Detroit — As manager of global consumer trends and futuring for Ford Motor Co., Sheryl Connelly explores potential scenarios and makes predictions based on those insights for business strategy.
Anita-Maria Quillen, president and CEO of Diversified Engineering & Plastics LLC of Jackson, Mich., said she saw Connelly speak a few weeks ago and took away a major idea that she now uses at her injection molding company: Expect the unexpected.
Quillen spoke at the Plastics in Automotive conference, held Jan. 16 in Detroit, and shared how the supplier navigates the ups and downs of the highly competitive automotive industry.
"One of the unique things I do is put together at least three or four scenarios — budget scenarios, staffing scenarios — for the unknown future that I cannot control because it's bit me a few times, not being prepared," Quillen said. "It could be another downturn in the economy, a major weather event, there could be a hiccup in the automotive industry, the stock market could crash — any of those things."
Quillen said there's a billboard on Interstate 94 that she always passes by and reads: "If there's an emergency, is your family prepared?"
"I ask myself this all the time," she said. "I work very closely with my financial team to make sure that we have that scenario in place. It's not perfect — we make adjustments — but it's one way to make sure that we can survive this ever-evolving manufacturing environment because it changes consistently."
Anything from new manufacturing requirements or new technologies and software could throw a company for a loop.
"You have to start thinking like a futurist," she said. "You have to look at trends. … What is the consumer going to want in 10 years? That's a big conversation. What will they want? As a Tier 2 [supplier], what can I start to develop that they're going to want when they don't even know what they want yet? What's going to make me unique and set me apart?"
Diversified Engineering and Plastics is a certified Hispanic- and woman-owned business.
"Look at your team. Do you have a diverse team?" Quillen said. "Do you have enough people — men, women, minority groups — to make you a diverse aspect?"
When asked whether there's such a thing as an appropriate amount of diversity in the workforce, Quillen said it depends on what aspects of the business they're filling.
"There's no perfect answer — all women or men," she said. "I'd like to see a diverse makeup of staff. We have a good group. I'm trying to find more women to fill roles. For the longest time, it was 90 percent men in my building, so I've been an advocate to find more women."
In addition to diversity, the CEO highlighted four essential traits for every business to possess. First, be different.
"Don't be the same manufacturer or supplier that you see and meet every single day," she said. "Make yourself different. Provide services that you can't get other places or provide a unique atmosphere where people enjoy coming to your facility."
The second and third traits are to be involved and be visible. Quillen said her employees see her on the manufacturing floor making connections with everyone.
"My customers know my name. They know my dog [Mack, a Rottweiler who comes to work with Quillen]. They see me," she said. "They know I'm extremely involved in every aspect of the business, which provides confidence and trust for them."
And last, be trustworthy. Make sure you do what you say you are going to do, she said.
"I learned a really important lesson when I started to do this, that you have experts on your team and that's why you have all these people who work alongside you," Quillen said. "I am surrounded by extremely intelligent people, and I learn from them every single day. But also, understand that not all of them are perfectly fit for your group. You want people to be trustworthy and be sure that they're earning that trust from their team members as well."
Quillen, in one of her presentation slides, talked about the impact of fear on business. The slide had a quote: "Fear — if it's not a constant part of your professional life, then you aren't pushing yourself hard enough."
"Fear is not a negative aspect — it's something very positive — because if you're not fearful every single day, then you're not really challenging yourself or your team enough," she said. "You're not growing more, especially with how much is changing and evolving in the environment we do."