It's an anniversary month of sorts for Bernard (Bernie) Nagle. By his own estimates, June marks the start of Nagle's 45th year in the manufacturing world, and in that time, "I've walked literally hundreds and hundreds of shop floors around the world," says the executive director of the Precision Machined Products Association.
He's been a senior operations executive at Fortune 500 companies. He's been a small business owner, an author, a consultant and since September 2015, Nagle has led the PMPA team. "I get to work with a whole industry at once. And it is such a privilege," he says.
IndustryWeek recently caught up with the PMPA executive director and discussed manufacturing, leadership and what the association is doing to help its members adapt and thrive.
Nagle's father, a World War II veteran, was a supervisor at a ceramic magnet company and worked 40-odd years in manufacturing. "He was extremely proud of the work he did. He was very mechanically inclined and always loved to work with his hands, to build things and make things, so it was natural for him to get into manufacturing," Nagle says.
Outside of cutting lawns, Nagle's own first job, while still in high school, was working in the maintenance department at that same factory. Manufacturing continued to contribute to Nagle's earnings during his college years, and he ultimately graduated with a chemistry degree.
"I didn't have a real strong plan in mind when I graduated. It was just get a job and start to grow and progress. And, fortunately, I found my way to Welch Foods and I really enjoyed the food industry. I started out in quality control in the labs and worked my way into production and then into executive management," he says.
Co-author of the 1997 book Leveraging People & Profit – The Hard Work of Soft Management, Nagle has long taken a servant leadership approach to leading and engaging employees. The manufacturing veteran shared an experience from early in his career that helped shape his future thinking about leadership. It began with quality circles – specifically a mandate to implement quality circles. Nagle was a quality manager at the time.
Lacking a budget to get trained in facilitating quality circles, Nagle recollects doing his best to educate himself with reading materials and any other sources he could gather. A month or so later, a group of seven or eight employees convened with great enthusiasm: "A lot of good ideas, a lot of input, a lot of participation. We actually came up with some really great ideas for cost reductions and quality improvements. Unfortunately when it came to any ideas that involved any investment or spending any money, for some reason we couldn't get any of those things done."
A predictable ending ensued. After six or so months, enthusiasm began to wane and eventually the group disbanded. However, the experience taught Nagle a valuable lesson.
"The lesson that I learned in that experience -- getting thrown into the deep end -- was the tremendous power, the tremendous creative power was between employees' ears," he says. "I came up in the '70s. The authoritarian leadership model was still going strong. Top-down authoritarian. But I learned that there was a different way. I learned that there is tremendous power, creative power out there in the workforce, and the lesson that I learned starting there and then is that you cannot buy enthusiasm. You can't force creativity. You can't buy loyalty. Those things have to be inspired by the leadership."
Workforce Development Challenges
A vast majority of PMPA members are small- to medium-size businesses, most of which are family-owned and many of which are second-, third-, fourth- and even fifth-generation family-owned. "The only thing that we focus on is to help our members go out and thrive in our increasingly challenging marketplace," Nagle says.
Similar to the broader manufacturing community, the single biggest challenge for PMPA members is workforce development – "finding and training and developing and retaining good, strong, productive employees," the association director says, adding that many of his members "are capacity constrained simply because of the lack of qualified operators."
To that end, outreach to high schools and junior colleges is and has been a significant association focus. The message: The precision manufacturing workplace is "pretty cool." "We make the parts that make everything else work," Nagle says. "We're very proud of it, and it's very high-tech and very clean."
Moreover, the association plans to offer, through its membership, an apprenticeship training program that couples online training with in-plant, hands-on experience. Nagle says PMPA hopes to make that available by late summer.
Untapped Voices: Next Generation and Women of PMPA
Nagle says PMPA is constantly looking for "nooks and crannies and niches of value that perhaps haven't been explored or explored as abundantly or robustly as they might have." To that end, he highlighted two association initiatives that "empower other voices" in an industry that as a whole has lacked diversity.
The first is the Next-Gen initiative. It provides networking opportunities for younger members to get to know one another, and share subject matter and content that is of interest to them and their own personal development. "It has grown by leaps and bounds over the last year," Nagle says. "I kicked it off a year ago at one of our conferences, and we have over 100 folks on that listserv right now."
The second initiative is the Women of PMPA. This initiative kicked off at the association's annual meeting last October with eight women. Earlier this year, the second Women of PMPA meeting drew 33 women, and Nagle anticipates 50 to 60 attendees at the next meeting.
"The energy and the enthusiasm that's coming out of these two groups is just incredible," Nagle says. "I think what's going to come out of this in the next couple of years is going to be astounding. It's really going to surprise an awful lot of people."