It was the fall of 1983. With eager anticipation I began my career as an environmental system engineer on the Cessna Citation 3 business aircraft. My wife and I moved from Ruston, Louisiana, to Wichita, Kansas, to begin a fantastic journey. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect when it all began. I’m sure like most young engineering grads I had hopes that I would enjoy engineering and that I would do well in my career. Now on April 1, I plan to sell KTM Solutions and enter a semblance of retirement. As I close this chapter of my life, I want to take a few moments to evaluate. Perhaps this evaluation will be helpful to you.
The Good Times
I always like to start by reflecting on the good moments. To be honest, there were lots of them. I really couldn’t have asked for a better professional career. My bosses gave me lots of opportunities to try many different things. From my early days as a systems design engineer to running a large engineering department, I tried to learn as much as I could.
Sure, there were some opportunities I enjoyed more than others. In fact, some opportunities I didn’t really like at all. If I’m truthful, I probably learned more in the opportunities I disliked than the ones I thoroughly enjoyed. Each of these challenges increased my knowledge of engineering, business management, managing people, and individual working limitations. I also learned a lot about myself, particularly how I was wired and how to maximize my contribution.
Life lesson: Learn from every opportunity. Pour yourself into the opportunity. Ask questions and get feedback from peers and managers. Be true to yourself with brutal honesty. Remember that you are working for someone else and try to give them more than they expect.
The Bad Times
There was a time when I lost focus on the important things in life. I learned from my father to work hard and provide for my family. As with the stereotypical family of the 1950’s, I thought my primary responsibility was to “bring home the bacon”—to pour myself into my work and maximize what I brought home to my family.
This usually meant working a lot of overtime and being mentally drained when I came home. It meant taking hard assignments that created a lot of personal stress. It also resulted in my taking a career path that paid very well but that I was not wired to do. At the zenith of my corporate career, I was responsible for managing a group of 500 engineers. This career path took me far from the work that I really enjoyed, but it allowed me to maximize what I brought home. I wasn’t just bringing home bacon, I brought home the whole hog! But I was miserable, under tremendous stress, and both emotionally and intellectually unavailable to my family.
Life Lesson: Being a good father and husband, being available at home, is more important than being on top of your career. Working hard is expected, but there are limits and balance that must be in place. Find a job that maximizes your talents and brings satisfaction even if it means being paid less. Remember the truly important things in life, because life is short and will pass by quickly.
Some Final Thoughts
I have been blessed beyond my wildest dreams. As I look back over my career, it’s hard to believe how it turned out, considering I was just an average student from a small town in Louisiana. I have no doubt that I have received benefits beyond those I deserved and was given opportunities that I believe were the result of divine providence. I worked hard and did a lot of things well. But I also messed up. Some of my mistakes were colossal. These experiences made me what I am. I have always tried to be introspective on these things and learn from both the good and the bad.
The rest of this message is to people who have responsibility for others. I assume that you hired the right people. Expect your people to work hard. In fact, don’t settle for less. However, also create an environment in which they can learn without fear of failure. Be convinced that none of your reports come into your business with the desire to see how badly they can mess things up.
Be patient and provide everything they need to be successful. Learn how they are wired and help them to learn this about themselves. Play to their strengths and maximize these areas. Anticipate some failures but insist on learning from the mistake. Provide honest and open feedback, both positive and negative. Bestow positive feedback publicly, negative feedback privately. Love, I mean really love your people. Take care of them and help them to take care of themselves. Insist on life balance. Oh yeah, one more thing. You are also an employee and you are responsible for you, so all this applies to how you treat yourself.
The Next Chapter
April 1, 2022: I mentioned that I am going to enter some semblance of retirement. I don’t believe that a man was created to fully retire while he is still able to work. Therefore, although I will close one chapter in my story, there is still more to write. I plan to continue to work with young professionals starting their careers and with others who are trying to better their careers. I have several other volunteer opportunities ahead of me. I will also take time to enjoy my children and grandchildren.
You may not be aware of this but my wife has been my business partner since we founded KTM Solutions. She is also retiring from KTM Solutions on April 1. I enjoy working with Ginger and we look forward to serving others as a team. I will also be available to help the new owner of KTM Solutions, but I have full confidence that Dev Belflower will take the company to new heights. For my SC Manufacturing readers, if I can help any of you, the magazine will know how to reach me. Please feel free to ask. It has always been my pleasure to serve.
Paul V. Kumler, P.E., is retired. Prior to retirement, he was president and founder of KTM Solutions, an engineering company that services the aerospace and large-scale manufacturing industries. KTM Solutions designs and builds custom machines and “tooling” (jigs, fixtures, below-the-hook lifting systems) supporting a broad clientele and various industries. (www.ktmsolutions.com) The company is headquartered in Greer, South Carolina, with a remote office in Charleston, South Carolina. 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.
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