Interview with Kay Manufacturing Co. President Brian Pelke
Success in business isn’t easy — it’s an arduous process with plenty of twists and turns along the way. For small to mid-sized manufacturers looking to go head-to-head with global giants, one miscalculation could turn an industry leader into an industry afterthought. In order to stay competitive, manufacturers should focus on developing a winning team and lean operations.
“If you want to compete on a global scale, as a small or mid-sized manufacturer, you have to be lean — you aren’t just competing with the company across the state, you’ve got rivals all around the world,” explains Brian Pelke, president of Kay Manufacturing.
Started as an Illinois-based high volume production shop in 1946, Kay Manufacturing attached itself to the nation’s growing automotive industry in the 80s, eventually coming to specialize in capital-intensive, high-precision components. In 2013, the company began what Pelke refers to as “one huge investment” — the startup of a second facility in St. Joseph.
“We owe a lot to Governor Snyder and his Administration in getting us here,” says Pelke. “There were training grants and help locating the right facility, but in the end it came down to Michigan just being the right place for us. The state’s future was bright, but unemployment was still high so there was a wealth of people looking for careers. Thankfully, we had the strategies in place to attract that talent.”
What were those strategies?
- Take care of those you already have through high-pay, good benefits and a drive for continuous improvement.
- Work with local schools — K-12 and local colleges and universities — to boost awareness in manufacturing through investments in robotics teams, MFG Day participation and valuable apprenticeships.
“You can’t make it work without a talented group around you,” says Pelke. “When we receive an order, that means we won. That’s a victory for us. We, as a team, thought of a way to make the product better than anyone else in the world. That is exciting.”
The talent at Kay allows the medium-sized business to compete with larger manufacturers while maintaining its small business, family-friendly feel. By mixing a winning talent strategy with proven lean methods — including the company’s five key values of Integrate, Domesticate, Educate, Automate, Accelerate (IDEAA) — the company is on track for continued growth.
“We want to continue to grow in the automotive sector while using these lean principles to jump into new areas where we know we’ll be competitive,” explains Pelke. “By utilizing a lean mindset, we’ve been able to lower our costs per part and create more fulfilling, enriching jobs for our workforce.”
While most small and mid-sized manufacturers must walk a razor-thin wire for success, companies like Kay that employ smart talent strategies and lean principles will find their path much less restrictive and their future far brighter.
“We get a great sense of pride in doing what we do — it’s in our DNA,” Pelke says. “Michigan has believed in us. Our talent believes in us. The customers we serve believe in us. I don’t take that lightly. It makes me proud every day to be a manufacturer and bring jobs to the community.”