Marsha Osborn podcast

MFGAustin: Marsha Osborn of Alen Corporation on scaling, contract manufacturing and being a servant leader.

By Jennifer Jones
January 25, 2021

There were two catalysts for growth. That was COVID and wildfires. Those two factors, unfortunately for all of us, created an opportunity for us to go out and truly help other people. I love that we are making a difference as a team for the rest of the world that is experiencing some challenging situations.

Marsha Osborn is the Chief Operating Officer at Alen Corporation, manufacturer of air purifiers and filters.

In this episode of MFG Austin, Osborn shares how she joined a new company and quickly scaled manufacturing during a global pandemic.

How do you scale? (2:22)
Understanding what the needs are in the business. Not just taking processes as they are today but looking at automating the processes and being able to scale nationally and internationally. Reidentifying what those real needs are and the kind of skill sets needed to do that is critical. So, we looked for people who have done that and have been in other businesses that had to scale really fast. When having to scale fast and making best decisions to meet the mission.

In a blog post, Marsh & McLennan shares similar recommendations: keep processes simple; focus on your customers; invest in employees; stay tuned-in; invest in equipment; and use data to drive growth.

How do you establishyourself as a leader?(3:01)
First of all, meeting every single person and player and understanding what their key challenges are, the kinds of things they’ve experienced and what their vision is for the future.How each of the organizations can functionally support the overall mission and business and really listening.I spent the first 2-3 weeks listening to the people and customers. I did a stint which was very powerful. I pretended to be a full blown customer service rep and went on our chat channels and phone calls for about four hours on a Friday two weeks after I started and listening to what the customers were experiencing made a huge difference in what I thought the vision could be for the company and where I thought the weaknesses were that we could go and address immediately.

The Forbes Coaches Council echoes Osborn in their “14 Ways to Establish Yourself as a New Leader” article acknowledging the difficulties of stepping into a leadership role at a new place with getting behind the scenes, being in a student mindset and showing what you know. Additionally, they share ways to be an effective leader.

How do you get buy in? (4:24)
I think it’s the small wins and celebrating those wins: [areas] where [my colleagues] had a challenge and I was able to address that challenge as low hanging fruit early on. [It helped me to] gain their confidence and respect to know that I’m a team playerand I’m a servant leader and I listen closely to the kinds of things they are experiencing.There are things that you can go in and change really quick and that makes a difference with them every day in doing their job and making them successful. Then continuing the conversation: ‘We made this change and how is that going now?’
How are you a servant leader? (5:33)
I believe that people are the number one asset in any business. It doesn’t matter what kind of business you’re in: service manufacturing, software company, etc. It’s all about the people. Them knowing that you truly believe thatmakes a big difference. You really can’t fake it. People really are your number one asset. You can have the best technology in the world, you can have the best process in the world, but at the end of the day, if the people don’t believe that and aren’t a part of that, then you’re not going to have the best company in the world.
Should a company use contract manufacturing? (8:16)
It depends on the process, the product, on how mature the actual build material is, and how mature the product really is. If you’re really ready to scale or if you have more design iterations to go. If you’ve got multiple design iterations and not just building on the technology you already have, I would say that keeping that part of the process inhouse is critical. But if you’re truly settled on your BOMs and it’s a pretty mature design and you’re ready to scale, it’s a good opportunity to partner with a manufacturer that has the talent, the expertise and the process in place, as well as the footprint and the square footage, because in Austin, TX it’s hard to find the real estate.
With Briggo, the product was very large, so to really scale that business you needed a lot of square footage and the people fast who had the expertise for continuous improvement, scalability, reliability, repeatability and quality. You need consistent quality of a product. Big contract manufacturers have those disciplines in place already, they’ve already built that. If you can partner and it’s a win-win for both companies, it can be a valuable partnership.
Can the US compete globally? (15:47)
One-hundred percent. We have the best people in the world here. And, we have the best environment and opportunities to do just that. It just takes a village. We all have to work together to make that happen and we have to want it. I’m doing it right now at Alen. All of our products have been made in Asia and China and I am reshoring everything to North America with another major partner. We have gone up 4x and continuing. It’s unbelievable and we are moving those products as fast as we can out of Asia.