CEO Interview | Brad Batz
Smashing Through Traditional Growth Barriers
Brad Batz is challenging the status quo. New to the helm of Fike Corporation, a 73-year-old privately held global company in the fire and explosion protection business, Brad doesn’t chase growth for growth sake, but his goal is to generate 4x growth. “I believe this company can be something special,” Batz says. He is interested in purposeful growth—growth that isn’t about shareholder value but about stakeholder value, an important distinction to Batz. He explains it this way, “Stakeholder value generates growth for future investment but equally if not more important are the employees we have, their careers, their families, and the impact we can have on their lives; and then our customers because our products enable our customers’ employees to go home to their families every night.”
A rare phenomenon, Fike Corporation is a family owned business in its third generation of leadership. Founded by Batz’s grandfather, the intent is to have a viable, sustainable business for the fourth and fifth generation, already on the scene, and many more generations to follow. While the business heritage is important, Batz doesn’t let the past dictate the future. The founding principles of invention, engineering and quality manufacturing remain the bedrock of the firm. But Batz is re-organizing and re-defining success. He believes that they became overly complex generating 46 objectives generated by a variety of divisions resulting in a loss of focus on what matters most—the customer.
Re-inventing the Future
Batz has established a clear strategy of customer intimacy and is revitalizing the organization with 4, rather than 46, key initiatives. The plan is to segment the market, focusing on where they can be most relevant; revitalize sales channels, getting closer to their customer with more direct contact; Shore the Core, creating a more efficient infrastructure focusing on serving high priority customers and better data collection to inform decisions; and renewed product development that develops needed products faster.
The new plan has two halves: stabilize and prepare for growth in the first five years and scale the business in the next five. Fike Corporation is about halfway through phase one and they have already embraced substantial change. There is a new executive team in place using a servant leadership model to earn the commitment of employees. Advancement is no longer by tenure and now the work force has a more flexible model that allows motivated employees to stretch themselves by learning new skills and cross-training in multiple roles. Customer solutions involve integrative product platforms, which means Fike doesn’t make every product that is included in a sale. It is more about the long-term relationships than an immediate transaction. Fike is willing to step up and own a system allowing them to ensure better control and protection, offering a safer solution along with a new assembly revenue stream. Reporting monthly numbers and educating employees on financial acumen is part of the plan. Incentives are tied to a consolidated profit plan—not a divisional one. While many privately held organizations shield their numbers, Batz is seeking transparency. “I believe in people understanding and educating and spending the time to help them understand it. I want people asking is this going to affect our ability to make money.”
A Systems Approach
Out of the changes to date, Batz feels the most important is the connectivity of the system. “We are focused on helping people become centered around how we support each other to deliver value to the customer, using a systems-thinking approach. I think that is the best thing I have done to challenge the historical status quo”, says Batz.
Strengthening Growth DNA
The principles on which the company was founded—curiosity that drives invention, quality engineering that seeks to solve customer problems, and efficient manufacturing that provides products when customers need them —remain key to the company’s DNA. Batz is building on that by elevating the level of execution, setting new standards for each of them, empowering employees to take new approaches in achieving them, caring and investing in people, and building an integrated culture that is centered around the customer—looking at the whole picture rather than just a piece of the puzzle. It is still early in the ten-year journey, but the outlook looks bright.