Lessons from Yuengling: People, Processes, & Packaging Lines
In today’s episode, Bob Seaman, Director of Innovation and Product Development at D.G.Yuengling & Son, joins to share his journey from the nuclear biz to the brewing biz, going from craft brewer to master brewer, and the lessons he’s learned along the way from major brewers like MolsonCoors and Yuengling.
We talk about the thousands of possibilities and things that could go wrong when packaging beer and how he empowers his workforce to take ownership for solving problems.
Join us as we discuss:
- Becoming a brewmaster
- Managing risk on a production line
- Empowering people within the organization
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Check out the full episode below:
[00:00:01] Josh Santo: Welcome to Conquering Chaos, the show for manufacturing leaders. In each episode, we’re connecting you to the manufacturing leaders of today, who are driving the innovations needed to future-proof the operations of tomorrow. If you feel like your time is spent fighting fires and trying to control the everyday chaos, this show is the show for you. My name is Josh Santo. I’ll be your host.
Welcome back to Conquering Chaos. Thank you for tuning in. We’re just coming back from a brief summer break and we’re bringing you the one-on-one conversations with industry experts that you’re looking for. To start us off, we are mixing passion with profession. Our next guest has over 20 years of experience manufacturing one of the most popular products on the market, beer. [chuckles] That’s right, we’re talking to a master brewer. Literally, he’s a member of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas.
He’s worked in a variety of roles within the beer and brewing industry. Roles like brewing supervisor, plant engineer, packaging manager, director of packaging and engineering, plant manager, beer brand recipe development and quality manager, and more. He’s done so for well-known breweries like the Lion Brewery, Molson Coors, and Yuengling. In fact, if you’re a fan of Yuengling like I am, you might even know some of his work.
He’s helped bring the market hit products like Yuengling Summer Wheat, IPL, and Golden Pilsner. Now focused on innovation and product development as the Director of Innovation and product development, please welcome to the show, Bob Seaman. Bob, thank you so much for being here today.
[00:01:49] Bob Seaman: My pleasure, thank you.
[00:01:51] Josh: Really excited to have you. We start every conversation off the same way. I’d love to hear from you, Bob. What does a day-to-day look like in your role?
[00:02:04] Bob: We’re talking both personal and professional, right?
[00:02:08] Josh: Absolutely, we’re getting to know you.
[00:02:10] Bob: Oh, boy. Every day at 10:00 AM, I know people are going to love this. Every day at 10:00 AM, we taste the beers that have been packaged the previous day. Also, we taste product that may have been packaged 30 days ago, 60 days, or 90 days. Everybody I know
wants in on that gig. What I tried to tell them is, there’s a whole truckload of responsibilities outside of that. You don’t just go to taste beer, and then sit back and watch TV, you got to go back to work. There’s a lot to it.
Even within that tasting, it’s a serious business. We take it serious, it’s our lifeblood. What we’re tasting and approving and making sure everything is good is what we do. Really, that probably is the most important task of the day in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish. It usually takes anywhere from 15 minutes to a half an hour.
[00:03:25] Josh: I think that that sounds really fun. That’s such a fun part of manufacturing is being someone who gets to enjoy the products that they make. Is that everyone in the factory that stops in and has that moment? Is it a select few individuals?
[00:03:43] Bob: It’s a select few. Typically, almost all the time, it’s our management team, along with hourly-lead people in each department that they get to participate in that. We’re constantly tasting and we’re constantly training to get better at sensing off flavors in products, should there be any.
[00:04:14] Josh: I love that. There’s so much that I really appreciate. When I think of our lives as consumers, one of the things that I often find myself thinking about is that we’re only exposed to the final product, unless in certain cases, there’s some assembly required with certain pieces of furniture or exercise equipment, et cetera but in general, we don’t get to see and I’d argue that we take for granted everything that comes together to make sure the product was on the shelf when we showed up to the store, and it was meeting the expectations that we had.
To the example that you provided, it’s meeting the taste, the consistency of what we’re looking for. That’s ultimately what I love about the manufacturing industry, it has been such a delight getting to see and better understand how these products that we know and that we love in our everyday lives go from nothing or from raw materials to something. It really reminds me of how it’s made but what always thought was missing with how it’s made was a bit of a focus on a very important piece of it.
There’s more to this entire thing than just machines, processes, and raw materials. There’s people behind these products. They’re doing things like gathering together and tasting the product to make sure that it’s going to meet your expectations. There’s a lot of the stories that we don’t get to see and that we take for granted.
For everyone listening, if you’re a fan of behind-the-scenes people and you enjoy an ice-cold beer to, this episode is going to be for you. Bob, I want to start first with your story because you spend a significant portion of your career in breweries helping these major brands, brew beer and get it to their customers. How did you get into the beer industry?
[00:06:12] Bob: Well, I’m going to age myself during this. I’ll go back from the very beginning. I got out of high school, went to a technical trade school, Lincoln Technical Institute and got a degree in electronics. From there, the great part about that, that I would advise anybody is that the nice part– I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I got out of high school but I did something. I went and got myself a trade that allowed me to build on.
I can’t say that I was ever incredibly passionate about electronics, but I certainly was able to build on that, become independent in terms of being an adult, earning an income, et cetera. Eight years, I spent in the nuclear power industry either working for a defense contractor or an actual commercial nuclear power plant.
During that eight years, I met several people along the way that introduced me to home brewing. When I walked in on a Monday morning and spoke to one of my friends and asked him what he did this weekend, he told me that he brewed beer over the weekend, I could not believe that. I was blown away, and excited, and curious. That really is where it started. Shout out the Pat [unintelligible 00:07:48]. Pat [unintelligible 00:07:49] was the guy who originally introduced me to home brewing and brewing in general.
Then that went on for a couple of years, quite a bit. I moved to a commercial nuclear plant, an opportunity came up. Lo and behold, I met a couple of guys that worked at the power plant and they were homebrewers and I started brewing there. That job allowed me the opportunity, I had a lot of time off in between refueling outages and I ended up going to school in California.
However, I had just been married about a month, and when I finally made that decision, in my own mind that that was what I wanted to do. A month into my marriage, I told my wife that I really wanted to be a professional brewer. Wow, I look back on that now knowing everything I know about life and I’m like, “Wow, she is a saint.” There’s no doubt about that. She was completely supportive. All in.
I forget exactly what we had to do but I remember there was definitely some serious maneuvering with money in terms of putting a car up for collateral or something like that. Anyway, I got the money together to go to school, hopped on a plane in September, went to California for six weeks, came back, did an apprenticeship in New York State for four weeks at a small brewery, and then graduated from the American Brewers Guild in Sacramento, California.
That school sent my resume all over the country to every brewery, perhaps but a lot of breweries if not everyone. Then a local brewery, the Lion Brewery saw my resume and I live 10 miles from them. They called me down for an interview. It went well. To be honest with you, it was probably as much of a convenience that I was 10 miles a way for them as it was anything and they hired me, gave me a chance.
I can’t say enough about that chance. From there, I felt like when I showed up to work as a brewing supervisor that I was doing almost everything I would ever want to do in terms of a job. I was passionate about it. I felt like it made my blood flow. It was endless learning possibilities. It was endless opportunities for me to dig in and make a difference and improve quality and learn and interface with people, make suggestions, change policies, change processes.
I did that for a few years. I was sent to Siebel Institute in Chicago, Illinois, which I would describe as an international big brewery school. This is where people like Anheuser Busch, Molson Coors, Heineken, Sapporo, send people from all over the world. I was super fortunate to have been sent there by the Lion Brewery and came back a couple of months later, was promoted to assistant brew master. Again, more responsibility.
I will say, again, I made the most of it. Dug in, did an incredible amount of work. I think as always, I took that leave it better than you found it to heart, still do. I think that we all can make a difference if we approach things right and there’s opportunities. As much as you may feel constrained or confined with what you’re doing, there’s ways that you can help improve things.
Along the way, I held other positions there, plant engineer, packaging manager, director of packaging and engineering. I will say this, I was given a lot of opportunities while I was there for 10 years and I also made the most of them in terms of giving back to the organization, making improvements, really, really worked hard. At that point I was in my mid to late 30s and felt like I had done everything I can do in terms of that organization and the opportunities given.
I’m very grateful for that because it was like 10 years of paid schooling. I then with that in mind felt like, man, I’d really love to go to a big brewery and see how that operates and see how I match up with what’s required. I went from the Lion Brewery, which is still very big. It was 400,000 or 500,000 barrels to a brewery that conceivably could do somewhere between 8 million and 10 million barrels. Huge jump, big change in terms of the way they operate, the way they function, the way they’re managed. Learned a lot.
As always, just like when I was at the Lion or any other job, you separate what you view as didn’t work, didn’t like it, wouldn’t do that, and put what I thought was helpful, efficient, constructive in my toolbox and carried it with me to the next place I went. While I was at Molson, it was actually Miller at the time. I think this is not to pat myself on the back but this is the thing that people don’t see. They see the end result but I worked full time. I went to school full time, I had four kids, a wife, and a house.
I don’t get that done without support from my wife and my kids that were fairly young at the time. There has been a lot of sacrifice over the years to get there because it’s just required. Three years into that, I got my degree and I think a month after I got my degree, I got a call from someone I knew at Yuengling and said, “Hey, are you interested in a brewing manager job up in Pennsylvania?” I said, “Absolutely.” My parents, my family was still up in Pennsylvania which is where I grew up.
I came up for the interview for a brewing manager job and walked out that day with the plant manager job. That was a cool moment to call my wife and tell her that. At that point, to be honest with you, we had sacrificed a lot. That was pretty cool. I’ve been here it’ll be 15 years in September and again, I’ve learned an incredible amount from being here. It’s been really, really good, it’s been a lot of hard work. It’s been rewarding and glad I did it.
I think it’s one of those moments in life where if I didn’t take the chance and go to brewing school, I would have been sorry if I didn’t take the chance and move to North Carolina to take the Miller Brewing job. I probably would have been sorry if I didn’t come here and take the Yuengling job, I would have been sorry, full of regret. I’ve had some great opportunities in my career and I’d like to think that I made the most of it and left everything I touched better than when I found it.
[00:16:15] Josh: There’s so many good little tidbits of life advice and lessons from what you shared. You started taking us through about what it looks like from your morning routines perspective, having that 4:30 wake up call and that this is how I conduct my time. I think is very important because not only is that pattern of behavior very important from a mental health perspective but it also just setting aside the time to dedicate to yourself makes a big impact.
It allows you to better serve others. You got to take care of you if you want to serve others. I love how it started from a place of passion. You discovered something that you were interested in, you’re curious about and you tried it out. In fact, I wanted to ask you when you made the pitch to your wife of this is what I want to do with my life, did you at least brew her a sample or show her what you’ve been working on at this point to say, “Hey, I think I can do this”?
[00:17:15] Bob: Yes, I think she had tasted some at that point. It was funny, her and her girl friend had tried it. I think I wouldn’t say loved it, but I think they thought it was respectable having come out of a five-gallon batch in my basement. I think she was okay with it. You brought up a good point I never thought about, you’re right. She really must believe I could do something. I don’t know. It’s pretty wild.
[00:17:49] Josh: You wowed her.
[00:17:51] Bob: I guess so, yes.
[00:17:54] Josh: There was other things that you brought up in taking us through your career and your story. You hit on themes of having to make the most of it, finding those opportunities to really learn as much as you can. You even summarized it as really having this firsthand schooling day to day. I think that that’s such an important mindset that is not only powerful to the individuals but especially people who move into leadership positions if they’re able to cultivate that and establish it.
Then a lot of what you discussed also centered around how do we make sure the product is delivering on what it’s expected to? I’ve got another question for you, especially since you’re in charge of product and innovation at this point. This is a very well-established, very competitive industry. How do you approach product and innovation in this industry?
[00:18:52] Bob: Well, I can speak to how Yuengling does it for sure, but before I do that, I would ask anybody that’s in a grocery store that sells beer or wine, let’s stick to beer. Go and look at the shelves. I suppose in some ways, it’s a consumer’s dream that there are so many brands, so many flavors, and so many different styles of beer today that are available to the consumer. I think that’s a good thing.
I would challenge that it’s nearly impossible for the retailer or the distributor or even a wholesaler to effectively manage all of those skews and keep beer fresh, meaning, as fresh as it can be, in code, in terms of its expiration date, et cetera. Beer is a fairly fragile product that, typically, we’re talking about a 90-day shelf life. After that, it starts to go downhill quite readily.
The exception to that might be if you keep it cold always, you can certainly extend that shelf life. Point is, you ask that question and I’m trying to say that with that many brands and styles out there, it must be a nightmare for the retailer to take care of. It’s a blessing to the consumer if the beer is fresh and if everybody in the chain is doing their job.
For us at Yuengling, we certainly have innovated over the years. I’ve done all of the product development over the last five to seven years and we have consciously made a decision as a brewery that we are going to make beer. That means we are not going to make ciders, we’re not going to make seltzers, we’re not going to make kombucha, we’re not going to do those products.
As the oldest brewery in America, I think that it makes a lot of sense, it speaks to who we are. We are a beer company, a brewery. Then the question becomes, “Okay, well, if we’re going to innovate within the beer category, how does Yuengling do that?” I would say certainly slow and methodical and very strategic in what we do.
I think there’s a reality out in the industry that if there’s approximately 8,000 breweries now in the United States, most of those being brew pub size places, businesses, that if each one of them had four brands of beer that– do the math, that’s 32,000 brands floating around in this country, which, again, could be a consumer dream, but it sounds like a nightmare to me. Now, to be quite honest, we didn’t deal with that.
We’re in 190-ish years in business, and over the last 50 years, most of our time was spent selling cases and selling kegs. Some of these retail stores are down to bottles and six-packs, and you can make up your own six-pack and put six different brands into one six-pack. That’s a challenge, I’ll say that. The other thing trying to wrap all of this in is that, really what we try to do, we do as well is, we do it well, is we make drinkable, sessionable beers.
All of our beers are approachable. I don’t think they’re going to scare anybody off if they taste them. For instance, a product like our Porter, a lot of people will look at that Porter, its color, and it’s very dark, black, dark brown, and they would immediately say, “I don’t know,” if they don’t like darker beers, but to be honest with you, if you take a chance and you taste it, it actually is very drinkable, sessionable.
Things like our black and tan get even more so. Of course, a lot of our other beers are Pilsner, Lager-style beers that are historically described as drinkable, inherently. We also do our Chesterfield Ale, which is a pale ale and it has some bitterness to it, some dryness, and some hop aroma, super pleasant. When we’re designing beers, when I’m designing beers, we always have drinkable, sessionable in mind. Does that answer the question, Josh, or is that a long way around?
[00:24:54] Josh: Absolutely. You have to know who you are as a company. You have to know what is the product that you’re seeking to deliver. You said, right up front, “We brew beer. We don’t make ciders. We’re not making kombucha, we’re not doing hard seltzers. That’s not us.” That inherently narrows down the scope. It’s important in innovation or any creative pursuit to really apply some constraints and narrow down the scope.
I like how you started with knowing your niche really, and then understanding, look, there is a lot on the market. There’s a lot of choices for consumers. This is actually going to lead to my next question, but I’m going to get to it in a roundabout way. There’s a bit of a paradox of choice that comes up. There’s so many choices that it becomes paralyzing to try and pick. You may, as a consumer, be as satisfied with one beer over another, but there’s always that, Oh, what if? What if this is not the right one?
I’m with you on– There’s complications from having so many choices. Now, when we think about innovation, I have to imagine, especially considering all the choices, there’s more to innovating than just the taste or the style of beer. When you’re approaching innovation, aside from that focus on is it drinkable, is it meeting these expectations, what are you focusing on to innovate beyond just the brew itself?
[00:26:30] Bob: You mean outside of the actual liquid?
[00:26:32] Josh: That’s right, yes.
[00:26:34] Bob: I’ll be honest with you, I probably did more innovation outside of my role as a– I probably did more innovation as a plant manager in terms of the plants than I do now as the Director of Innovation and Product Development. Most of my time, I would say 99.9% of my time is spent on quality of liquid, development of recipes for new liquids.
Another thing that we can and should cover at some point is, just ask me about raw materials. That’s a huge brewer’s function in terms of adapting to what is natural products that are ultimately delivered to us, from hop suppliers, malt suppliers, corn suppliers, et cetera. If I go back to some plant manager days, a great example of something that we did that was very innovative was, we have a pre-treatment plant that treats all of the wastewater that leaves our brewery at Mill Creek.
That pretreatment plant generates methane gas, and that methane gas ultimately was flared off, meaning we just burned it and it burned off into the atmosphere, which there’s nothing wrong with. It was just not accomplishing anything for us. One of the projects we had was to pipe that methane to a electric generator that did two things, it generated electricity, and it can generate up to about 15% to 20% of our total electricity needs for a plant.
Then in addition to that, an engine like that would typically generate waste heat. We took that waste heat and we used it to heat one of our pasteurizers, it’s called a tunnel pasteurizer that heats the beer up in package. We used it to significantly reduce steam required for that process.
[00:29:15] Josh: That’s a great example. Really, what you’re getting at is that there is innovation that’s beyond just the product itself. Sometimes the question is, how are you producing the product and what impact does that have and what can you do with that? In the example you gave, you found a different resource, a different energy resource that you could use to– I’m assuming it helped to reduce certain costs.
I’m assuming it helped out with sustainability goals as well. By innovating and focusing on this particular goal, you were able to not only continue making a great quality product but find a more sustainable way in making that product, which is–
[00:30:02] Bob: Right.
[00:30:06] Josh: Hey, we’re going to take a real quick break to hear from our sponsors. Stay tuned for more Conquering Chaos.
[00:30:12] Rob: Hey listeners, it’s Rob. I’m one of the producers on Conquering Chaos. I’m right here with you for every episode, working behind the scenes to make sure everything is just right for your listening experience. Whether you’re a new listener, binging content to help you conquer the everyday chaos, or a dedicated fan tuning in for each new episode, there’s one thing to always keep in mind.
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[00:32:19] Josh: There’s something else you mentioned, Yuengling is the oldest brewery in America. You can’t say that without doing something right. You don’t get to be the oldest operating brewery in America without doing something right. I would love to hear from you, Bob, what is Yuengling doing right?
[00:32:41] Bob: I would say two things. I would maybe categorize at least two things I can think of. One, is we are a people company. We rely on and we really try to focus on the people side of things and I could explain that more. Then the second thing is simplicity. We try to inherently, it’s so ingrained in us as employees and of course, from the owners, we just inherently strive to keep things simple, as much as possible.
Now don’t get me wrong, we understand some things are more complex than others, but we always, I think play towards the minimalist approach and build off of that as needed rather than installing 100 bells and whistles on a machine that ultimately just getting away, distract, and slow things down. I would say those two things. Those are the two things.
[00:33:59] Josh: People, simplicity. When you talk about being a people company, what does that look like? What do you mean by that?
[00:34:08] Bob: Well, one shining example I think is that Mr. Dick Yuengling, who owns the company has four daughters. Each of those four daughters work at the company as well. There’s Dick Yuengling, there’s Jennifer Yuengling, there’s Wendy Yuengling, there’s Debbie Yuengling, and there’s Cheryl Yuengling, all of those people work for the company and I see them every day at work. I walk by them, say hello, we talk, I’m in meetings with them, my boss is Jennifer Yuengling.
Obviously, all of that plus I report to her. They’re a hard-working, down to earth family that very unpretentious they just want people to do their jobs. It starts there. Also, not only do I see them every day, but most of our employees see them every day. They’re accessible, they’re approachable. I think it starts there. I think that that’s the easiest way. It’s the only thing I– It’s the simplest explanation of why we’re a people company. It starts there.
[00:35:49] Josh: Yes, I love that description of leadership, just being very involved, very present, very accessible. That really helps set the tone for a collaborative environment. I like how you called out expectations are you show up, you get your job done, which is a reasonable expectation any employer I might say, but that culture really comes from– Well, how do we treat and how do we value our people?
That’s something we’re going to spend some time talking about later on in the conversation. One thing I did want to ask you about, when you and I first chatted one of the things that you said, what you called out is that Yuengling is the best in the world at packaging line efficiency. I would love for you to expand on that.
[00:36:43] Bob: I hope I don’t wrestle some feathers.
[00:36:45] Josh: Bob threw out quite the gauntlet. He said, “No, one’s going to match us in packaging line efficiency.” Sounds like you’ve guys got a method of success and I’d love to hear from the experts on that.
[00:37:00] Bob: There’s a lot that I don’t understand. I’ll tell you that upfront. Every day, I marvel at what’s possible, what we accomplish on some of that stuff. I think number one, it goes back to family ownership decisions to keep things simple. We do not have 35 packages that we run.
We try to keep the number of different styles of packages and containers that we run to the minimum. Now, it’s grown over the years, but I think having started out that way, built a base of expectation and capabilities that allows us to still master when something new comes along. This is some serious stuff, when I first came here, we ran somewhere between 12 and 15 hours a day on our packaging line at Mill Creek.
We couldn’t make enough product that was flying out the door. That was a struggle. We were working five days a week, and then we expanded the number of hours that we ran, and it got up to somewhere like 19 or 20 hours a day that we were running and then shut down. It became clear that at some point, it didn’t make sense to shut down anymore.
However, one of the major challenges with that, or I should say one of the benefits of shutting down and starting up was that if something was seriously wrong, if something needed to be replaced or put on or installed or removed, we had that time after the line shut down, or before it started up. When we finally pulled the trigger and went to 24-hour-a-day operations, there was no longer downtime to use, fix and repair, maintain, whatever, could be even something as simple as greasing or oiling machinery.
We had to figure out how to make that work. However, credit to our workforce, we went from– let’s say 15 hours a day to 24 hours a day. We also went from, at that point running no more than 85% packaging line efficiency. First, we went to 90%, then we went to 95%, then we eventually ended up at somewhere between 97% and 98% efficient.
Now, for anybody who does this for a living, we didn’t take anything out. We didn’t take cleaning time out, or we didn’t take greasing time out of that number. That’s a straight-up number on how well we run in a 24-hour period or for a week. That’s no-frills numbers there. That’s not patted in any way.
What I saw and envisioned, I’d like to think I was part of that, leading that, but it was also our maintenance crew, our operators, our team leaders, our managers, everybody focused and continually improved. Then, again, for anybody who’s done this before, been involved with it, the more problems you eliminate from a packaging line, the harder the remaining problems that exist are to solve because they’re there and they’ve been there a long time and they could be tinier. They could be big, but it keeps getting harder and harder to get those problems, challenges out of the system if you will.
We eventually got to that 97% and 98% over about a year and a half, two-year period. What was left was this, to be completely honest, half of it was vendor issues. Meaning, supplies could be glass, cartons, cans, lids, crowns, things that suppliers supplied us to run the line and the other half was us. What was really cool that I had not experienced before, I had this vision in my head of it would be really cool to be able to do that but when we could supply that kind of detail on what was left and talk to our vendors and say, “Here’s what we’re experiencing, this is what happened,” several things came from that.
One, was that I don’t know that anybody’s ever done that for them before. I think that they were kind of like, “What do we do with all this information because these guys have a down pat.” It took them a while. I personally remember these conversations sitting in quality meetings with some of our suppliers and saying, “Look, we’re not sitting here to complain about this. Obviously, we’re running 98%, which means you’re not that bad. You’re actually doing really well. What I want to share with you is these are the problems that we’re having and if we’re going to talk about them, then I want to have a to-do list, an actionable item.”
I think it took a little while to get them to believe that this was not a slam session where we were trying to make them look bad or anything. We were trying to share the information so they can go back and do something with and I think it’s gotten better over the years, but I don’t think that was their normal MO either. They were suspicious of the whole thing.
They were suspicious I think of what we were supplying, like really? Then they want us to do what with it? I don’t know, but it was good. The end result, they’re doing very well. I told them, “You guys are doing really well but we’re going to continually improve until we retire.” That’s the way it’s going to go.
[00:43:15] Josh: As it should be. 1% of every day. That’s a huge leap, 80% to 97%, 98% packaging line efficiency. That’s a huge leap. One to two years is not really that long. I think we all want things done faster, but it’s very easy for day one to pass by and then day 830 passes by and you want to have that success at that mark and you don’t want to look back thinking, “Man, I should have done that.”
Now, in your story, I found myself picturing just a constant going forward, a constantly winning and making those improvements to the efficiency. Was it a straightforward progression like that or did you have times where you were actually sacrificing efficiency but that’s what set you up to learn what it is that you needed to do to actually make it efficient?
[00:44:22] Bob: It was everything. It was three steps forward two steps back. It was linear improvements. It was equipment replacement that made it a lot easier, better. It was yelling, people in arguments, people disagreeing in meetings, people not doing it because they didn’t agree with it. I say that because I think they truly believed that they weren’t just being lazy.
Sometimes people were wrong too. It’s all of that. Everything that comes imagine living in a house with 100 people and there’s every– if you look at a packaging line, I wish I knew the number of components on a packaging line but I would definitely say it’s got to be in the hundreds of thousands of possibilities of things that go wrong. When you look at bearings and chain links and grease points and lifts and it’s more surprising that it runs at all, honestly, with the number of possibilities.
That said, kudos to the suppliers as well, meaning, the equipment suppliers. They’ve come a long way over the years. They’ve gotten really smart mostly and then there’s some that they make a mistake on a piece of machinery. It’s all of that. It was definitely not a linear curve to 98%. It was stress and real-world stuff that everybody experiences but whatever it took. If it was having a meeting and sitting somebody down, if it was somebody telling me that’s not right you’re wrong, whatever it took, we took our egos and we probably threw them in there and then we got them bounced back out and all of that.
I don’t think anybody had to be 100% right though. That’s the point. It’s like if you give your input and you’re wrong it’s like, okay, nobody got fired. There’s no real consequence as long as nobody got hurt. It’s like, okay, you were wrong, I was right. Let’s move on. If me being wrong allowed somebody else to be right and implement their thought and it worked, it’s like we won. We won, I don’t care. It’s all of that. It’s just its complicated stuff.
I think another part that really helped is when we started hiring people at that point, we started hiring people that had mechanical abilities. That was a pre-req. We were almost hiring mechanics or I don’t want to give away our secrets to our employees but I would casually ask in a meeting, “What are you do in your free time?” The answer I was looking for is like, “Oh, man, I love the work on cars.”
I don’t care if you’re a professional mechanic, you’re in as long as you fit all the other criteria or she did. It’s like those kind of questions, it’s like clearly if they’re working on cars, that means they’re passionate about it because they’re not getting paid for it and they’re doing it at home in their own time and they’re mechanically inclined. Things like that. Pay attention in an interview, ask the right questions. I don’t care what’s on their resume. I really cared about what can they do to help themselves and help the company.
[00:48:20] Josh: I love that, really focusing on we know what we’re trying to do and what it takes to accomplish that and we’re looking for these types of people and being specific like how you mentioned really drawing the scope for the product that you’re attempting to innovate, really drawing the scope for like these are the type of people that we’re seeking to work with and empower and help them develop these skills within these areas.
What I love about your response, Bob, was I heard a very common theme. I heard people, people, people. That’s something that comes up on the show a lot, the power of people. They are the most important asset within manufacturing operations. This is something that our show sponsor Parsable adamantly believes. You have to prioritize the people, you have to put them first. That’s what enables manufacturers to produce a quality product and get it to the customer.
The story that you just shared is 100% representative of that. You had different people from different roles with different backgrounds arguing over what was going to be right and then you summed it up perfectly, which is this is not team Bob. This is our team. If I help you be successful, we all win. That is the type of approach that we need to empower people. I’d love to hear from you, Bob, how do you put people first or how do you see leaders successfully putting people first?
[00:49:53] Bob: A couple of things I want to clarify. Not only is it not team Bob, but I know winning when I’m not in the room when that’s happening. It’s not that they’re arguing with me, they’re arguing with each other. I just walked by and smile. As long as there’s no fights. There’s no actual fights. It’s passionate disagreement. I’m like, “Mission accomplished. This is going to turn out well. I know it is because even if somebody messes it up, they’re going to get it right because they’re absolutely dug in.”
I would say, I’ve seen it all around me and it’s not limited to manufacturing in terms of the people side of things. I can tell you a couple stories. I think the best one that proves it out is when I coached football. I coached football for eight years. A lot of it was youth football. It was anywhere from first grade through seventh grade, then junior high, which was seventh, eighth, and ninth graders. There was this moment. This is one of my all time favorite stories.
Me and my best friend, Jonas, took over coaching. We never coached football before. I had coached baseballs. We went zero and eight that year. Zero and eight. I think we might have scored a touchdown twice. It was an absolute disaster. However, I guess credit to us, we didn’t give up.
We came back the next year and we’re like, “Okay, we’re going to do this again.” We both said before, “We cannot go zero and eight again.” Holy smokes. We went zero and two to start the season. Both of us walked away from that second game and we were like, “Oh, my goodness.” It’s just not my DNA to not be able to drive the change that you want.
I can’t remember the name of the movie. I wish I could remember it but it was basically that in this movie, everybody was grouped to their strengths. That has to be about 10 years ago. I forget the name of the movie but he came back and he’s like, “Bob, I got it. We need to forget about everything we know about football and we just need to get kids in their role, in their strength. Let’s forget about their size. Let’s forget about their speed. Let’s forget about everything else. Let’s get them into their personality role.”
I’m telling you this because it’s going somewhere. We took our frontline defense, and funny as heck, is that both my son and his son were in this group. This is the first group. We called it Chaos. They were the kids that they didn’t listen to instructions. They are absolute wild. Absolutely crazy wild jumping around, all of that. We put them on the front line. We told them, “Look, just get into the backfield. Cause chaos.” We then took the defensive ends. I call those Simon Says kids.
They did exactly what we asked them to do. They didn’t sway from it. It didn’t matter if there was an earthquake, a fire. Somebody else was yelling at them. It didn’t matter. They did exactly what we wanted them to do. We then took the linebackers and we called them Pursuit. They were the kids that were athletic. They listened to us. They read well. All of those traits and we put them there.
When people looked at it, they were like, “What? Actually, you guys are going to play like this?” You know what’s funny about it? It sends chills through me because it proves all of what we’re talking about. We went undefeated the rest of the season and won both our playoff games and made it to the championship game. I tell you, we lost the championship game to a team that was a perennial. It was a foregone conclusion. More people stuff at the end of the game.
At the end of the game, that kid to play quarterback for us moved to Delaware. The rest of those kids, they cried. They cried like babies. I liken that to the argument about how machines are going to get fixed. It was like they cared enough. We took kids and we’re like, “You know what? This is never going to happen again.” We took that team from that point. At that point, they were going into third grade. That team never last for four years from that point on.
We never got away from that concept of matching kids to their personality and role. To me, going back and doing it with children just reinforces it all that much more because they’re not caught up in all the things that adults are. I just thought it was so pure that it worked. It’s so funny today with eight or nine years of football coaching experience, I still say, “People first, X’s and O’s, we’ll get that straight.”
We’ll get the offense straight and the defense straight. We’ll get all the timing down. We’ll get all the handoffs down, all that passing. Get the people that you have in the right places and magic happens. I still live by that. I watch it and I watch coaches struggle. They have everything documented.
They have all the X’s and O’s down. They’re almost savants at knowing everything, where everybody’s supposed to be at all times. They have it all documented. This is what you do but I will go to my grave knowing that people trump the technical stuff every time. It’s that simple. Best example, I can give you right there because it’s isolated and it’s right there in front of me.
[00:57:02] Josh: I think that there’s so many important concepts there of really understanding your team and winning with your team. With that, I know we’ve covered a lot in our time and I think we could certainly keep going but I’d love to ask you one final question, Bob. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you wish I would have asked you?
[00:57:36] Bob: I don’t think so.
[00:57:39] Josh: That’s all right. It’s okay if the answer’s no. [laughs] Bob, how can our listeners connect with you if they want to continue the conversation or keep asking you questions about product innovation or packaging line efficiency?
[00:57:56] Bob: Is an email okay?
[00:57:58] Josh: Sure, email. How about LinkedIn? We can talk about LinkedIn as well.
[00:58:03] Bob: Yes, LinkedIn for sure.
[00:58:05] Josh: You can find Bob on LinkedIn. I would encourage everyone– Go ahead.
[00:58:13] Bob: No, I think it’s probably under Robert Seaman.
[00:58:15] Josh: Robert Seaman, everybody. We’ll put a link in the show notes so that everyone can quickly access your information. With that, Bob, I really appreciate your time. I love the stories. I love the focus on the people. I love the passion that comes through. I can tell that this is not only a product in an industry that you care about but to your point, of how people spend their time in their nonworking hours.
You’re clearly a coach. You’re clearly someone who enjoys connecting with people and seeing them improve and get better and being able to accomplish what they seek to accomplish. Thank you so much for joining us today.
[00:58:59] Bob: Absolutely. My pleasure. It’s great talking with your. Let’s do this again.
[00:59:03] Josh: I’d be happy to. That’s the show. Thank you so, so much for joining us today. Conquering Chaos is brought to you by Parsable. If you’re a fan of these conversations, subscribe to the show and leave us a rating on Apple podcasts.
Just tap the number of stars you think the show deserves. As always, feel free to share what’s top of mind for you and who you think we should talk to next. Until then, talk soon. Take care, stay safe, and bye-bye.Listen to learn a few lessons on people, processes, and packaging lines from Bob Seaman.