Expert’s Opinion: From 2nd shift steelworker to board member and industrial company CEO

By Terra L. Fletcher | January 13, 2021
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The C.A. Lawton Co. periodically publishes input from professionals both within the foundry industry and outside the casting world. These Expert Opinions may be casting related, Continuous Improvement (CI / LEAN), Operational Excellence (Op-Ex), or just working through the challenges of today’s business environment. The goal is to present you with differing viewpoints of how our guests are adapting, adopting, and improving. Today’s expert is Mike Erwin, a former board member of The C.A. Lawton Co. We welcome your input on any of these topics. Contact us at remarkable@calawton.com for details. Thank you for reading!

Mike, tell us a little about your background and something about yourself personally

After leaving a couple of other specialty foundry firms as a board member, I interviewed with Alex Lawton. I ultimately joined their board in particular because of my metals and foundry history. Having spent over 25 years in industrial technology that began on the shop floor as a second shift steelworker and becoming president of that machinery company 21 years later, I take personal joy in that unique path. It helped me develop empathy for the people doing each job in heavy industry, often asking, “Are we doing the right thing for the least among us? If we are, we’ll all do well.”

As a grandfather of four and married for 44 years, being a supportive parent and grandparent is my number one job. Splitting time between Mukwonago and Eagle River, Wisconsin, provides the right balance of business and pleasure. A favorite activity has always been coaching and mentoring others, and this lifelong passion became a career in 2016 when I founded EAG – Erwin Advisory Group.

In addition to Lawton, you’ve joined the Boards for Midland Plastics, Creative Metal Products, ProHealth Care, and Landmark Credit Union, to name a few. Having been on so many boards, what was unique with Lawton?

It was Lawton’s five generations of leadership that inspired me. The multi-generational ownership and the continuity of the leadership in the organization is truly a strength for Lawton. Those who could’ve retired from Lawton stayed highly involved leading to a well cared for brand and family-oriented culture.

What is a big challenge that you’re dealing with today?

Effective accountability management and strategic business focus seem to be weak spots. I encourage those I consult with to work on those areas continually with an effective planning process.

We know it’s hard to predict the future right now, but what do you see on the horizon for manufacturing or foundries?

Business is continuing to evolve! I’ve seen some companies slowly recover and others resume almost business as usual since the start of the pandemic. Despite challenges, several industries are thriving because they adapted to unique opportunities (both Covid related and non-Covid) in the last year. Flexible industries, and foundries, in particular, will see the most success soon. Right now is a time to assess what’s truly working with clients, processes, and people and ask yourself, “should we add or shed any offerings or practices… and certainly recognize the best team members”. Make sure you’re holding to your unique core values and build strength around the areas of high potential investment.

How do you keep yourself informed and up to date?

To effectively keep informed, I have a large cache of social media based sources, but McKinsey & Company is probably my favorite strategic resource because they provide diverse business insights. They are effectively forecasting what industries will see post-covid. I also enjoy all the articles in SmartBrief on Leadership as leadership effectiveness is a powerful tool for success.

What is your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Most of my consulting is situational. Before I provide advice, I like to find out how tenacious, patient, enthusiastic, creative, and persistent the client’s leaders are. These are indicators of success, and knowing their strengths allows me to adapt my consulting approach. One refrain I often repeat is to remind entrepreneurs to use their critical thinking skills with speed and instinct.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Mike.

If you’d like to connect with Mike, visit his LinkedIn profile.