Five Skills Every Leader Must Have

GAWDA Manufacturers have what it takes.

Sheer tenacity is not an uncommon leadership trait. Hector Villarreal, vice president, Welding Co. of AmericaWELDCOA (Northlake, IL), points to a tenacious faith in his employees, products and customers as the key to growth. He says, “I have always stayed faithful to the promises we make as a company.” According to Villarreal, many leaders change strategies and subscribe to the “trend of the week,” which is a mistake. He adds, “At the end of the day, we rely on our customers. If we continue to do the right thing, they will remain our customers.”


“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
General George S. Patton


Andy Blanchard, president and CEO, ESAB North America (Florence, SC), stresses the importance of strong communication skills when discussing the company’s vision and mission with others. He relies on a variety of venues when discussing company interactions with customers. To enhance internal communications, Blanchard makes optimum use of small, town hall-type meetings and company newsletters. To optimize external communications, Blanchard will emphasize more face time with distributors.

Some lessons in leadership are passed on from one generation to another. Shawn Toops, president, Flame Technologies Inc. (Cedar Park, TX), took over the reins of leadership from his father just one year ago. He says, “Regardless of whom I am talking with, communication skills are crucial to our overall success. My father always said that if there is good communication, there is no conflict. Communicating well requires that we listen and hear what others are saying and then respond appropriately.” Toops routinely questions others in order to assure himself that his message has been heard and understood. He also says, “I tell them what I’m going to tell them, then I tell them, then I tell them I just told them.”

Distributor surveys and a distributor advisory board are two tools that suppliers can utilize when attempting to enhance communications with distributors. Mike Weller, president, Miller Electric Mfg. Co. (Appleton, WI), will spend more time listening to distributors and to end-user customers. Weller explains, “I will rely on asking for more feedback when in dialog with customers. By listening and asking questions, my team can act more responsively to improve delivery, customer service and product quality—all aspects of the business.” Weller will also focus on developing the intellectual skills of his team. He says, “One of my goals is that every employee learns a new skill and uses it on the job.” Weller himself is further enhancing his listening skills and leadership skills. “A good leader must balance the needs of customers, employees, shareholders and the community, and not necessarily be satisfied with yesterday’s results. By working through others, I can obtain the results that are necessary.”

“No matter how capable a leader is, that leader cannot manage the company without help. It’s all about teamwork.”
Alan Egami
Kobelco Welding of America Inc.

Leaders cannot remain in an ivory tower isolated from the action. Donna Jung, president, International Cryogenics Inc. (Indianapolis, IN), explains that she will utilize more “hands-on experience” in order to better understand the needs of her customers. “We cannot remain in glass houses. I will spend more time listening to our customers.”

Frederick Luening, president, Bohler Thyssen Welding USA, Inc. (Stafford, TX), will focus his efforts on communicating his company’s value proposition. He explains, “The essence of that communication is really customer intimacy, customer responsiveness, active support and all those things that go with it.” Luening says that he will listen, counsel, recommend and cajole—all important elements of communication.


“A great manager has a knack for making ballplayers think they are better than they think they are. He forces you to have a good opinion of yourself and lets you know he believes in you. He makes you get more out of yourself. And once you learn how good you really are, you never settle for playing anything less than your very best.”

Reggie Jackson


As leaders, we know we must work through others to be successful. In order to experience increased profitability, Jaime Castaneda, general manager, Indura S.A. (Santiago, Chile), believes that empowered employees will take ownership of their work and be better able to offer solutions that will directly impact the success of their companies. He explains, “We do not sell gases. We sell solutions. If we provide customers with solutions that reduce their operational costs, we will command those customers’ loyalty.” Castaneda will focus on his ability to assess his employees’ skills and competencies, helping them to develop those skills that will facilitate the company’s growth.

“We have a tendency as leaders to hire people who look and talk like we do. I am looking for people who will challenge me personally and challenge the ideas of the past.”
Kevin Baudhuin
 BOC Gases

In a partnership with the distribution channel, a supplier must think strategically, functioning as a coach, enabling employees and the distributor’s sales managers to implement the company’s strategic vision. Kevin Baudhuin, president, ISP North America, BOC Gases (Murray Hill, NJ), is placing an emphasis on his ability to build a team of superstars, all leaders in their own right. When it comes to building a world-class team, he says, “We have a tendency as leaders to hire people who look and talk like we do. In creating a diversified team, I am looking for people who will challenge me personally and challenge the ideas of the past.” Still, those individuals do share some common attributes. Baudhuin looks for individuals who have intellect, integrity, work ethic and passion. Baudhuin believes that a passion for business, a passion for family and a passion to be number one is critical to BOC’s future success. He says, “Leaders must lead by example. We are creating goals that my entire team can be proud of.”

“One of my goals is that every employee learns a new skill and uses it on the job.”
Mike Weller
Miller Electric Mfg. Co.

Highly visible and repeated interacting with shop employees will support Jerry Leary, president and CEO, Koike Aronson Inc. (Arcade, NY), in his efforts to emphasize the importance of empowering personnel to lead themselves. “We have team leaders who are responsible for every part of the machine they touch.” That philosophy, says Leary, will be a building block for future growth. He explains, “We are a linear organization and each employee, whether an officer or the person managing the shipping room, is rewarded with an incentive bonus system based on profitability and the achievement of company objectives.”

The optimal utilization of human resources is the most important leadership strategy followed by Alan Egami, president, Kobelco Welding of America Inc. (Stafford, TX). “No matter how capable a leader is, that leader cannot manage the company without help. It’s all about teamwork.” Egami believes the keys to good leadership are to demonstrate a clear vision to employees, to put the right people in the right places, and to empower employees to do their best.

“While we hire for skill, we have also, at times, been forced to fire for fit.”
Clive Tregaskiss
Tregaskiss Ltd.

Clive Tregaskiss, president and CEO, Tregaskiss Ltd. (Windsor, ON, Canada), believes that his greatest skill as a leader is his ability to surround himself with the right people and to create an environment in which teamwork flourishes. Tregaskiss says, “In order to compete in this marketplace, to be ahead of my competition, we must exert a tremendous focus on the customer and customer service. But it’s my ability to put together the right people who are motivated and always thinking about different ways in which they can put the customer first that is critical to my company’s success. While we hire for skill, we have also, at times, been forced to fire for fit.”

“My ability to motivate others, whether they are employees or customers, is important to the success of my company,” says Steve St. Martin, president, Gas and Air Systems Inc. (Hellertown, PA). St. Martin says, “When it comes to motivating employees, management must spend more time with them, recognizing the contributions they make to the company. In order to impact the purchasing decisions made by customers, I will also spend more time interacting with them and developing a personal relationship with them.”

Gary Watson, president, Watson Coatings Inc. (St. Louis, MO), knows how to delegate and points to the importance of being able to put together teams that are capable of getting the job done. As his company looks for new business opportunities, Watson will spend time networking with industry professionals capable of functioning as a team.

“We cannot ever be the best company unless our people are the best people. Companies that grow people grow profits.”
Bill Kroll
Matheson Tri-Gas, Inc.

Many business leaders point to empowering personnel as one of their chief responsibilities. It’s important to note that we can only empower really capable people. Most of today’s leadership spend a lot of time making sure that they have the right people working in the right positions. Bill Kroll, chairman, president and CEO of Matheson Tri-Gas, Inc. (Parsippany, NJ), is focused on ensuring that he has put the right people in the right positions. “Whoever is capable of moving quickly and flawlessly will win the battle for market share.” Kroll is expecting his team to work smarter, harder and faster. He says, “We cannot ever be the best company unless our people are the best people. Companies that grow people grow profits.”


“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.


“Growth is made possible by having people in place who want to learn. Quality control guru, Edward Demming, said that learning is optional, so is survival.”
Harry Wong
Valtra Inc.

As managers, we must ensure that our employees continually learn and grow. Harry Wong, president, Valtra Inc. (Pico Rivera, CA), will focus on building an environment of learning. He says, “Growth is made possible by having people in place who want to learn. Quality control guru Edward Demming said that learning is optional, so is survival.” Wong believes that as the owner of the business he must continually set an example of self-renewal. He listens to books on tape and sometimes listens to the book several times in order to grasp the materials he seeks to learn. He adds, “Change is incremental. There are no spontaneous, quick discoveries. Ideas come and go, but if you listen carefully, there are common denominators which simply restate the same old principles.”

Richard Grossman, CEO, Kromer Cap Co. Inc. (Milwaukee, WI), believes that understanding the marketplace is at the root of his role as a leader. This basic understanding of his customers helps him to remain flexible, anticipating change and adapting to those changes. He says, “I rely on my understanding of the market, keeping my eyes open and remaining aware of domestic and global events which can impact my company’s bottom line.”

“I will rely on my understanding of my organization’s core technologies, our strengths and our customers in order to grow in 2005,” says Andre A. Odermatt, president and CEO, Hobart Institute of Welding Technology (Troy, OH). Odermatt’s number one priority is to help his employees identify customers and to develop the skills needed in order to grow closer to them.”

Joe Parenta, president, Parenta & Sons Enterprises Inc. (Boonton, NJ), relies on his understanding of his products and the impact they have on his bottom line. He explains, “We are eliminating less profitable, low-end products.”


“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”

Milton Berle


In response to an environment of rapid change, many companies are attempting to structure their strategic plans as they look further into the future. The more traditional approach of forecasting next year’s economic outlook is being replaced by gazing five years into the future. Ray Murray III, president, Ray Murray Inc. (Lee, MA), says, “Leadership consistency and an ability to focus on meeting my company’s future objectives are crucial skills.” Murray had the foresight to employ a market strategist, and together they are developing and evaluating market data that will guide his company’s future growth.

Dick Couch, president and CEO, Hypertherm Inc. (Hanover, NH), also points to strategic vision as one of the most important leadership skills at the CEO level. He explains, “Part of that strategic vision, domestically, is to spend more focused time with our distributor base and with our end-user customers.”

No matter how much time we devote to a strategic vision, there are some aspects of leadership which remain constant. Neil Marshall, general manager, Dissolvo LLC (Croydon, PA), believes in the adage, “Keep it simple.” He says, “If our emphasis is on serving our customer, our number one priority must be to keep the distributor’s costs lower, to support the distributor’s need to reduce inventories, and to accelerate our efforts to provide just-in-time deliveries.” Marshall will seek to discover ways his company can reinvent itself while staying true to his company’s focus on customer service.

Tenacity. Communication. People Management. Knowledge. Strategic Vision. Critical qualities for GAWDA’s leaders as we begin a new year, in strong evidence by these very successful leaders.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association