Should you use a specialist or a generalist?

Senior Patient Having Consultation With Doctor In Office

Recently, I visited my family doctor for my annual physical. We covered the normal, routine small talk, reviewed the results of my lab work, and overall, I was given a clean bill of health. I have been dealing with some annoying chronic issues for years. Each annual physical, we discuss these issues and have tried a few treatments, but nothing has really changed. I finally decided that I’ve had enough of this and told him I wanted to resolve these problems. My doctor agreed that it was time and referred me to a specialist.

Referrals in medicine are not uncommon. Have a skin rash, go see the dermatologist. Eyesight not what it used to be, find an optometrist. Having energy issues when working out, better see a heart doctor. In some cases, the generalist can address overall issues, but I found my doctor never hesitates to send me to someone else that may be more qualified to make sure I am properly cared for.

Businesses providing a specific service are akin to medical specialists. We know our trade and make a living by doing a few things very well. A larger business, like an OEM, may be very good at producing their product but not so go at development of the systems that enable their process to flow. Furthermore, a specialist will be much more efficient in diagnosing the problem, prescribing a treatment, and getting things running at peak efficiency.

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It’s interesting to me how larger businesses treat and evaluate smaller businesses. If you own a small business, you have probably been asked some if not all of the following:

  • How many employees work at your company?
  • What is your average revenue?
  • Who are your largest customers?
  • What is your bill rate for services?

In fact, I’m willing to wager that most small businesses, or for that matter any service provider, will be asked most if not all of these questions before being asked regarding the company’s specialty or what they CAN DO well. In fact, if the answers don’t fit the image of the person asking the questions, the service provider may never get past those four questions. Isn’t it ironic? Going back to common medical experiences, if you have a heart condition and visit a cardiologist, those four questions are the furthest thing from your mind. Instead, you want to know what makes that doctor the best, understand past results, and learn specifically what the doctor will do for you.

As a mechanical engineering company that designs and builds specialty tools, we support some great manufacturing companies. We also have a select group of excellent suppliers. To be a KTM Solutions supplier, a company must be great at the service/products they provide. We look first for quality and reputation. On-time delivery is important. Of course, the company must be cost competitive. Performance and capacity have little to do with the size of the company or number of employees. In fact, some of our best suppliers are operators with less than 10 employees that do one thing very well, almost always deliver on time, and sell at a reasonable cost.

KTM Solutions’ fab shop is capable of manufacturing unique parts and assemblies. However, we know what we can do well and we also know where other sources might be a better fit. Even though we could manufacture some components in house, we have suppliers that can manufacture more efficiently, provide better quality, and produce at a lower cost than if we manufactured internally. The system as a whole is the advanced service provided by KTM Solutions. Using suppliers that are specialists in their craft makes perfect sense and provides the best value to our customers.

Perhaps you work for a large company and you are considering the value of using a specialist to help you solve a problem in your manufacturing process. Or maybe you run a small business and have been trying to solve a problem for a while that seems slightly out of reach. Don’t put up with chronic conditions for years. When I look back at my long-term medical issues today, I ask myself, “Why didn’t I insist on seeing a specialist years ago?”

Seek out the right specialist. You wouldn’t call a general contractor to solve an electrical problem in your home, nor would you call a plumber. You would look for an electrician with a solid record of performance, someone who will fix your problem the first time. Likewise, in your business, look for a provider with a solid track record, a provider that is a master in their craft, a problem solver that has experience with your issue. There are great small businesses that focus on one thing, do that one thing very well, and will return a value to your business.

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. ( 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.

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