The Future of Manufacturing: Interview with mHub Founder Bill Fienup

Software runs the world but hardware and physical products are still part and parcel of our everyday experience. Bill Fienup and his co-founders set out an ambitious goal to help new manufacturers launch and grow. He started small with Catalyze Chicago, a nascent manufacturing innovation hub. Risking their own capital they rented 2,000 square feet, which quickly expanded to 8,000 square feet in five months, serving member companies who had raised $28 million from investors, generating $56 million in revenue.

But that wasn’t enough, and Bill’s plans became what is now mHub, an innovation center focused on physical product development and manufacturing.

We got the chance to do a Q&A with Bill, where we dove into his growing innovation hub and the future of manufacturing:

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Four Factors That a Predict if a Company Will Fail or Fly High

Companies that have sought out true interims will tell you that during initial conversations, the executive interviewed the company as much as the company interviewed the executive. Having jumped into everything from manufacturing to healthcare, to AI, interims are choosy about the assignments they take on. They are not shy about a challenge, but want to have major impact. The best interim execs have a finely honed internal screening check-list to decide what’s best to parachute into.

Cleve Adams is no stranger to high growth situations, having built a SaaS cyber security software company from pre-revenue to a $1B IPO in three years. As an interim exec and four-time VC-backed CEO, Cleve says there are four vital components to evaluating a company.

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Interim CIO Drives Technology Transformation and Revamp of IT Organization

A multi-billion dollar consumer products company wanted to revamp the organization to stay competitive and relevant to customers around the globe. One area of focus was technology. IT had been outsourced, and as a result the company lost control of its ability to innovate. Acquisitions over the years compounded the problem, with divisions in silos operating with extreme variability in skills, behavior, interface and processes country to county.

From Europe to Asia to South America and North America, management came together with a vision to take a disjointed organization and transform it into one collaborative global IT structure. Under this model IT would take charge of application and infrastructure management, security, enterprise architecture, staffing, and performance management. 

The global CIO had his hands full, running several initiatives:

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How The Best Company Builders Grow Their Teams

When I started my first company at age 26, I’ll admit, it was lonely. Even though we were only a team of six, there was a clear dividing line between me as founder and CEO, and my staff.

I learned how to pull in expert help, but I had a lingering feeling over the years that I took the business more seriously than anyone else on the team. Especially cash flow. And making payroll. Eventually I built a successful company, but not until hitting every pothole I could find. Hindsight is 20-20, but an executive-level leader alongside me would have spared so much pain.

This was my driving force to becoming an interim executive myself. Helping owners and founders to get over hurdles that, left to their own devices, would take years to master, and in many cases skills they didn’t otherwise need or enjoy. I focused on high growth tech companies, getting them to market and eventually for M&A events that would bring extraordinary returns to investors.

This is still what drives us today at InterimExecs: to empower companies to reach their full potential by building world-class leadership. Whatever it takes to accomplish projects, goals, growth initiatives, or in some cases fixing what’s broken.

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Interim Tackles Challenges When CEO and CFO Fired for Stealing From Public Company

Everything seemed to be going well for a public software company. Growing at a rate of 50-100% for three years straight, the company was gaining momentum until one day it all came to a screeching halt. Just weeks before the annual 10-k report was due the board uncovered that the CEO and CFO had been taking a few too many creative liberties with expense reports and were stealing money from the company…yes, they were embezzling funds – a nightmare scenario for a public company.

The board went to work, firing both of the full-time executives for cause. They immediately appointed an Interim CEO and reached out to us at InterimExecs to bring in an Interim CFO to help them navigate through murky waters.

“It was a full-fledged crisis that included issues with culture, staff, investors, analysts, debt holders, Board members, auditors, the SEC and activist shareholders,” said a board member.

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2017: Done. Predicting the Future in 2018 and Beyond

2017 offered daily excitement. The markets continued an unrelenting upward streak. While some debate the strength of underlying fundamentals, valuations public and private rose all year long.

In our business at InterimExecs, demand for interim management continued strongly while gaining momentum in the US. We had fun matching inspiring companies and executives together that were focused on growth, transformation, or taking on big initiatives and goals (see some of our favorite moments of 2017 here: www.interimexecs.org/2017-review).

Thanks to Peter Diamandis and the Abundance360 team, I now know 2018 will prove to be even better in all respects.

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What Does Organizational Culture Mean?

Maintain a happy marriage. Live a healthy lifestyle. Surround yourself with good people. While every magazine headline and self-help book is throwing this advice at you, it’s just about as murky as telling companies to create a positive organizational culture. But just what does organizational culture actually mean?

In order to get a better handle on the specifics of organizational culture, I talked to John Childress, an executive advisor, keynote speaker, CEO, and board leader, whose latest book, “Culture Rules!: The 10 Core Principles of Corporate Culture and how to use them to create greater business success”, delves deeply into corporate culture, and why it is so important.

John bridged the gap from organizational culture as an abstract concept to a bottom-line issue by noting that,  “…organizational issues….turn into people issues that then turn into business problems.”

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Private Equity Fund In Hot Water Deploys Interim Team

What do you do when your fund does a great job buying 5 divisions of a big publishing company spinning off assets, only to find one of the divisions starts going sideways?

First, you give the division some time to right the ship on their own.

Unfortunately, for one multi-billion dollar private equity fund, this strategy didn’t work… and the fund gave the CEO four years to get it right.

That’s a lot of patience.

Eventually, it came time to make a change, which the managing partner was dreading.

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What does Acting Mean in a Title?

Scanning someone’s career history, what does it mean when you see the word acting in a title?

The language around interim executives, executives who specialize in growing, transforming and turning around companies can be tricky as executives in the specialty don’t always identify themselves with the same language. But in some cases acting can be another indicator that you have found an interim.

Consider your audience: is the executive being presented to the board of directors, the company at large, or to the general public?

When it comes to public companies, the language is precise and if an executive has temporarily stepped in while a permanent search takes place, they will be described as interim or acting. Things get confusing because public companies often appoint board members to this interim or acting role who serve as more of a baby sitter or placeholder. Beware that this is not the same thing as a career interim who can be identified by their career history taking on high impact engagement after engagement, helping cause companies to grow or turnaround.

The far larger use of interim executives is in private companies worldwide, whether for profit or nonprofit.

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Entrepreneurs, Get a Real Board, Already

Bill Merchantz, founder of Lakeview Technology, has done pretty well. His first company went public after he exited and his second sold to a big PE fund. But he told me he had one regret in forming a company – he wished he’d had a formal board of directors early on.

An active board filled with diverse skillsets can save an entrepreneur from himself.

Successful entrepreneurs forming a company have to master the paradox of being both stubborn and thick-skinned while simultaneously listening and being open to change. The best vehicle for that sounding board is a board, so why don’t more entrepreneurs create a brain trust?

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