Part of the discussion today about what skills people need to climb to leadership in the industrial world centers on the question: What background makes a good foundation for success? Mark Nahorski, president of PBM, Inc. and VMA’s new chairman, thinks there is no single answer to that question, but it starts with listening and relating to people.
Nahorski studied business as an undergrad, worked first in the industrial world in sales and then management positions, then went back for further business education before beginning his next chapter and learning operations and manufacturing. After a brief time, he moved to a COO position and now serves as president of PBM, Inc. He says a better question is: How many ways can a person shape his or her knowledge base to better serve the organization and its customers?
“Certainly, a technical or engineering background does help a professional in the valve world, but also a refined business background will help drive decisions and results. No matter what road you take, however, you need to use both quantitative and soft skills to achieve your goals,” he said.
That’s one of the reasons Nahorski is a staunch supporter of associations such as VMA and is a strong believer in its education and training programs.
“VMA’s efforts to expand the knowledge base is a significant step and currently a major strength for the association,” he said.
Nahorski’s been with PBM 15 years, serving as a regional manager for seven years, then moving to Pittsburgh, growing into a chief operations officer position, which he held for four years, and moving into the president’s slot two years ago. While focusing on the strategic growth goals of the organization, he concentrates on operations and the ability to better serve companies internal and external customers. “In recent years our focus in key industries, with over 100 employees providing uncompromising work product, has contributed to our growth,” he said.
Nahorski obtained his undergrad business degree from University of Rhode Island and worked for an instrumentation company in sales, then worked for a distributor in New Jersey that offered PBM valves before spending a few years with Saint Gobain, where he served as worldwide pharmaceutical market manager. He came on board at PBM in 2002 because he knew the company’s reputation for unique valve designs and customer centric culture. In 2009 he earned an executive masters of business administration from Penn State University and took his first operations management position (manufacturing manager) at the PBM factory there in Pittsburgh. That position enabled him to “apply his academic knowledge and learn the mechanics of our supply chain as it relates to valves, and what needs to happen to ship products on time,” he said.
“In the valve business, things don’t always go perfectly, but customers need peace of mind that an organization will focus all its attention to solve any issues,” he says. “That includes opportunities for projects when schedules are fixed, regardless of whether you are providing a standard or customized design,” he said.
Although his few years focusing on single-use in biotechnology industry wasn’t directly related to his current role, that background taught him something else: Speed to markets is crucial because of the continuous need to differentiate. “The fast-paced world of life-science is always innovating and reinventing itself. That requires huge investments in capital and research, but the focus remains the same: how to best serve the customers,” he says.
While the world of valves is an older, more established industry with standard products and designs that still work in many of today’s applications, it also increasingly must rely on its ability to change.
“The valve industry continues to innovate through smart automation, lasting performance, including valve designs that improve emissions standards and process redundancy with favorable total cost of ownership,” he said, adding that “the companies that are successful are those that can compete in this space.”
Yesterday’s Changes; Today’s Challenges
In his more than a quarter century in the world of industry, Nahorski said the most significant development he’s seen is globalization.
“The supply chain models have slowly changed over the years,” he says. “When I started in the industry, the discussions centered on outsourcing,” he says. “That’s taken a 180-degree turn. Now we hear more about insourcing—improving our competitiveness domestically, and finding ways to improve the process or the designs to prolong performance of valves.”
The situation now challenging most manufacturers today is “finding the skilled labor that can utilize a CNC to machine quality parts based on engineering designs,” he says.
“Many of our subject matter experts have retired or are retiring,” Nahorski notes. “This challenge must become an opportunity, as we invest our resources to retrain the next generation of industry experts.” That’s why the educational programs that VMA offers are so critical to build awareness and best practices.
At individual companies, the result is more internal programs. PBM now has three employees in apprenticeship programs and seven enrolled in a mentoring program, and he sees similar programs in other companies.
Beyond the financial benefits of a more skilled work force, the result is individual employees “are more engaged and more empowered to utilize best practices to make decisions,” he says. They are happier on the job.
The skills gap is also one of the reasons he believes the association’s education and training program, its Valve Basics courses, a content-rich website and its efforts towards attracting talent into the industry are so important.
“The only way we can grow as an association and an industry is to communicate the worth of the valve industry and resources VMA offers to current and future members, as well as the customers we serve,” he says.
His Views on VMA
Besides the ability to help the valve industry with the skills gap issues, Nahorski says the reasons VMA is vital to all members is because of its networking—through conferences VMA creates an outstanding environment for members to exchange thoughts on various facets of their businesses and sometimes collaborate to better serve customers.
“The association is changing rapidly,” he says. “We are no longer just a manufacturing association. In recent years we enhanced our membership by adding distribution. We now look at valves and automation through another lens, and with our channel partners will only make our industry better,” he said.
That wider picture means both more strength as an association and more need for data as well as member involvement.
Although when energy prices faltered membership numbers suffered from budget cuts, Nahorski stresses, “Today, the economic tailwinds can only help as we focus on association growth and enhancing value to our growing members. The association has a bright future ahead; it is a great time for members to get involved in their association.”