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Rest stops on the road to success

Feature, Management, Perspective | January 1, 2015 | By:

David Snoad implements systems and empowers employees so his business can flourish—and he can take a vacation.

“I’ve been away six months of this calendar year and we’re about to have our most profitable year ever,” says David Snoad, managing director of Pinz Pty. Ltd., Seaton, Australia. “Because of my time away, I’m more productive and less inclined to procrastinate—I don’t have time for it. And besides, my staff knows how to run this company.”

The Pinz Co. was formed by Snoad’s mother in the early 1980s. Its first products were leather jackets, then spa covers, and now the majority of the company’s revenue is raised through manufacturing domestic and commercial blind and shade products. The remainder of its products now serve markets in the defense, automotive and medical industries.Â

Blame the system,
not the people

Snoad joined the company in the early 90s when his mother identified the need for more defined management practices, as well as computer and accounting systems. His computer skills were self-taught, a hobby and passion that resulted in the ability to write websites and complex databases before computer courses were available at schools and universities. The foundation of Snoad’s management strategies he acquired at McDonald’s Hamburger University, which emphasized systems and processes. “The McDonald’s training is all about process and work flow,” Snoad says. “I’m constantly looking at how to renew plant layout and improve workflow in the office and the factory.
It’s an ongoing process that becomes more challenging as the company grows.”

Among the management strategies Snoad employs is “blame the system, not the people” when mistakes are made. “This can be a hard thing to instill in your staff,” he says. “Particularly middle manager-type people who may have a tendency to blame people when there’s a problem.” The approach is mostly a mindset that gears staff toward solutions that will minimize future errors, as well as creating a healthy, supportive work environment. Snoad and his staff identify where the breakdown of the system occurred and how to modify it, which includes solutions such as creating guidelines for times when staff needs to fulfill unfamiliar duties.

Creating decision-makers

Optimizing systems and processes for the staff laid the foundation for Snoad’s ability to take—what some might say—is a lot of time off for the person in charge. The decision to step away for months at a time was the result of a sudden change in responsibilities, one that caused Snoad to reevaluate what was best for the company, and for him. When Snoad’s parents, who were also his partners, found it necessary to sell their shares of the business to him in 2003, all of the responsibilities of running the company fell on his shoulders. Snoad admits that he responded to the demands of being the sole owner by micro-managing.

Almost two years after taking over, Snoad decided he needed to make some changes. “I realized I had made my staff dependent on me to always be there to make decisions,” he says. “I got to the point where I said: ‘This is crazy. I’ve got some great people working here. I need to empower them to be more accountable for their jobs;
I need to trust them—and I need a holiday.’

“I decided to make a change to the core business values,” Snoad continues. “Up until that time we were really a small family business that produced only enough revenue to justify our jobs. I figured I could go and work for somebody else for a lot more money and a lot less stress and hassle, or I could change the way we functioned.” Snoad made three of his employees managers, gave them significant pay raises and told them he was going to be gone for four months to tour the world.

Before he left, Snoad and his newly formed management team reviewed all the decisions he typically made regarding the business, identified issues that could arise while he was away, and prepared an emergency action plan for how the staff should respond. Snoad arranged for his father to be the “if all else fails” contact person. During his four-month absence Snoad checked in and gave advice on occasion, but for the most part the staff stepped up to the challenge. “When I got back I found I had three staff in particular—Narelle Johncock, general manager; Kate Bessell, marketing and new sales; and Jodie Ackland, accounts receivable and payable—who had matured and taken responsibility for running the company,” he says. “And during my time away the company had its four most profitable months ever.”

Brain training

While Snoad was traveling in South America, he realized that he wasn’t picking up the language as quickly as he wanted. When he returned home and found that his company was doing well with the new structure, he decided to return to school to sharpen his memory and thinking skills. He enrolled in a university program to earn his degree in mechanical engineering. “I found that over that three-year process of study my brain was really switched back on,” Snoad says. “It’s amazing how you can train your brain to improve memory.”

With that in mind, Snoad now seeks out university students to hire temporarily during the busy season. “Just when we’re getting busy, they’re finishing their exams for the year,” he says. “I’ve found that we can bring in a university student and
teach them how to assemble something, such as a blind, and they get it the first time. They’re off and being productive on day one. That’s often not the case with people who haven’t been in school or had training recently.”

New management,
new markets

As the business has grown—from approximately 20 staff to 60 in the past 10 years—Snoad found it necessary to change the company’s management hierarchy. One problem with the existing structure was that there were no real opportunities for advancement within the company. He implemented a new tier of management—team leaders who oversee groups of five or six people. “We’ve also got system production managers, a production manager and a general manager,” he says. “There was some resistance to the change but it’s gaining traction. Now there are pathways for employees to progress within the organization.”

Snoad’s vision for the company includes the addition of graphics capabilities in the near future. “I can really see a great opportunity for us to be a market leader in Australia in digital printing on our products,” he says. “I’ve been researching the market and what equipment we’ll need so we can get started with it.” He’s purchased an additional property and plans to separate the retail and wholesale parts of the business. He’s also researching additional markets for the graphics portion of the business to be sure they have enough volume going through it to generate a decent ROI on the new equipment.

As Snoad leads his company into new markets and implements new structures, he keeps in mind that with change comes challenge. “When you give people new responsibilities, they’re going to make mistakes—and some of them will be costly,” he says. “You have to let them know that you’re aware they’ll make mistakes and when they do you’re not going to blame them. You’re going to sit down and work out how to be sure it doesn’t happen again. In the long term, those short-term losses will be far outweighed by the great decisions they will make in the future.”

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