By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
“Your job as a leader is to replace yourself,” says Tobi Ferguson, the new President and Chief Executive Officer of Magnum Venus Products (MVP) headquartered in West Knoxville. “I love to build teams and leaders.”
The global manufacturer of fluid movement and production solutions for industrial applications in composites and adhesives markets named him to the top post at the end of March (see teknovation.biz article from March 29). Previously, Ferguson served as President for the last six years at Vogt Ice LLC based on Louisville, KY.
We had a chance recently to talk with the native of Evansville, IN and 13-year Army veteran who visited the East Tennessee region almost yearly since he was 10 years old. With a variety of manufacturing stops over his private sector career, we asked Ferguson about his reasons for accepting the offer to lead family-owned MVP and what he thinks he will bring to the 80-year old company that is a leading equipment provider for the marine, infrastructure, pool and bath, oil and gas, transportation, aerospace, and wind industries.
“I’m a person a company would hire to change direction,” he says. “My trick is chaos management. It’s experience around change and how to implement it. In order to successfully launch change, you have to involve people in the movie.”
Ferguson says that he was attracted to MVP because of its very strong technology base, developed over the past 80 years, and the opportunity to make a difference. With a background in lean manufacturing and a heavy focus on cost accounting, he saw distinct areas where he could help the company aggressively grow with the right structure and collaborative environment.
“We can triple the size of the company with the right team,” Ferguson says. “I saw in MVP great skills. They were very hungry to listen and learn. My true skillset is in mentoring and teaching.”
Drawing an analogy between two board games – checkers and chess, he says, “MVP is playing the wrong game internally. In the case of checkers, everyone is moving in the same direction and creating silos in the process.”
“There’s no teamwork necessarily involved in those moves” or across those silos, Ferguson says, adding that chess involves more strategy. “The trick is a paradigm shift from checkers to chess.”
He describes his role as President and CEO as being the person who has the vision for the whole board and has responsibility for putting the pieces or players in the right place to win. “Not everyone can be a chess player,” Ferguson adds.
Closely aligned with this analogy about a chess game is his fixation on completely understanding what Ferguson calls “our direct service to our customers.” He explained what he meant with a mathematical analogy.
“We have nine different departments at MVP, and they all believe they are at 90 percent or more in customer satisfaction. They all have a lot of pride.” Yet, if you multiply .90 times .90 times .90 enough times, the cumulative result is a much lower number for MVP as an entity than the individual departments perception.
“The people at MVP and the company are hungry for change,” Ferguson believes. “My role is to remove the chaos, build the needed structural changes, and prepare MVP for sustained growth.” His metaphor for doing so is a three-sided triangle with the sides described as follows: (1) the definition of leaders; (2) a training process to help prepare leaders; and (3) a plan for measuring the performance of those leaders.
As he looks at strategies to triple MVP’s size, Ferguson says, “We will be building-up Knoxville, adding machining, fabrication, and final assembly.” The employee count is about 200 at five physical locations including two in Knoxville. Within 18 months, he expects to consolidate the corporate headquarters (near the intersection of Pellissippi Parkway and Northshore Drive) and the local service and sales center (between Dutchtown Road and Murdock Drive).