid, and Australia and it was growing rapidly. So I’ve been living across different time zones for quite some time.
How has your new involvement with Quality Products been going?
As you know, Kevin Farmer just retired, so I have been asked to step in. It is a good company with lots of good equipment and people. But I think we can do much more, add more customers, and drive up the financial performance. So basically, what I’ve been doing is just been getting into the various aspects of the business to understand how we do things, why we do them that way, and then craft a road map so we can capture all desired improvements and develop what items we may be missing today – while building on technology, processes, things like that. And then really help strengthen the team that is there. We have a lot of long-standing, tenured employees, but in order to kind of take the next step, I think the team needs to evolve a little bit. Just from how they do things, why they do things and encourage more of a team environment, as opposed to just a top-down organization. Empower the employees to make decisions, and I think with that, it will improve culture and accountability. I think that’s just the first step in really creating a high-performance organization.
Have you already been doing this at Strom and Bergeron? If so, how?
Yeah, inherent with this type of business – small, founder-run companies – you’ve created it yourself, as the founder. So you’re just naturally going to be the driving force behind the organization. But when these founders take a small step back or move on with the next chapter of their lives, the team has not necessarily been prepped to truly run the organization themselves because it was always you driving it.
With Strom, a lot of great people there, as I said with Quality, a lot of longstanding employees, especially in the leadership area – 25-plus years – it’s just been allowing them time to adapt, change their mindsets that no longer is Bill Strom in charge, it’s now them. It’s very foreign initially. Decisions that they would never even think about asking to make let alone make, now are their responsibility. So it’s encouraging and being there next to them, supporting them to make the best decisions. Watching them develop as leaders has been great, and it all starts with empowerment – showing confidence in their decision making. And then after one decision is made, the next one is made and then pretty soon, you can see that confidence grow. That type of thinking then trickles down into all areas of the business.
The guys now, Brian, Paul and Mike, are carrying that torch now. ‘Hey, we’ve had to adapt, and so now we have to allow our folks to adapt and grow” and they are doing that by creating that culture of accountability but also that it’s ok to make mistakes as long as you are learning from them. I just think that naturally encourages people. It creates an atmosphere not of fear, but secondly, there’s an element of trust there, and I think the right type of people that we want in Compass are those who are looking for that. People that want to grow, that want to learn new things and understand that if they do make a mistake, it’s not going to be the end of the world.
With Bergeron, very, very similar – almost an identical model where the ownership stepped aside. We brought in a president who is very like-minded and in alignment with our thought-process – let the company run itself, allow your folks to really be ingrained in the decision-making process because they will inherently make good decisions if you allow them and support them. It’s almost a photocopy of it because now we’ve seen a lot of the younger, less experienced people really stepping up, really thriving and excited to do so.
Both Strom or Bergeron close to entering any new markets?
With Strom, we have been approved as a supplier for SpaceX. With that obviously comes new requirements, and so the business is making small changes. One, upgrading their current ERP platform. That way we can maintain our traceability, increase the speed of the business, decrease the amount of actual manual tracking in it, which we would do with or without SpaceX, but it only encouraged us to move quicker on it. But overall mindset, it really hasn’t changed too much. It’s a new customer and a new segment, obviously with different requirements, so the organization will adapt accordingly, improve where needed, add things where needed. It’s exciting for them because their focus has really been in life sciences, industrial printing and the hunting/fishing, outdoor space. That has kind of been their bread and butter over the last 10 years. So bringing in a new and growing segment is going to be great. It’s going to challenge the business, but with that, success will come.
What has been your biggest achievement in six months at Compass?
Something I’m proud of, when I was hired on March 27, the Bergeron sale closed on the 5th of April. So immediately, I was kind of thrown into the fire. I feel good about a successful transition. We spent six months with the ownership, brought in new leadership with Dave Giampa. The fact that it was relatively seamless – the customers didn’t see any difference other than maybe increased performance, increased quality, but no negative impact to the customers at all, and we were well received by the employees. We tried to make it a better place. Based on all the feedback, we were successful in doing that, and we did it pretty quickly. I’d say in 3-4 months, we were fully integrated into Compass.
What goals do you have for the upcoming year?
One, that we get Strom and Bergeron fully online as it relates to the ERP. Secondly, improving quality. Thirdly, we prepare ourselves for more growth through acquisition at the Compass level and try to create a standardized approach to the integration side of a new company. I think those are the big ones. But there’s always a challenge around the market place as it relates to customers and work. Industries are always changing. Geopolitical landscape is always changing, so you try to make sure your sales efforts are focused on the right segments. We know that certain industries are going to be down, so we try to capitalize on those that might be growing like space. Try to reduce the impact of a downward trend in the market.
Finally, with responsibilities for companies on the East Coast, West Coast, and in Charlotte, do you have any geographic preferences for where Compass’s next acquisition should be?
Hahaha… I am a big Detroit sports fan, so something in Michigan would be good. But seriously, a shop’s excellence is what drives our acquisition decisions, not location. I am ready to go anywhere.