The recent dip in labour productivity has the govt denying that restructuring is a failure. This and PM’s NDR speech reminded me that on 7 May, BT reported: The government will help small and medium enterprises maximise their local and foreign workers’ contributions, amid the ongoing manpower crunch*.
They also reminded me about an article I had read about a US SME.
Big Ass is a US manufacturer of industrial and commercial fans. It makes its fans in the US (a high wage country), pays workers’ well (almost 30% above the national average wage, and nearly 50% above the Kentucky average) and is profitable and thriving. Surely it can teach the govt and our local manufacturers something about productivity in a high-wage environment?
The firm pays almost 30% above the national average wage, and nearly 50% above the Kentucky average. It also returns 30% of profits to its 500 employees in the form of bonuses or share programs. As a result, it can hire the best people, and keep them: in 2013 its retention rate was 88%, compared with a national average of 62%. It also gets a lot out of its workers: productivity is up by 175% since 2009 on one industry measure. Any profits that aren’t returned to workers are ploughed back into the firm. “If we have any money over at the end of the year, we’ve missed an opportunity to invest,” observes Mr Smith.
No rocket science or magic formula. It’s about paying gd wages and reinvesting in the biz, not being mean on wages, so that the SME owner can buy more properties or new super cars.
And its about growing “our own timber” (Ngiam Tong Dow, remember him?, not importing FTs:
Mr Smith’s biggest challenge today, he believes, is ensuring that Big Ass becomes what he calls “a 200-year company”. Part of that is down to people: he believes in hiring out of college, and moving those new hires through a range of different jobs. “We want young people to understand the whole company, because they’re going to be running it 40 years from now,” he says. Another part is hardwiring long-term thinking into the firm’s processes.
It’s also about spending on R&D
Big Ass invests nearly 9% of its revenues in R&D, more than twice the manufacturing-industry average in America. A lot is spent on hit-or-miss blue-sky research.
And it’s always about the long term future (think LKY in the 60s, 70s and 80s):
Privately held firms are not subject to the short-term whims of shareholders, but they face their own hurdles. Mr Smith’s son, Tristan, works for the company, but will his heirs want to cash out, offshore production or change the culture? To ensure that the firm’s values endure, Mr Smith is exploring ways to separate management and ownership, and embed the way the company does business into its formal structure. He has spent a lot of time looking at long-lived firms in Germany, Japan and elsewhere for inspiration. “For me, this is the most complicated and difficult problem to solve.”
If Big Ass was a local SME, it would have brought in FTs by the container-load so that the owners could buy that Ferrari and luxury pent-house.
*This was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s assurance to firms at the Malay-Muslim Business Conference held on Wednesday.
He said the government cannot ease up on the limits it has imposed on foreign worker inflows to Singapore.
However, Mr Lee added that the number of foreign workers in the country is still growing, though not as fast as before. [Interpretation: FTs will grow by the 747 and A380 cattle class, not by the container-load.]
He noted that small businesses are very worried about manpower and that many of them want more foreign workers. Those unable to find workers have had to turn away business.
Mr Lee’s advice to firms was to offer higher wages and exciting jobs as the best way to attract good people.
He noted that this is only possible if companies raise productivity and climb up the value chain.
Mr Lee said firms can tap the various government schemes available to do that.
He also encouraged companies to venture overseas, with the government’s help.