In July, Medin Technologies acquired Advantage Manufacturing Technologies (AMT)—the first acquisition after Medin was purchased by Seven Point Equity Partners and since naming Bill Donaldson as Chief Executive Officer earlier this year.
Mr. Donaldson is a former U.S. Marine who has spent his post-military career transforming large manufacturers into high-performing companies through lean improvement processes. I spoke with Mr. Donaldson after the AMT announcement to ask him three questions. One, how is he implementing the business systems that he adopted during his career at Danaher to a mid-sized case and tray company? Two, what does the lean transition mean for Medin’s future growth—both organically and through acquisition activity? Three, what lessons from his career has he leveraged the most in his new position?
The following excerpts from my conversation with Mr. Donaldson provide insight into ways that he’s laying a new foundation and culture at Medin and offer actionable advice on how to lead change.
On How He’s Applying Lean
At the core of lean processes is the desire to create value by being as good as or better than the competition.
“The way we get there is through fanatical, consistent process improvements. Torturing every process inside our business, whether it’s how we take an order or how we translate that order into action on the shop floor. When that action on the shop floor is happening, how does everybody know what to do next? If I need help, to whom do I go? When I consume material, what’s the trigger for the purchase of the next piece of material?” Mr. Donaldson said. “You use value stream mapping to chart every single process you’ve got. It starts in the shop floor, but expands much, much further than that. Think about the quoting process, the design process. How do we take a somewhat ambiguous list of requirements from a customer that indicates, ‘We have 17 instruments and four implants that need to go in this case,’ and get a design?
“You one by one by one attack those processes with your goal in mind: safety, quality, delivery, cost and in that order. Improve the safety for our employees, improve quality for our customers, increase velocity to yield better delivery and at a better cost admission. I make it sound really simple. It’s a multi-year journey. But our intent is that we will institutionalize this model and then replicate it, either through acquisition or through organic growth. And candidly, out-execute the competition. That’s the goal.”
In recent months, Medin built a model line for one of its largest customers in order to prove its lean technique. From start to finish (planning to out-the-door product), the process took about three months. It allowed the company to absorb a significant piece of business and validate a method to propagate throughout the company.
On Implementing Change in a Smaller Company
Mr. Donaldson has spent most of his career leading much larger companies. His most recent position was President of Jeld-Wen Canada, where he led 1,600 employees. Introducing change into a smaller company comes with its own set of complexities. The upside of having only a few facilities and a few hundred employees is that you can get your arms around the challenge easier and “move the ship faster,” Mr. Donaldson said.
“But it requires leaders who know how to work at a tactical level, and when needed operate at a strategic level, because you don’t have the resources,” he said. “You need a lot of utility players. You can’t have specialists. You need people who can do it all.”
On Lessons Learned that He’s Immediately Leveraged
Not surprisingly, Mr. Donaldson said that the lean community’s battle cry, “Go see, ask why and show respect,” has been important as he learns a new company and new industry.
“Those three phrases, while they sound simple, are powerful. ‘Go see’ means that as a leader you have to go. You have to actually see what’s happening. You can’t do it from an office. ‘Ask why’ means you have to continuously challenge convention and the way things are done. But in doing so, you can’t be disrespectful of the history of the business or the work that people are doing. You’ve got to go see, ask why, show respect and do it again. Keep cycling,” he said. “The other thing I’ve learned—and it’s a lesson that I’ve learned looking back on other [company] transformations—is that while we have grandiose plans, I wish I could go faster. It really is about speed. The faster we go, the better off we are. But it’s hard to go fast.”
On Standing Firm in Convictions
Throughout his career, Mr. Donaldson has found that people subscribe to varying “lean” concepts. He believes that true value comes from examining and implementing improvements at the minute level of a business, with each individual employee and individual process.
“It takes courage to challenge years and years of convention, years and years of, ‘But we’ve always done it that way.’ ‘Well, you can’t do that because of this.’ ‘You can’t move a part from one machine to the next.’ ‘It’s a validation process.’ ‘It’s going to take us 16 weeks.’ Well, it turns out that it actually doesn’t,” Mr. Donaldson said. “If you have a good conversation with your customer, you can get that validation done in a few weeks, and you can actually move machines, and you can move parts, and you can change things. You have to have the courage to confront convention.”
On the Ability for Anyone to Lead Change
Mr. Donaldson noted that those who want to lead change—no matter their title or responsibilities—will find career advancement. Start with a focus on your company’s vision and mission.
“Everyone should ask themselves, what can I do independent of guidance to make that mission happen? How can I take initiative to drive change within my area of purview that is aligned to that vision or that mission? Those people are rare,” he said. “Once they internalize that vision and mission and take independent transformational action in their area in a way that aligns with that vision, boy, the sky is the limit for those people.”
Medin has quadrupled in size since 2016 and now has nearly 300 employees.
Its transition will be a years-long process. But while executing on an encompassing lean improvement system, Mr. Donaldson said that organic opportunities will unveil themselves and the company will set itself up for easier acquisition integration in the future.
The lean culture is also a declaration of the type of supplier that Medin wants to be in the industry. As device companies big and small become more sophisticated in their manufacturing approaches, they’ll look to suppliers—also big and small—to follow.
“When we articulate that this is the journey we’re taking, it deeply resonates for a certain group of our customers because they speak that same language,” Mr. Donaldson said. “They’re on the same journey. Frankly, that makes it easier to connect our systems because the culture is already connected.”
Carolyn LaWell is ORTHOWORLD's Chief Content Officer.