I’ve always been intrigued by the corporate structure—or lack thereof—at Sun Hydraulics. As long as I’ve been covering the industry, I’ve been aware that they have no titles. So it was interesting to hear CEO Allen Carlson (the SEC mandates that there be a named CEO and CFO, but Carlson leaves the title off his business card) speak to a group of young NFPA executives at the association’s Annual Conference.
The company doesn’t fit really any standard models, and has been profiled by the Harvard Business Review multiple times. There is no organizational chart. They have shared office space, including Carlson. He gets no perks beyond salary—not even a special parking spot. They have no budgets, nor sales forecasts. Yet, this company has grown from a roughly $10 million dollar company in 1985 to one that exceeds a $200 million dollars in revenue today. Carlson’s leadership is obviously a huge factor, and he was kind enough to share some of his wisdom with us:
• Sometimes, what’s most important in life is not what you choose to do, but what you choose not to do. Carlson knew he didn’t want to work on the farm, nor be an economist, clergyperson or accountant. Engineering was what was left, and it sounded pretty interesting to him.
• Elevate yourself above the weeds. Carlson kept a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly diary. At the beginning of the year, he’d say, “These are the things I want to accomplish this year.” At the beginning of every month, “These are the things I want to accomplish this month.” And so on. He wrote it all down. By doing that, he said, he would always, at the end of the day, find time to do the things on his checklist that he wanted to do.
• Mix it up. Knowing and doing is similar to the equation Work = Force x Distance. If you know what to do and you don’t get it done, you’ve created no work. If you do all kinds of things that have no value, you’ve created no work. If you are leading a company or a group, mix people up. Make sure you don’t have a whole group that sit around and talk to each other in PhD lingo and nothing ever gets done. And don’t have a bunch of people that are doing—but nobody knows what to do.
• Perseverance and communication/collaboration are key attributes for anyone you hire. If you have communication without collaboration, not much gets done. If you have collaboration with no communication, usually you get the wrong things done. Carlson said most companies are horrible at this, and email has made it worse.
• Only worry about things that you can control. Stop worrying about those you have no control over. The person who wants to do something finds a way. The other finds an excuse. Be the person who finds a way.