KTM Solutions celebrated 15 years in business on April 21, 2020. Although COVID impacted our celebration plans, this milestone gave me pause to reflect on 15 years in business and the life lessons learned. I would like to continue to share those with you as maybe they will help other business leaders.
In the mid 90’s, while working for an aircraft OEM, I had responsibility for several contracts where large suppliers were involved. As the lead engineer, I had direct technical interface with these suppliers. On many occasions, technical issues overlapped with contractual and commercial issues.
The procurement agent was responsible for managing the contractual and commercial relationship; I was responsible for managing the compliance with technical specification and deliverables.
Price negotiations often required my presence and input, but the final say always fell to the procurement agent as procurement was the only organization authorized to commit the company.
As we were in the heat of negotiation, I remember the procurement agent cautioning me, “We need to make our money from our customers, not our suppliers.” I thought that a bit odd coming from the individual responsible for ensuring the company’s financial interest, but the lesson stayed with me. In fact, I think it one of the most fundamental lessons that all parties need to learn when operating a business.
The reality is everyone in a business transaction needs to receive value. Suppliers need to be paid fairly for their work. The best business relationships are those where all parties win. Unfortunately, not all businesses operate that way. Some companies feel the need to squeeze their suppliers so hard that the supplier takes on a level of financial risk that may kill their business. On the other hand, when a supplier has something unique, some will gouge their customer to the detriment of the customer’s health. In my experience, the latter is much less common. It is shortsighted to squeeze your supplier’s profitability to the point that they go out of business. Not only do you lose a good supplier, but the overall business community is impacted as well.
I learned that the best thing I can do is take care of all the people that are part of the ecosystem that makes up KTM Solutions.
This means fair treatment of employees, customers, and suppliers. KTM is fortunate to be a part of a great small business community and selection of suppliers.
I am convinced that our suppliers have KTM Solutions’ best interest at heart and care as much about our health as we care about our customers. These suppliers work hard to honor their commitments in delivery and product quality.
They also know they can count on KTM Solutions to make sure they get paid on time. We work with each other to make sure the other stays financially healthy. We work together when technical and quality issues arise. All of this works best when we find true partners and have earned the right to that designation ourselves.
This is not to imply we are all perfect. When mistakes happen, we bend over backwards to do all we can to make it right while protecting each other’s businesses.
We need to take care of others, even if they don’t become a customer. Fifteen years ago, when we first started in business, we were desperate for a sale. In an effort to meet the right people and learn about operating a small business, we joined the chamber of commerce.
This is where I learned the lesson to take care of everyone. Through the small business advisory group of the Greenville Chamber, I met a man who told me, “Ask people what you can do to help them, then do it.”
This was great news. Just solve problems. After all, that’s what engineers do. He said, “Don’t worry so much about the deal; be more concerned with taking care of people. That’s how you network and find business.” I can’t count how many new customers we found just by offering help to someone in need.
Obviously, any business needs customers. I learned that it is much easier to keep a customer than it is to find a new one. Good customers are golden. Customers for whom our business can provide a value. Customers who realize that everyone needs to make a profit. A relationship of trust and confidence through honesty, integrity, humility, and demonstrable service comes by taking care of your customer. Treat customers the way you want to be treated. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes.
Consider how you would feel if you were presented the opportunity you plan to offer to your customer. Understand the customer’s challenges and work with your customer to help them be successful. After all, your customer must receive value. With that in mind, don’t be afraid to send your customer elsewhere if your company can’t provide the value that the customer needs. By doing this, you have served your customer.
Taking care of everyone is the key. The second greatest commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Who is your neighbor? I believe it is everyone.
About the Author:
Paul V. Kumler, P.E., is president of KTM Solutions, an engineering company that services the aerospace and large-scale manufacturing industries. In addition to aero structures engineering services, KTM Solutions designs and builds tooling supporting a broad clientele and various industries. (www.ktmmechanical.com) The company is headquartered in Greer, South Carolina, with remote offices in Charleston, South Carolina. Mr. Kumler serves in several volunteer roles including the SC Aerospace Advisory Board. Mr. Kumler, a professional engineer, is licensed in Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington. He is married to Ginger A. Kumler. Together, they have two grown children and three grandchildren.