P & G Technologies

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"Growing up, my dad was a machinist at a shop here in town. He was in charge of the machining and fabricating department of a fairly large local company. Around 1998, as I was graduating high school, the business lost its single-source world supplier, and overnight things went up in smoke. The company didn't go out of business, and they were planning to keep him, but he saw the writing on the wall. He was in his late forties, didn't know anything other than what he had been doing.

So he bought a machine, talked to the owner of the company and put it in the back corner to start doing some work at night. My dad started moonlighting and my brother and I would go in at night to help him.

My dad did that for about two years, and in 2001, a day before the World Trade Tower attacks, my dad quit his job to go full-time and start his own thing.

Meanwhile, I had taken a job and was traveling a lot. I was doing training for General Motors - GM or Saturn or somebody would launch a new car and then they would hire the marketing company out of Rochester I worked for, and then I would travel North America and train the sales guys on the new vehicles.

In November of 2002, while I was working in Florida and getting ready to come home for Thanksgiving, I got a phone call that my brother had been murdered.

My brother had been running a company in Novi and had to fire a maintenance guy. The guy left, came back, and shot my brother. He had the secretary write a suicide note, and then shot himself in the office.

So I came home. My mom and dad were a wreck. My dad had just started his business, I had the house and all our things here, and my job required me to travel almost 300 days a year. So I decided to quit my job and go to work with my dad to see if we could make something happen. That was 17 years ago, and that's what led me here.

I didn't know anything about working in a steel shop. But I came here in 2002, and my dad only had two other employees and the four of us did everything. Ran the saw, cleaned the parts, delivered the parts, ran machines. All during that time I was going to school for a degree in finance from Walsh College.

But despite all of that, it's worked out."

Walking into P &G Technologies, it even smells like hard work.

Oil. Steel. Industry.

Guys are leaning into machines to pull out completed pieces of machined metal, filing away at finished pieces, and carrying tools to their stations. There's a lot going on here, and the shop is constantly moving the entire time I'm talking to Adam, who's sitting across from me at his desk.

"What exactly are you responsible for now?" I ask.

"I break all the prints down, order the steel, do most of the buying, manage the employees, do the sales."

"But you started off with your dad out in the shop. How does the fact that you started here from the beginning and you've done everything in the shop help you with the role you have now?"

"I don't know if I could do the work now I do now without having that background. I was a good but not great machinist - I can do it, I like running the saw and welding, but the tight tolerance machine stuff I just got so nervous to hit that "go" button!

But the guys out there now are wizards with trigonometry and geometry. I'd really rather see spreadsheets and look at profit/loss and stuff like that. I can really respect what they do, because I did it."

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"How many employees do you have?"

"15. 15 is a good spot, it's a good crew. We work well here, people don't leave. We had one guy leave and then come back three months later and say, 'Man, I'm sorry, I didn't know what I was thinking.'"

"Why do you think people don't leave?"

"I think it's a good atmosphere. We take care of them. We pay their health insurance 100%. We try to give a couple bonuses a year. We don't bust people's chops. I mean, they get paid hourly so if a guy's late he's not getting paid, and that's not what they want to do. Maybe he got stuck in traffic, kids were throwing up, who knows? I don't harp on anybody, if they show up late, it's 'Good morning, how are you?'

And we stay busy. I think in the last 15 years I've been here, even through '08 to '10 when things were bad, we only laid one person off. We stay diversified; everything from automotive, to food packaging, to heavy industry, to decorative.

We've been very fortunate. We've created a good environment, we've got a great team of guys, and we try to treat them well."

"What does it take to be a good employee?"

"Show up and don't be a jerk," he laughs. "Honestly, that's it. I mean, it's a skilled trade so everybody has to have a certain amount of capability, but our thing is really about having a cohesive team."

"How is the dynamic working in a family business?"

"We get along really well. The hardest thing is spending 55 hours a week here together..."

"I noticed your offices are on opposite sides of the building." We both laugh.

"We shared an office for 12 or 13 years and I moved into this office when the company started getting bigger. I think the key is that there can't be any ego. When I hear about family businesses crashing and burning, it's gotta be ego and greed, because it's pretty simple if everyone is reasonable."

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What’s your favorite part of this work?

"It has be delivering something that is good. Giving the guys a bonus - it makes me feel good to say, 'Hey guys, we did something good together and here's your reward'. Or a customer needs something and we collaborate and put our brains together, we make it happen and deliver it and it works. I like the finality and completion of moving from a sketch to putting something into a shop and wiring it to a machine.

Our whole team is just a talented group of guys. I'm sure that any machine shop you go to - here in Southeast Michigan, or Bay City or Saginaw - you will find these really, really talented, smart dudes who have been overlooked their whole careers.

When I was in high school in the late 90s, they were like 'don't go manufacturing. It's dirty, dumb, and dying.' And it's not. It's really the heart and soul of our whole democracy and everything we do. And these guys that have been doing for 30 plus years are talented and they could run circles around most people in math because they're doing real world math every single day, and I just feel that overall the trade in general - machining, fabricating, and working with your hands has just not gotten the respect that it should.

I’m really happy to see it coming back. I've seen it come back enormously, especially here in Detroit with people trying to source locally and working with their hands. It's coming back on an individual level and I'd really like to see the blue collar worker get more respect in general.

These guys are just masters in their trade, and I feel like they're a dying breed. I could pull them out of the machine shop and they could rebuild your house. They could do carpentry, they could do plumbing, they could do electrical. They're playing in bands and wrenching on cars. These guys can do so many things well, and they should be getting more respect.”

A visit to P &G wouldn't be complete without talking to the man who started it back in 1998, Gary.

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I leave Adam's office and walk through the shop, knock on Gary's office door and walk in. His desk is covered in stacks of paper, not in an unorganized way, but a "there is lots of work to do" way.

This will need to be brief, but I want to get Gary's thoughts about why he started P & G Technologies and went to work for himself.

"It looked like the company I was working for was going out of business and I thought, 'Man, I'm way too old to be looking for a job!' It was 1998 and I was 43 years old. I wasn't going to look for a job again.

I needed a job, so I bought myself a job.

When you start a business by yourself and work a lot of hours, all you've bought yourself is a job. You're not a businessman at that point, you have a job you go to. And that's what I did, I bought myself a job and I went to that job every day.

So I started working on my own with a buddy of mine, we bought a couple of machines and started making parts."

"Did you have any experience owning a business before this?"

"No. Nothing."

"What was that like, then, learning how to build a business?"

"I'm still learning! I incorporated in January of 2000, and I just try to keep plugging along."

"Adam was telling me about how employees don't leave their jobs here to go work somewhere else. Why is that?"

"I've got a guy who's worked for me since he was 18 years old, and he drives from Silverwood, which is about 75 miles away. Every day."

"Why does he do that?"

"I guess I'm a great guy!" He laughs. "I try to be a jerk every day and apparently it's not working out."

"Do you have plans for what you want to accomplish with P & G or are you a day-to-day kind of guy?"

"I'm a day-to-day guy. I'm 63 years old. If you break your life up into four quarters, you got 0 to 20, 20 to 40, 40 to 60, then 60 to 80. Anything after that is just bonus time. My plans right now are to have one hell of a business going when I leave so that Adam and his son can keep going.

I lost a Brian Anthony Bowden, and I gained a Brian Anthony Bowden."

"His son's name is Brian?"

"Yes, he named his son after his brother."

Being an entrepreneur today is trendy, especially in the social media world where people like to brandish their tech start-ups and 90 hour work weeks because it gets attention, reputation, and acknowledgment. It's about "following your passion", "finding your truth", and "working hard now so you can live easy later".

Gary, Adam, and the rest of the guys at P & G aren't about that. That's not why they work.

Gary started a business because he needed a job. Adam joined the business because his family needed him. And the guys in the shop have been here for as long as they have because they work in an environment where they are trusted to be great at what they do.

In our conversation, Adam and I talked about how the kind of work being done at P & G forms the backbone of our country - if shops like this stop working, the country stops working.

If that necessity commands some kind of prestige, the team at P & G isn't looking for it. They just show up every day, work hard, and leave covered in oil and steel dust.

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