Barbara Philibert is the President & CEO of Pettibone LLC, a subsidiary of The HEICO Companies.
After completing her master’s degree in Instructional Design, Barbara was hired by the Menasha Corporation to design technical training at their largest plastics manufacturing plant. Barbara leveraged her start at Menasha with her education to establish herself as an effective and transparent leader.
We recently sat down with Barbara to learn more about her career and how the use of Social Engines can be used to drive success in the private enterprise.
What were the factors that informed your decision to pursue degrees in education and communication?
When I was graduating from high school and pursuing a college education there weren’t as many options for young women as there are today. I was basically asked, “do you want to be a teacher or a nurse?” I knew I didn’t want to be either, but no one talked to me about being an engineer or a business major.
I decided to start a liberal arts education and a degree in Communication, which served as a catch all for my credits. I graduated early and went right into graduate school to study Instructional Design, which I chose strictly because my mother was getting her PhD in the field. It turned out to be an excellent choice.
What exactly is Instructional Design?
Instructional design is all about getting a message across accurately and efficiently. The concept came out of World War II, where a lot of troops had to be trained in a short period of time. Core to that goal was developing a process to transmit information to a large and diverse group of people as efficiently as possible.
Instructional Design is about receiving the intended message. As an example, Hoshin Kanri is a 7-step process in which strategic goals are communicated and implemented. This process originated in Japan and has become a popular social engine world-wide, particularly in manufacturing.
It doesn’t help if I am talking but you aren’t getting the information. When I communicate with a person, I need to figure out how they learn, how they communicate and, most importantly, whether they are absorbing what I am trying to communicate. If they’re not, I need to adapt my style.
How did a degree in Instructional Design lead to a career in manufacturing?
In 1990, the Menasha Corporation hired me as an instructional designer for Lewis Systems and I was promptly sent to their largest manufacturing facility in Urbana, OH. They had a lot of execution issues on the floor and my job was to develop a curriculum for the technical people to resolve those issues. I worked with them as a group and as individuals, learning about their jobs, their skill sets, and their issues and constraints. I took what I learned from them to design an effective communication and education model which improved execution issues and overall performance.
As this “instructional design” proved successful, I moved into an HR role and then one day, the plant manager made me the Plant Scheduler. That’s how I got into manufacturing.
Your career launched and matured at the Menasha Corporation, a family run business. How did Menasha foster your growth as a professional and leader?
Menasha was/is an extremely well-run organization that was an ideal learning laboratory for a young person. They had strong processes and good leaders and had established an employee-centric culture focused on training and development. This was a key concept that I have taken forward in my career. In fact, I still use the old Menasha guiding principles:
‘People know the business’
‘People know what is expected and how they are doing’
‘People have the tools to do the job’
These principles are all about empowerment and clarity, and they are the cornerstone of my management style.
Most of your career has been with family owned businesses. What observations do you have about the opportunities and challenges of family members working side-by-side with their employees?
Each organization is different and, consequently, expectations for family members vary. Many times, organizations encourage family members to seek outside business experience before coming into the company and other times, families require their members to start at entry level position and work their way to success. In either case, the non-family employees need to feel that they are working beside a fellow professional “who just happens to be a family-member”.
An advantage to working beside a family member is that if you pay attention, you can gain incredible insight into the motivations and drivers of the business. You can learn what the family sees as “success” and it makes your role easier when you understand the target.
I have never worked for an organization that took a family member and just placed them in a role with no prior experience or education. That would be difficult but, fortunately, I have never had to face that situation.
For many family businesses, legacy, identity and pride are inextricably tied to the success of the business. How do these factors play out in the culture of a business?
When a new employee is hired, the business has a responsibility to welcome them into the culture, onboard them and help them learn how the family and the people in the business think and operate. The flip side of that coin is that the new employee needs to come in with an open mind and no preconceived notions.
In a family business, issues that would seem minor or not needing immediate resolution, are often extremely important due to the emotions tied to the business. In cases like this, it’s important step back, listen and try to understand what the family is really feeling and why they feel that way. Don’t listen and then respond in your “business speak”. Things aren’t always as they appear in legacy businesses.
What advice do you have for non-family leaders on how to better understand the mindset and needs of family business owners?
Leaders in family-run organizations need to understand that this is highly personal and emotional for the family. At times, decisions can be confusing and complex. Its best to step back and try to understand the motivations of the family in order to put these decisions in context.
Companies of all types and sizes need to be more agile than ever before to stay competitive. This can be difficult for companies with long histories. How have you kept your organizations nimble while holding true to the legacy and values of the company?
Technology is the key for me - new systems combined with social engines and processes move an organization forward and make them faster and more resilient. If anything, technology can enhance a legacy by making the company more viable. Social engines such as Microsoft Teams and SharePoint, as well as social media, can be helpful in communicating messages and values ensuring that the company legacy moves into the future.
Elaborate on ‘Social Engines’.
Social engines are tools of instructional design. They allow everybody to understand transparently what we are working on every day and why.
It’s important to have transparency and for everyone in the company to know and understand my goals for the year: Safety & financial targets, ERP implementation, innovation, talent development, succession, sales and marketing. By using a Hoshin Kanri software package, there is total transparency - I can see everyone’s progress, and they can see everything that I am doing.
What about the reticence to adopt new technology?
Reticence is to be expected; it’s a part of change management.
Two years ago, we launched Microsoft BI (Business Analytics). It’s taken off, but we haven't maximized its potential. I still see spreadsheets. I still see my companies using the base facades that we gave them a year ago.
So, I sat my teams down before a recent training session and told them from now on, they can’t just give me numbers every month. They need to use the numbers to tell me a story. They might be able to give their finance person the numbers and she’ll get it, but their first shift floor supervisor is not going to – they benefit from the story that the data tells.
In this way, Microsoft BI becomes a Social Engine: what was once confusing and difficult to communicate becomes clear and is communicated efficiently. Learning this skill will help your team do their job better.
The more my people learn the value of the change we are going through, the more they embrace it. Clear and consistent communication makes that process easier.
You’re currently President and CEO at Pettibone, LLC, a HEICO Company, an organization that puts high value on its family identity and a focus on its people. What can you tell us about this role?
The role is fascinating, challenging, and rewarding. I am fortunate enough to manage the oldest companies in our HEICO portfolio so there is a lot of legacy and history associated with these brands. These are our standard-bearers that have paved the way for HEICO to acquire other companies and create other platforms. Many of the original employees are still with these companies and quite a few executives at the HEICO level cut their teeth in the Pettibone Platform.
Its humbling to be entrusted with this group of employees and companies.