After 25 years in the foundry and diecasting industry, my Dad, Dick Laney, had this crazy idea that metalcasters needed a unique information system to effectively manage and grow their business. He started B&L Information Systems, and nearly 40 years later that idea is still valid. Of course, there have been revolutionary changes in information technology over this time period; but along with those changes, there are some principals and ideas that have stood the test of time.

One of the challenges for second-generation managers, or succeeding leaders at any time, is to figure out what things to keep and what things to let go. This is a list of business principles that Dick instilled in the organization, and that continue to guide us::

“The customer isn’t always right, but he does write your paycheck.” In other words, serve the customer as best as you possibly can and you’ve got a fighting chance to keep them for life. The latest analytic for this concept is ‘Customer Lifetime Value’, and it’s good to know the data. But first, you need an organization in place that believes and acts like they will keep that customer for life. Handling the customer always takes priority. Meetings, suppliers, administrative tasks, even some employee matters are secondary to customer service.

“Stay focused on what you do best.” I remember asking my Dad, “What happens when we have sold to all the foundries in the country?” He replied, “Let’s just focus on having a good year and not borrow problems from the future.” Forty years later our market percentage is in the high teens. There is plenty of opportunity for our products and services in North America. Distractions have presented themselves along the way, like pursing other ‘material conversion’ industries, e.g. plastics, fiberglass, etc. I’m glad we didn’t go after those things, because it would have consumed resources and detracted from our core competency: metalcasting ERP software.

“Stay away from hardware.” B&L has always been a software company, and we’ll remain a software company. Dad somehow knew that computer hardware would evolve into a commodity business, best left to the big guys. There are opportunities to sell computers and related hardware through a ‘Value-Added Reseller’ model, with decent short-term profits. But we never took that on and with so much data moving to the cloud, the idea of selling a server to a business is becoming even more outdated.

“A manager needs to dip into the details every so often.” Many managers will over-delegate without much oversight. A good manager understands the details of what goes on in his/her department or his/her company. You may not actually do the work, but you need to understand the business process to create an effective solution for the (internal or external) customer. Dig into the details every so often to keep yourself aware of the process and changes that will occur. We encourage our managers, when setting up a new business process or procedure, to do it themselves first so that they understand fully the mechanics of the process before delegating it to employees.

“You can’t forget! Have a good follow up system.” Dick’s system was all manual, but it worked. He had an accordion file with slots market 1-31, a spot for each day of the month. Every morning, he would go to that day’s slot, pull out his notes and get to work on them. Whether manual or computerized, follow-up systems don’t need to be fancy, they just need to be reliable.

“Three people all businesses need: a good banker, a good lawyer and a good accountant.” Don’t skimp on your business partners. If you’re in it for the long haul, get the best partners you can afford.