Operations: Collaboration, Manufacturing, Customer Satisfaction and 5 lessons learned from Lincoln

Welcome to the first TAIT Talks of 2019! 

This talk features Sam Brown, Sr. Director of North American Operations at TAIT. He came to TAIT from Boeing South Carolina, 787 Final Assembly & Delivery and has worked in operations for 13 years. Sam also spent 10 years in the US Air Force.


Sam, thanks for sitting down with us and participating in our first TAIT Talks for 2019. Let’s jump right into it!

Can you share with our readers what Operations (as a business unit) looks like at TAIT?

At TAIT, Operations as a business unit is a host of different departments producing and delivering a product that represents TAIT’s brand. Operations works with every department in the organization globally including fabrication, machine shop, post-processing, integration, design, project management, sales, assets, rentals, procurement, engineering, facilities etc. The need for Operations to have touch points throughout the organization is imperative for our employees as well as our customers. With constant collaboration and communication, we ensure first-time-right applications and higher efficiency.

You mention “all departments,” can you explain in further detail what departments fall under the Operations umbrella?

Sure. If you break it down, there are four groups that make up the fabrication department for TAIT’s North American Operations:

  • Staging Fabrication is our staging department which primarily focuses on the manufacturing and assembly of our stages, more specifically they focus mainly on standard decks and some custom decks.
  • Custom Fabrication focuses on the stage or rigging elements that move.
  • Controls Fabrication focuses on the manufacturing of our electrical and show control products.
  • Packaging builds the carts that transport our products out of the shop. The design of our carts is specific to the design of the element. There are standard deck carts but there are also custom carts that are designed to fit the elements dimensions. We have a fabrication specialist division that principally works on building our prototypes.

In addition to our fabrication groups, the following operation teams play a role in ensuring that we are producing world-class products.

  • Machine Shop is responsible for machining all parts needed to fabricate the different kits and elements that make up a show. The machine shop relies heavily on design to ensure that parts are created to specification and within a tolerance of what’s needed to complete the assembly.
  • Post-Processing is a new addition to the operations workflow at TAIT. It is the department that inspects everything to ensure that the finished quality of the elements being produced meet TAIT’s quality standards. This includes weld inspection, grinding of rough edges, as well as, pre-integration processes.
  • Integration is the group that’s responsible for integrating all elements of a project’s scope. At TAIT, our integrators work very closely with Project Managers and the client to ensure that the project build is efficient. From an operations perspective, our fabrication groups support integration to ensure that the elements are produced and completely per plan which is usually dictated by the timeline available for completion.

And, TAIT Operations also include the following departments:

  • Facilities are the maintenance of the building, machines, parking lots, the overall upkeep of our infrastructure that allows us to work and produce products.
  • Safety is the team that ensures that our building, employees and onsite clients or vendors are safe. This includes being OSHA compliant.
  • Quality Control is the team that oversees the compliance to track-ability requirements for our permanent installation and longer-term products used in our theme park and cruise ship markets.

Wow, that’s a large umbrella! What types of jobs, roles or internships fall under each of these departments?

All operations jobs allow us to be tactically and strategically focused on the company’s bottom line. Jobs or Internships in operations range from the shop floor to senior leadership and can include welder/fabricator, water spider, machinist, scheduler, quality inspector, artisan, electrician, shop supervisor, floor manager, project manager and mechanical engineer. If you are serious about a career or internship at TAIT, I recommend you visit our TAIT careers page and TAIT internship page.

Your professional background is quite impressive. With your experience at successful organizations like Boeing, in your opinion, what is the secret sauce that makes TAIT so operationally successful?

What makes us so successful is the culmination of diverse skill sets, creative flexibility and experience in and outside of the operations team. Additionally, combining those skill sets with our ability to leverage our talent, deliver innovative and complex solutions with superior craftsmanship and unparalleled reliability, as well as having a dedicated and driven team focused on delivering world- class solutions with a purpose has been key. Likewise, consistently putting into practice our standards of care has lent to TAIT’s success.

You mentioned “Standards of Care” twice now, can you share what those are?

Our standards of care are objectives that we as an organization adhere to – we apply them to our everyday lives, our customers and our employees. The standards of care are:

  • Safety is a measured protocol to reduce risk
  • Quality is a standard of excellence
  • Team is a group working together to achieve a common goal
  • Schedule is a plan outlining goals and objectives with deliverables
  • Cost is the sum of all resources in creating a project

Safety is clearly an all day, everyday effort. What does safety management look like at TAIT?

Well, this isn’t an exhaustive list but here are 4 that we follow:

  • Policies: such as Mandatory PPE guidelines in industrial areas, no-smoking policy, commitment to safety training, leadership commitment to employee safety
  • Assurance: New hazard identification, safety sweeps and audits, certification and qualification training and compliance management
  • Communication: such as Hazard Communication Safety Data Sheets, daily safety conversations in regular meetings, new employee training, Thursday safety meetings, All Hands & All Managers Meetings
  • Risk Management: such as Shelter In Place, proactive hazard mitigation, prevention of slips/ trips/ falls, fire safety training, fall arrest & restraint, incident reporting, and evacuation plans

These were clearly put into place by practice and experience, have you found that by incorporating the standard of care objectives into the TAIT culture it translates into customer retention and acquisition?

Yes. By extending our culture to the customer and treating them with the same care we treat each other, our customers have a seat at the table as an equal partner and are aware of our protocols and policies. For us, consistently being transparent with our communications internally and externally allows for great confidence and trust throughout the clients life-cycle. Additionally, our brand identity, the value of our services, the uniqueness of our design concepts, the quality/ functionality/ reliability of our solutions, our ability to create extraordinary experiences, and provide a comprehensive customer experience are some of the major factors that drive customers to consistently choose TAIT. It can be said that our current and prospective customers are/will be drawn to us because they feel we are their best and only option capable of delivering beyond their expectations. It’s important that we continue to understand our uniqueness and strengths while pushing to leverage and improve upon them.

In a previous report by Quartz, it was revealed that shorter lead times led to higher sales in the retail industry. While not in the retail industry, do you find that concept to be true for TAIT?
Yes and No. For the former, it’s no secret that lead time reduction correlates to productivity and potential for higher sales. In addition to shorter lead times, there must be a continued focus on streamlining departments and timely roadblock resolution. That resolution effort includes (but is not limited to) ensuring solid inventory management, parts availability & shipment reduction (transportation of product), succinct quality control processes, consolidation of vendors, sub-assembly opportunities (I.e. outsourcing), and feeder-lines. As for the latter answer of “No”, we find great success and increased sales in Permanent Installation work despite long lead times. We tackle that by ensuring the long lead time is commensurate to how the project is segmented with work performed. This means our sales, project management and operations team must work closely together to understand strategies, deadlines, capacity, labor needs etc.

TAIT is very successful in the Permanent Installation market, do you think it’s a result of understanding how to navigate long lead times?  
Yes, and I believe the early successes TAIT has seen with PI clients is a testament to each business function and the ability to execute on deliverables. Our customers rely on us because we have a demonstrated propensity to deliver results that often exceed the highest of expectations. Therefore, continuous improvement is so important to our future. Likewise, our reputation for being the premier solution in the industry will only continue to grow as we continue to improve. We have 40 years of experience under our belts, we have figured out ways to create and improve custom products for all live events, we have been consistently innovative with existing products, concepts and outputs, and our success in the touring industry has only made us stronger in all other live event markets. Knowing how to adapt and ensure customer satisfaction is imperative. Having that reputation translates into the development of lasting relationships and future business opportunities.

A running theme in this conversation is “customer satisfaction”, how does supply chain management at TAIT impact our customers?
Supply Chain is critical to what we do at TAIT. It is not only important to our overall customer satisfaction, but it’s absolutely vital to our market competitiveness. Long story short: the better our supply chain, the more likely we are to deliver our product timely, efficiently, and below cost.

You mentioned custom products earlier, what materials does TAIT use to create custom products in our United Kingdom and North America facilities?
It truly varies and is an extensive list, but in summary, a ton of brain cells, teamwork, talent, paper, plastic, sweat, steel, aluminum, gas, wire, wood, paint, and pride.

Great Answer! Pride and teamwork are definitely good adjectives to define TAIT universally. 

Speaking of “universally,” with manufacturing in North America and the United Kingdom, what manufacturing benefits does TAIT offer to its customers as a whole?
Our North American and United Kingdom operations teams are divided based on skill set and project. Our North American operations team is more touring-centric and focuses on portable installs and one-off projects manufactured with aluminum. Our United Kingdom operations team focuses on our larger-scale permanent installs and temporary rentals manufactured with steel. As our team and markets continue to evolve, our North American and United Kingdom operations teams continue to be more cross-functional. Our competitive advantage is that we are not built to be a shop where a design must be 100% complete or handed off to bring the solution to life. Because of that, the projects we build are high-risk, but that risk is calculated to drive results so that globally, we can build anything a client or designer asks of us.

And you mentioned rentals, can you speak about TAIT rentals quickly? 

We have an entire department dedicated to rentals and managed in both the US and the UK. Our UK rentals team is well-known and well-established for outfitting a high percentage of the West End theatres while our US Rentals team is equally well-known and well-established for outfitting numerous temporary installations and permanent installations. But, I understand a rentals TAIT Talks AND a new rentals/products website page is underway. So, I don’t want to steal their thunder. But, I know you can expect to hear much more from our rentals very soon!

What can we expect in 2019 from our operations team?
One of our operations initiatives this year is to collaborate even more with our sales and business development department. With a seamless collaboration, we can drive synergy and create efficiency opportunities that will immediately impact TAIT’s bottom line as it pertains to revenue and margin performance.

Before we conclude, can you give our readers an insider tip? As a leader of the company, what is your favorite leadership book? 
Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips.

Great Book! Can you share 5 lessons learned from the book that you actively practice with your team?
Lincoln On Leadership focuses on four major themes that are essential in leadership: people, character, endeavor, and communication. There are many lessons within each, but I’ll list one for each theme and a bonus one to make it 5!

  • Get out of the office and circulate among the troops
    • Have a good temper and pleasant demeanor. If you’re frustrated about something, vent behind closed doors.
    • Be accessible and approachable. Don’t decline people who want to discuss an issue or problem.
    • Know your people: who can be counted on, who is committed, and their strengths and values.
  • Be a master of paradox
    • Be flexible, yet consistent – depending on the situation at hand.
    • Be trusting and compassionate, yet demanding and tough.
    • Be a risk taker and innovative, yet patient and calculating.
  • Set goals and be results-orientated
    • Set the direction, take initiative, be change-oriented, and be results orientated.
    • Take the time to plan.  Set short term as well as long term goals.
    • Resolve dissension among subordinates – unresolved conflict slows progress.
  • Master the art of public speaking
    • Persuade, arouse, and influence people through public speaking – use your emotions and body language.
    • Think before you speak. Say what you mean and mean what you say – be sincere, honest, and succinct.
    • Be consistent, confident, and clear in what you say.  Follow through with what you say.
  • Influence people through conversation and storytelling
    • Use humor, storytelling, and anecdotes to influence people.  People are interested in and relate to stories, not facts.  People remember stories, not data.
    • Communicate with people like they are an old friend – talk to them without self-consciousness, superiority, or pretension.
    • A person with a great deal of talent must be capable of expressing it… and if he cares about his employees, he can’t be reticent in telling them so.

Sam, thank you for your time and knowledge. We look forward to hearing more from you in the future!

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