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Withstanding the Test of Time – Hadrian’s James Peter’s Reveals Success Strategies

I find it interesting talking with business leaders. Each time I come away with new, valuable nuggets of information – I hope you do too!

I sat beside James Peters, President of Hadrian Manufacturing at a round table discussion hosted by the Burlington Chamber with guest speaker Marc Garneau, Liberal Critic for Industry, Science and Technology. Marc was doing a cross Canada tour titled Jobs of Tomorrow, talking to local business leaders to gain a better understanding of their perspective on future workforce needs, research and innovation. James insights were both thoughtful and right on the money. Under James quiet, unassuming demeanour, lays a wealth of knowledge, insight and information. Not only does James have a deep understanding of the North American economy and business he has insights on the entire globe. As a result, Hadrian has expanded manufacturing into China. That in itself isn’t unusual, what is different, is the entire product line is staying there and being sold into the Chinese market. I caught up with James before he headed off for a week volunteering his time along with his wife at a camp for children at an Indian Reserve up in Kirkland Lake, Ontario. Below are James insights.

1. What is the number one thing you are doing right now to foster hope in your organization?

To remind everybody what got us to this point, what made us successful and to keep focused on those things that are proven. All economic cycles are just that – cycles – there are always ups and downs. We are in a down one now, but there will be an up one again. We need to use the down period to position ourselves to get more market share, to be poised to reap the benefits on the up side. Just because it is a down period you can’t give up, you recalibrate and prepare for the future. 2. Where are you still investing?

We are still investing in technology and sales and marketing and anything with an efficiency payback – technology, sales and marketing are the biggies.

3. Where are you cutting back?

We’re cutting back on manufacturing capacity improvements, things that are not necessarily required when sales are down. We have more of a make do attitude, particularly with equipment – if it’s not ideal but functional we will stick with it, where as a year or two ago we would replace it. We’re looking to get more out of existing capacity.

4. What three things do you think are most important during tough economic times?

First thing is not to loose sight of your overall objectives, the second is to make short term adjustments only if absolutely necessary, and #3 is to ensure a positive environment. You need to have a positive outlook, don’t sacrifice your values just because there is a recession. Communicating and telling people things are a little tougher now but we will pull through this together.

5. What would be your number one advice to business leaders?

You cannot stop wanting to grow – in business you are either going up or down, there is no status quo. Even in a down economy you need to be working at growing your business – to stay close to your customers especially as the leader of the organization. You need to be hearing it directly from your customers not filtered and sanitized.

6. According to the Conference Board of Canada less than 25% of companies have a strategy and plan in this slow economy. First of all do you have a strategy and plan?

We have an annual plan which we mark against monthly and we’ve adjusted our plan for the current environment – not the long term plan but short term things so we can continue with our long term strategy. A plan is very important, if don’t have one you are either very lucky or doomed.

Why do you think so few companies do?

I’m not sure, other than there’s a great deal of uncertainty and its’ difficult to get your head around what the next few months are going to be like. A couple of years ago you could see clearly where it was going a few years out, that might be why companies are not planning and going by the seat of their pants. Just because you can’t see that far out, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan or have a strategy.

7. How do you feel government could help improve the current economic state?

I don’t think our government can in isolation. I think they need to be a voice of reason on the international stage and speak up for free markets, free trade, and well-regulated financial systems.

Our government needs to be promoting what Canada has been doing right for the last 10-15 years. Our government could mess up more than improve by blindly following other governments; it would mess up what has been achieved in Canada. Our fortunes are tied to the rest of the world, we can have all of the policies, but unless the major economic powers pull through this, we don’t have a lot of options.

8. Where do you feel the economy will be a year from now?

I think it will be marginally better than it is now but not dramatically. I think there have been a lot of painful adjustments and more to come. The bulk of the painful adjustments are behind us – the hard #’s that are out there don’t bode for a quick recovery – its low growth and slow. The US is so far in debt that they are going to have to raise taxes plus demographics are going against everyone in the western world. There’s natural market shrinkage due to the aging population – taxes and older people are not a high growth scenario – we’re spending billions on new road and bridges. The biggest thing is how much trouble is the US really in. In my estimation, the US is in the same place that Canada was in the early 80’s -out of control debt and spend thrift governments.

9. What do you think Canadian businesses need to do to thrive in a commoditized global market?

They need to embrace it not fear it. Canadian companies need to, although it’s not easy, become more international and less North American. That’s in general, particularly with the rise of China, India and other countries. We can’t count on the US as the sole market; it’s not a good strategy. It doesn’t take long to exhaust the Canadian market and then you need to start looking somewhere – there’s high growth in China and India if you can tap into it. That’s why we are there – we look at it as the next US. Hopefully we will be successful, that is still to be determined. Embracing a global outlook is the way to thrive.

Thanks James, especially for your global insights!

Here’s to finding new growth opportunities close to home or abroad for your business.

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