In this choppy economic environment, Jody Richards, CEO of Process Technology says she's seen some order cancellations and some order push-outs. And while some would say semiconductors are supposedly slowing down, when she looks at the future with AI, that market is expected to come back and come back strong. So, the specialty equipment maker is positioning itself to take advantage of this environment by doubling down on product development while continually working on improving its processes. Also, the company stays on the lookout for a deal.
"We are always looking for a deal and in the industries that we're in," Richards said at the Cleveland Smart Business Dealmakers Conference. "We're looking for something that's related to what we're doing. And pretty much everything that we're doing is very highly engineered and very technical."
She says in their industry, family businesses often start making a really great product line or they have a really great technology platform, grown it to a certain point but don't have the experience to actually take it to the next level.
"If it were a family business, that is one of our things that we really love because we have experience in that," she says. "With Process Technology, when I joined the firm, it's a family business — it's my family, actually — but it was not where it needed to be in terms of professionalism, and we've totally turned the corner on that."
Richards says they bought a company in 2018 that was a family business that losing money every month. They managed to turn it around in less than a year.
"We feel like we're really good at that," she says. "That's a really strong suit for us. And if it were a family business, I'm sure we'd be all over that."
When they look at a family business in particular, they see where the issues are able to strategize on how they can grow that and grow it quickly and get them out of whatever situation they're in. Often the issues center on culture.
She says when she started working at Process Technology, she identified a number of issues to fix, but culture was way down on the list. That's changed.
"Now, culture always has to be the first thing," Richards says. "And that's the biggest difficulty in any type of company that you acquire is moving the culture, moving it more toward performance driven and goal setting and things like that. Generally, I find in family businesses that that's not where they are."
While the economy might be slowing down, Richards says her company still has a huge amount of orders — more than they can probably ship out this year. Meanwhile, they're constantly trying to find a better or more automated way in every single area of the company. For example, she says the AP and AR team is implementing a software that will take away half of their work.
"We're constantly doing this in every single area," she says. "It's not just the shop floor that needs to be cleaned up. It's everything."
Another area of emphasis is on upgrading talent.
"You can never be satisfied," Richards says. "I said for years in town halls that we have, like, you may be the best today but sometime in the future you won't be the best. At some point that's going to change and you don't know if that's five years from today, or if it's tomorrow. You always have to be constantly improving yourself and not only yourself, the processes and everything else in the company. So that's what we're working on all the time. Our biggest thing right now is bringing up the level of average in our talent. And that's not just going to find new people, it's also we're constantly offering different types of educational opportunities for all of our team members."
That focus on culture and talent is in part because the company needs to grow to the next level.
"We've been growing — we doubled last year, we expect to double again by the end of this year," she says. "It's a really fast pace. And, depends on the position, obviously, but there are a lot of people who unfortunately just can't keep up. So trying to find that person who is not just at the level I need to be but slightly ahead of that or has the capacity to grow beyond where they are right now so that I'm not hiring somebody for a year and then turning it over a year after that. That's not how I want to be. When the pace is so fast it is extremely hard to keep up and you really need to find very talented people. We're kind of a small, medium-sized business competing with talent with giants, so that makes it extremely difficult and that's my biggest worry."