BUSINESS FORUM: Keep on growing

I was flattered when Conard Holton asked me to give the keynote at the Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar at Photonics West. Given that the meeting was to be attended by 125 company executives, I picked business growth as a topic.

Mar 2nd, 2012
Milton Chang
Milton Chang

This month’s format is a little different than our typical Q&A session.

I was flattered when Conard Holton asked me to give the keynote at the Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar at Photonics West. Given that the meeting was to be attended by 125 company executives, I picked business growth as a topic. I will summarize the first part of the speech here; you can view the entire video at www.laserfocusworld.com.

The first part of the talk centered on how a company could be managed for healthier growth, and the second part was on how we as a group can change the environment in which photonics companies operate. In my introduction, I noted the photonics industry lacks resources because most of the profits derived from photonics technology are made by companies that do not consider themselves as part of the photonics industry. Most of these companies contribute little to the betterment of our industry because we do not provide them with reasons to feel they have a vested interest.

I will cover the first part of the talk in this column and reserve the second part for the next issue. Since I have only a week or so between when this column is published and the next one is due, I urge you to write to me with your thoughts immediately so I can have the benefit of your wisdom. I first made the point that a company must grow, or it will wither over time. It would be deprived of resources to grow because investors would shun the company, and star performers would also leave to seek challenges and growth opportunities elsewhere and leave the company for people who “need a job.”

Conceptually, the inability to grow is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I substantiated this claim by citing a recent Wall Street Journal story (Jan. 13, 2012) about Milliken & Co., a textile company in South Carolina that makes specialty fabrics such as for duct tape. The company was having its best economic performance ever because of its willingness to change. As most of us know, the textile industry has been on the decline for decades with competition coming from all parts of the world. The good news here is the photonics industry has abundantly more opportunity than the textile industry! I am not saying growth is easy, but for sure a company will stop growing if its leadership fails to seize growth opportunities. This usually occurs not because there is a lack of opportunity, but rather because everyone would stop trying, overwhelmed by reasoning out why the company cannot grow. Those who believe opportunities exist and look for them persistently may just find their next strategy.

In my book, Toward Entrepreneurship, I describe ways in which a company can streamline its operation and develop an organizational strategy to position itself for growth, and also how a company can systematically prospect for growth opportunities. In the speech I only covered the organizational aspect and referred the audience to get the rest from my book.

What has proven to work is to create a self-actualized organization based on Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The premise is that everyone wants to self-actualize, “be all that we can be” even though our capabilities, goals, and aspirations are all different. And if the interests of the company and the individual’s need to self-actualize can be aligned, then everyone would feel they were working for themselves and naturally assume the responsibility to grow the business because it is in his or her best interest. Theoretically, then, all the company has to do is to hire capable people with good attitudes and provide them with the environment, resources, training, and guidance, and turn them loose for them to do their best.

How can the company not succeed if everyone would—on their own—take on increasingly more responsibility to grow the business?…to be continued.

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MILTON CHANG of Incubic Management was president of Newport and New Focus. He is currently director of Precision Photonics, mBio, and Aurrion; a trustee of Caltech; a member of the SEC Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies; and serves on advisory boards and mentors entrepreneurs. Chang is a Fellow of IEEE, OSA, and LIA. Direct your business, management, and career questions to him at miltonchang@incubic.com, and check out his book Toward Entrepreneurship at www.miltonchang.com.

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