Can you spare some change?

By Joe Limbaugh, Motion Industries

The question put to me came out of nowhere and sounded like one of those “If you were stranded on an island, what book would you bring?” kind of questions. ("Boat Building for Dummies," of course.) The much younger employee is one of our shining stars, and he deserved some consideration.

“What has changed the most in your 35 years in the business?” To begin, from where I am sitting, 35 years doesn’t sound like a long time. But then again, the person asking the question wasn’t even 30.

So I hopped behind the wheel of my mental DeLorean and raced back to 1983 to have a look around. To be sure, the surroundings were indeed different. Computers were just hitting desktops, and they were the size of apartment refrigerators. Inventory wheels used for tracking on-hand quantities were kept just in case. Supply chains hadn’t matured to today’s level, so branches had more inventory than they needed and then some…just to be on the safe side. And the product offering wasn’t nearly as varied.

We carried beepers for after-hours service. When they beeped, you called an answering service to find out whom to call. When those were replaced with actual pagers that displayed a phone number, we thought we had reached the zenith of convenience.

Some time later, computer programs became more advanced than ever, which created increased productivity for some and more leisure for others.

In 1993, Berry Bearing, which I was working for at the time, was acquired by Motion Industries. Going from a privately held company to a publicly traded one is an adjustment in general. And then the procedural changes came.

But people change with time, as well, so while systems, products, and procedures are evolving, personal and office sensibilities are changing, too. (Think "Mad Men.") Mary Shelley, the author of "Frankenstein," wrote, “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” Maybe…but doesn’t that depend on which side of the change you are on? Bob Dylan tackles change in his song "The Times They Are a Changin’":

Come gather ‘round people wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth saving, then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Yikes. True, this number has more to do with social change than say, work change, but I am sure that for many of us, we have faced changes in business some point along the way that felt bigger than can be swallowed.

In my case, it seems that in 35 years, most change has occurred without our realizing that things were changing. Changes happened so subtly and at times in great numbers – almost evolutionary in nature. Take the cannon in the town where I grew up: A World War II relic painted drab green, it was both prominent and unremarkable. The only reason anybody would notice it would be if one day it weren’t there.

By this point in my conversation with my co-worker, I felt the only way out was to divert. So I offered an alternative answer: “I think what is more significant is what hasn’t changed, and that would be personal relationships in our business," I said. "They are as important today as there were then, and will continue to grow in prominence.”

supply chainA couple of years ago, we created a Motion Industries Experience Center – a showroom that is equal measure past, present and future. There is a living timeline that is regularly updated and that goes back to the beginning, 1946. My favorite photo is that of two men squatting next to a pillow block: one is a Motion Industries employee; the other is a customer maintenance technician. They appear to be measuring a shaft diameter. When we selected this photo for exhibit, we dated it at around 1948. As you are reading this, somewhere at Motion Industries one of our sales representatives (probably more than one) is interacting with a customer and consulting on a product or project. That’s because we understand that while technology will enhance the Motion experience, it can only be heightened when we know our customer’s operations as well as or better than they do. Equally important is when we interact with our valued suppliers and when we collaborate with our teammates.

This bought me some time, but he would not be denied.

He politely pressed, “That is interesting, but what do you think has changed the most?”

I considered this question again. How do you pick? Communications, processes, programs, products, logistics, sensibilities…and then marriage, children, one, two, three, four relocations…

I finally gave in. “What has changed the most in 35 years is me.”