Moving Up to Management

Here's an interesting discussion about what it takes to step up to a more senior management role in a large woodworking company. September 7, 2013

I'm hoping the group can help me decide what moves I need to make to further my career in this industry. I'm starting to feel that If I don't make some moves in the next few years, I'll plateau. Here's a general rundown on my career thus far:

1. Worked in a custom shop during high school, decided to pursue this as a career.
2. Obtained a bachelor's degree in wood engineering (including a minor in business management).
3. Decided to start on the shop floor again to really learn the trade well.
4. Progressed during 10 years through a production management position, Senior Engineer position, and Senior Project Management.
5. During the 10 years, focused on learning all I can that would help improve myself or a company. I'm particularly fond of Lean manufacturing and the Theory of Constraints.
6. I'm an avid reader on business and leadership.
7. I have led several software implementations to help improve company productivity and throughput.

I've had experience in commercial millwork, custom residential cabinetry, and custom office furniture. What else can I do to prepare myself for a general management position at a midsized company? Where do I start looking for one? I'm really interested in helping a company create a systems based atmosphere. I have learned that if you can bring the people together around a common challenge, and solve it together, it's a win win. One thing I know I should do is brush up on my statistics and how to really read accounting reports such as a balance sheet, income statement, etc.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor D:

Learn database. You won't necessarily be the database guy, but having some skills here will teach you to how to talk to your database guy. Database is a logic structure. It will teach you to parse things differently. You will frame your managerial questions differently as a result.

From contributor B:
Check in on the New York Times blog series called "You're the boss." Business owners from all kinds of small businesses produce a blog about issues they face. The blogs are great and the responses to the blogs are really useful.

From contributor A:
Learn how to read financial statements, cash flow statements, what you need to provide to accounting so they can do this for you, how to edit a contract, how to write a po, how to track inventory and job costs, how to sub contract, a variety of tax basis. Learn the basics of labor law, hr, insurance coverage. Learn how to keep the sales channel full. Look at what you don't do now that others in the office do and figure out what it would take to be able to manage where you work. May not be a position, but you should get an idea of what you don't know or don't have experience with. Ask if you can become an assistant manager where you are and find out what they would want you to do.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the great replies thus far. I have some good experience over the years creating databases in Access. The link to the blogs is great - I read the Paul Downs one a few years back, but didn't know he was still doing it. One thing I definitely need to work on is the financial statements. I haven't had to read one since my accounting course in college 14 years ago!

Unfortunately, I don't believe an Assistant Manager type of position would be possible where I'm at now (though I will look into it). So, my next question is, how do you get such a position without the experience of an equivalent previous position?

From contributor D:
There is a difference between GAAP accounting and strategy based accounting. Inventory is considered an asset in GAAP accounting (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles). The Lean guys, however, tend to think of excessive inventory as waste. There are two purposes for accounting. One is to render unto Caesar. The other one is to create wealth. For that to happen you have to banish waste.

From contributor A:
Regardless of how you want to classify inventory, a manager needs to be able see deviations in expenses, reductions in cash flow, and now how to forecast for the future, either by directing someone with more skill to complete the task or visualizing it themselves. They need to be able to direct changes in how cost accounting is presented to them so the information has value, whether it's a custom report, a change in methodology, or a system change. The manager doesn't need to do all this work but they need to lead and direct the route the business takes. As for taxes, banks, and loans, they need to understand a traditional financial statement and cash flow forecasting.

From contributor P:
Accounting 101 class at your local community college will help with the accounting part. Moving up to management can be a mixed bag. Some of the downsides to consider:

- Some people really miss the hands-on part of the job that made the choice of career rewarding in the first place. Your woodworking skills will slowly erode as a result, too.
- Middle management is layoff bait. They're often the first to go when times get tough.
- It's lonely at the top. And in the middle, too. Moving into a management role changes your relationships with your coworkers.
- Often, any pay increase is offset by increased hours, usually uncompensated.

Best reason to do it is as a stepping stone to owning your own shop.