By George, Practically

Over the years that I have been writing this column, I have recommended only a few books about management. Truth be told, I consider just one of them required reading for anybody who is serious about making their business go: “Up the Organization,” by Robert Townsend.

This classic text is both fun to read and loaded with sage advice. Best of all, it is based on Townsend’s experience with real people in the real world.

I first came across “Up the Organization” as a young man. (Subtitle: “How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits.”) It was in the bookcase of the best manager I have ever known. My dad.

A classic success story
Dad’s rise to management and co-ownership of a tool and die shop in Philadelphia wasn’t particularly different from the path many take. He got a night-school degree in engineering while working days at a shop in the Midwest.

His sharp mind, dedication to doing work right and ability to work effectively with customers led to middle management, and he was eventually hired away by one of them, an appliance manufacturer in Pennsylvania.
Noticed again by one of that manufacturer’s job shops, he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse: vice president and a share of the company.

By the time I found the little paperback on dad’s shelf, he had been with that company for many years. I remember Saturday trips with dad to “the shop” — both its original location in Philly and later the suburban locale to which dad played a key role in moving it.

Dad would retire from the company many years later, but even now, when we’re visiting — he’s 87 — he shares stories about his career with an undercurrent of excitement still in his voice, as if they had happened just yesterday.

When I opened that paperback copy of “Up the Organization” for the first time, I immediately noticed a handwritten message inside the cover: “George: Enjoy. Of course, you already know all this stuff.”
It was signed by one of dad’s longtime customers. What a compliment. I decided right there that I wanted to know all that stuff, too.

Continuing relevance
The striking thing about the book — and for that matter, my dad — is that the approach to management professed by both has stood the test of time.

Management theories come and go, but both dad and author Townsend recognized that your people, not your customers, are your company’s greatest asset. Challenge them to do great work, hold them accountable and pay them not what you can afford but what they are really worth, and the rest will take care of itself.

Okay, not really. There will always be challenges, often when you are least expecting them. Just when you get one problem solved, another rears its head. But when any business is working the way it should, that is what it does: solve problems. And not just for its customers.

Townsend’s book is an alphabetically organized guide to problems typically faced by managers, and their solutions. Even though it is directed at managers of large firms, 90 percent of the book is applicable to any company of any size, in any industry. Throughout, there is an undercurrent of humor that says, “Relax — it’s only work!”

Dad’s shop was by no means large, and the similarities it shared with custom woodworking businesses are many. Tool and die shops make — what else, tool and dies! — that solve production problems in the metalworking industry.

Practically any part formed from metal stock on any product is the output of a die, a heavy metal form that stamps and cuts metal into the part needed. Tools are customized, production-critical items, ranging from a small component — it might be a jig, fixture or fitting — to an entire machine, which either contribute to, or on their own perform, the manufacturing of a part or product.

Tool-and-die makers scoff at anything that is off by one ten-thousandth. You could say, that’s custom!

Valuable lessons learned
It was dad who taught me the PDQ Rule, which I wrote about in these pages years ago. It states that where custom work is concerned, no matter what the product, there are just three things to worry about, each related to the others: Price, Delivery and Quality. You can allow your customer to name their terms on any two, but if you are not naming terms on the other, you won’t be in business for long.

It was also dad who taught me how to treat employees. When I wrote last year in support of the Employee Free Choice Act, I was channeling George.

Like Townsend, dad knew that paying employees what you can afford isn’t enough. Only by paying them what they are worth will you earn their dedication and get their very best work, every day of the week. When you do not pay workers what they are worth, you get exactly what you paid for: sub-par work.

I often wish dad had written a book on management. But then I simply open “Up the Organization” and realize his colleague was correct: It is all right there.

The best news is that it has finally received the recognition it deserves: This hard-to-find volume has been re-issued, as one in a series of classic management books.
Look for it — and tell 'em George Noel sent you.

Anthony Noel owned and operated Noel Custom Woodworking for 15 years and has written for CWB since 1994. Got a question? Write Tony at [email protected].


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