On June 13, 2019, executives and owners from 8 Bay Area manufacturing companies gathered at the Varian Medical campus in Palo Alto, to compare notes on the challenges they are facing, some of the solutions that have proven effective, and to brainstorm on new ways to tackle problems.

In attendance:

Areas of focus included several facets of workforce, as well as operational excellence, tariffs, and logistics. The gathering concluded with an exciting tour of the Varian facility, led by none other than Robert Wood.

Some takeaways from the meeting:

Take a hard look at how you’re building your company culture. Use a variety of often simple and cost effective approaches to engage the workforce, to reduce turnover, improve the candidate selection process, increase the likelihood of worker success (e.g., Predictive Index or DiSC), and actively reach out to the community.

Consider the power of automation to stave off problems in recruitment. Regional experts (e.g., Manex) and gatherings (e.g., RoboBusiness) can help manufacturers find the right balance for their operation.

Tariffs are a growing problem in an uncertain world market. There are many accounting, shipping, production, and supply chain practices that can help stop the bleeding.

Freight costs have been on the rise. Some are making use of freight storage in other parts of the country, shipping by rail, and sharing leased space.

Finally, there was strong agreement among the attendees that operational excellence tools (e.g., lean and six sigma) are still keys to a healthy bottom line.

Manex Consulting sponsored the gathering, and George Chao, a Regional Manager at Manex, introduced the audience to Manex’s wide variety of services for the Bay Area manufacturing sector.

Lunch was generously provided by our hosts at Varian.

Manufacturers in attendance

Talent continues to be a centerpiece topic of discussion. Adding to the talent pipeline is an ongoing issue. AMBayArea works with its community partners to grow awareness among young people and jobseekers as to the opportunities that the Bay Area manufacturing sector can offer. That said, recruitment remains challenging, as does retention.

For the latter issue, however, companies are seeing decreases in turnover by using a variety of tactics for boosting morale and fostering a healthier culture, very briefly summarized as follows:

  • Instill a greater sense of pride of ownership and belonging by internally branding what the company does. Varian pointed to YouTube videos it has been developing to augment their production floor morale.
  • Offer self-styled uniforms, where workers have a series of options from which to choose, all of which echo a common theme, expanding a sense of belonging without sacrificing individuality.
  • Provide swag, such as yearly steel-toed shoes. Engage in other initiatives to generate pride and identity at work.
  • Increase wages to better compete with other employers. There are multiple sources of labor market information to help a company benchmark wage offerings against its competitors.
  • Provide free food, nuts, coffee, yogurt, etc. A weekly ‘Costco run’ can go a long way to show the team that the management appreciates their effort.
  • Establish a baseball team, a community garden, and other authentic, team-building activities.
  • Get the shopfloor staff more involved in the expansion of the team by having them participate in the candidate interviewing and screening process.
  • Institute points systems to reduce real and perceived HR bias.

The group also spoke at length as to the importance and challenges of evaluating candidates, looking beyond the resume and considering the outcomes of various assessment tools. The discussion touched on various assessment tools, including Predictive Index (PI, predictiveindex.com), a 5-6 minute cognitive assessment test. PI provides insights into the person’s speed with which they learn, and it offers the hiring manager and HR insights in an individual’s behavioral & communication styles so that these characteristics can be compared against the job description. Along the same lines, attendees also brought up their use of DiSC (www.discprofile.com) and Type Coach (type-coach.com). One of the group emphasized that such tools are valuable, provided each candidate receive the same evaluation, and that HR and upper management acknowledge the challenges of interpreting cognitive ability, which can be biased by the education level of the recipient.


In the lively, two hour session, the group went on to discuss many other topics in the realms of tariffs, automation, and logistics. We encourage all Bay Area manufacturing executives to consider attending AMBayArea CEO Roundtables, to break bread with other leaders and share valuable ideas. Attendees receive a confidential final report of the discussion with detailed notes, key takeaways, and possible next steps. Tours of the host manufacturing facilities are a real treat as well!

AMBayArea connects manufacturers to each other as well as a wide variety of resources and support organizations, which help manufacturers grow their business and improve productivity, quality and profitability .

AMBayArea is grateful to

Manex Consulting for their sponsorship of this CEO Roundtable

and for Varian Medical as its host.