By Stuart Daniels, Vice President Human Resources, RMA Group.
In 2013, I resigned from my first real job with Ford after 17 years, to join a privately held company based in Thailand- RMA Group. I had a terrific global career at Ford, however there was something missing for me, which was the ability to have a greater influence on the direction of the business. On calling a senior leader at Ford to break the news he was shocked at my decision, assuming I would join another multinational company.
Four years on I occasionally reflect on what might have been at Ford, yet still reach the conclusion that joining a smaller and privately held Company was the right move. There are a few reasons:
- Deep Business Acumen. I was plunged from day one into intense meetings, where reams of detailed financial data on our many and diverse businesses was reviewed. This included data on sales, revenue, expenses etc and the more important balance sheet items such as cash flow, inventory turn rate and account receivables. As a HR professional, I was initially a bit ‘lost’ and had to learn quickly to keep pace with my executive team colleagues. Today, I am far more comfortable with looking at the ‘numbers’ and I recently pulled together my first investment analysis on a new business opportunity.
- Lack of boundaries= unexpected opportunities. Simply put, there are few boundaries in the business and there are many opportunities to make improvements in our businesses, however these appeared out of my scope. A good example occurred a few years ago. I had observed the deterioration of one of our business, which was starting to drag down our overall business performance. The business was in a country in a political crisis and the outlook was very poor. I decided to discuss closing the business with our CEO and following some healthy debate he agreed. However, to my complete surprise handed me the responsibility to get it done. A few months later after developing a closure plan with the local leader, including the painful employee layoffs, selling inventory and chasing account receivables we got it done- on time and better than target. Throughout the process, I learned a lot.
- Accountability- in a smaller company the layers of management above you that exist in a global multinational aren’t around- we can’t afford it. As a result, you either take ownership and deliver on your commitments or it becomes obvious that you’re not carrying your weight. This accountability includes meeting regularly with board members, a group of very smart and experienced individuals who have led investment banks, fortune 500 companies and who own successful businesses. They bring diverse and challenging perspectives. The size of the business also gives me direct access to the owners, who are accessible, have real ‘skin in the game’ and are always open to meet up face to face. In discussions, I can get a swift Yes or No on proposals to either get on with implementing, or if it’s a No, I can swiftly move on to the next challenge. More often than not, it’s a yes.
In summary, after 4 years of working in what we call the ‘Whirlwind’ at RMA, I have probably gained more knowledge on how businesses run than in my prior 20 years of experience…..and the learning continues.