This fall, the HARDI Controls Council will focus on building right relationships as the cornerstone and model for success.

I cannot speak to the equipment industry, nor can I speak to geographical or historical situations even in our segment of the industry. However, as the managing partner of a successful controls distributor, I have learned personally that the highest degree of job satisfaction and “success” for me, for my employees and our supplier and customer relationships occurs as a result of seeking deep and open relationships.

There are several types of relationships. One is a relationship “for cause,” meaning that if I assert that a “relationship” exists, I can also expect a benefit or entitlement. A second relationship exists from a lifestyle choice — a philosophical worldview. There is no guarantee of positive results in this case, but they still will happen just the same. Either type can produce sales and can even be long-lasting. Both are legitimate as well, but only one produces the intangibles necessary for garnering top-tier, lasting satisfaction.

Jerry Peterson, former president of both MICONTROLS and HARDI, was a tough-love guy, steeped in relationship-building. He understood and lived it well. His worldview may have added over 20 years to his life. The Bible says, “Honor your father and mother that it may go well with you and that you may live long on the earth.” That was Jerry to a tee, and the mindset of honor showed up in every business and personal relationship he worked on. He loved life and people, and outlived his father by many years.

So what do these relationship styles really look like?

First, there is the independent relationship which can easily lead to pragmatism. It's really all about me and my company, right? It's my business, my responsibility and my risk/reward to manage.

  • Just get the job done!
  • The end will justify the means.
  • If I struggle, it's typically the other guy's fault.
  • They did it to me again!
  • I'll tell you what: If you do this — I'll do that.
  • I won't plan a strategy with you — I don't trust you!
  • Sure I like working with you (NOT!).
  • Take me off your list!

Then there's a true partnership — and it is built upon cooperation and mutually managed risk.

  • Together everyone accomplishes more.
  • Plan our work — work our plan.
  • Open dialog, open communication.
  • Mutual success.
  • Trust.

The two are very close and may even overlap some — so, what is the difference? Financial success is necessary in either case. Employee retention is a must, as is customer retention. It really does no good to drop a supplier, and it's usually not practical.

It is counterintuitive to go for the relationship first (over the sale or purchase), and therefore, there is a cultural risk and a perceived business risk. But if you have deliberately fostered a partnership relationship, you have developed a friend, perhaps a killer strategy, certainly an open relationship with a bond of loyalty, trust and emotional engagement. The reward, then, may be the mutual managing of your market with your suppliers. It may be that your customers “intuitively know” that they are yours for the long term. It may be that an eyeball-to-eyeball “handshake” versus the signature on a contract is what really matters. It may well mean repeated sales to your customer/contractor. And it is satisfying.

Can you have a deep cooperative partnership with every supplier and every customer? No way! But it is possible to have one — or two — or 10.

Not far removed are the Operating Principles which Boeing adopted during the 777 development:

  • One plan.
  • Include everyone.
  • Facts and data.
  • No secrets.
  • Whining is OK — occasionally.
  • Propose a plan — Find a way.
  • Listen to each other — Help each other.
  • Maintain emotional resilience.
  • Enjoy the journey.

Bottom line? Get the job done — with a partner! Life's too short to have it any other way.

Steve Roe is chair of the Controls Council and president of Seattle, WA-based MICONTROLS Inc. Contact Steve at steve@micontrols.com or 206/767-0140.