Cat manager: U.S. can compete, lead globally
By Paul Sullivan For The Beacon-News June 27, 2012 3:26PM
FILE - In this July 19, 2010 file photo, the Caterpillar logo is seen on heavy earth-moving equipment in Springfield, Ill. Caterpillar Inc. says the Illinois Legislature’s decision not to pass a set of tax incentives and other business perks is the wrong signal to send as the state tries to convince the company that Illinois is the right place to relocate manufacturing jobs being moved out of Japan. Illinois is among about 20 states hoping to be chosen by Caterpillar for the factory and about 1,000 jobs. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)
Updated: July 29, 2012 4:47PM
At the recent annual meeting of the Valley Industrial Association, Ken Knight, the new general manager of Caterpillar’s facilities in Aurora and Peterlee, U.K., made an after-dinner speech to an audience of executives from northern Illinois manufacturing and related companies who make up the membership of the 110-year-old trade organization.
Knight’s presentation was titled, “How American Can Compete Globally.” Before joining Cat in March, Knight competed globally in various assignments worldwide for General Motors. In his last GM assignment, he was a senior manufacturing engineering executive responsible for the development and deployment of manufacturing and automated solutions worldwide.
Knight summarized the theme of his presentation in the acronym CLIMB, standing for commitment, leadership, investment, mentoring and best team.
Knight said that in 1951, the United States produced 50 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. “Now it’s 20 percent. To compete,” he said, “we have to know where the opportunities are now and where they will be in the future. If dealing with ambiguity about the future makes you nervous, stay out of the race. Everyone knows the answer to the present.”
Just as businesses must compete, so must states in attracting business and industry, Knight said. “It’s best for the citizens if a state has a thriving business environment.”
Knight, who has coached youth sports for 20 years, drew upon his coaching experience when he said business leaders must get an organization ready to change. “People will follow a leader before understanding.”
Continuing with that logic, Knight said a company must have a competitive advantage to win in the long run. “What can your company do that’s not easy to duplicate?”
In technology, the United States used to have the advantage, but the rest of the world is rapidly catching up. “Technology knows no borders. China can duplicate (anything) pretty quickly. We have to find a lock-in to the hearts and minds of consumers.” Referencing Apple, Knight said America excels at connecting with the consumer. “People used to have a passion for cars. We got into trouble (with cars) when we walked about from that.”
There’s been a significant shift in educational requirements for employees in manufacturing, Knight said. “The math and science requirement are higher now than even 10-20 years ago.”
Manufacturers need to invest in training and mentorings programs now, Knight said, to prepare for the retirement of the current base of skilled manufacturing employees. Cat builds talent from within, he said. “But we also snare the best talent externally when possible.” Cat has partnered with Aurora University to offer training for careers in manufacturing.
In a question-and-answer session after the presentation, an audience member asked Knight why he left General Motors. “Before people buy cars,” he said, “they will build roads and mine their resources.”