Fifty years ago, Ben Whitney’s father and grandfather started a small tool and die company named Armo-Tool with a focus on the automotive industry. The company grew at a steady pace and its building had to be expanded every five years. Growing up in such surroundings, Ben had the ambition to one day work in his family business. He eventually joined the company in 2000, shortly after finishing his engineering degree from the University of Toronto.
“I had the good fortune to work in many different positions including mechanical design and PLC programming before eventually taking a leadership role in 2008,” said Whitney. Today, Ben is the President of Armo and Abuma.
Ben Whitney was selected as a Vanguard Game Changer for the October/November 2019 issue. Here is the interview with him.
What is your role in your organization?
As President of Armo and Abuma, I am responsible for the vision of our companies to keep us as successful in the future as we are today. By engaging our 180 team members, we bring maximum value for our customers. Working closely with customers, we create terrific opportunities for our team members to grow their careers and support their families.
What was your most challenging moment?
Getting familiar with the needs and structure of the defence industry has been a challenge. By leveraging the precision machining, design and integration experience in our organization we are improving results for customers. At the same time, we learned to manage traceability and record-keeping that wasn’t required to design and build machinery. I have also had the fun challenge of building a network in an entirely new industry. Fortunately, the industry has been very welcoming and receptive to the value proposition that we bring.
What was your “aha” moment or epiphany that you think will resonate most with our reader? Tell us that story.
We all know the sales cycle in the defence industry tends to be quite long. This can make it hard to impress potential customers and move relationships forward. At a trade show, I met a company that had a problem with 50 obsolete assemblies that were needed for a contract. These assemblies had been built to old engineering revision levels, had been damaged in field trials, and needed to be refurbished and leak tested. The assemblies were also relatively large, so space was an issue. Abuma took delivery of all the assemblies, assessed, repaired and quality tested them. Solving this headache provided the means for us to get recognized and gave us access to more opportunities.
What is the one thing that has you most fired up today?
Bringing more talented young people into manufacturing is my passion. I take every opportunity to introduce students and parents to the exciting opportunities in modern manufacturing. I am especially passionate about the opportunity of Ontario’s Take Our Kids to Work Day program. Not enough companies use this day as a natural bridge to their workforce of tomorrow. It is far too easy to let students play on their phones in a conference room rather than engaging them.
What is the best advice you received?
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States.
What is a habit that contributes to your success?
I often focus on the parts of our organization that I want to improve and chart the course ahead. I now make a habit of taking a little time each day to have gratitude for the progress and good things that are happening in my life, both at work and at home. We all need to acknowledge and enjoy the obstacles we have overcome in order to have the energy and enthusiasm to meet the challenges that are still in front of us.
How is your organization changing the game within your industry sector?
In 1969, my father George and grandfather Ross started Armo-Tool. Despite the defence sounding name they were focused on automation and tooling for the automotive industry. In 2017, Armo acquired Abuma Manufacturing, which is also located in London, Ontario. Abuma has 20 years of experience in solutions for the defence industry. We have spent the last two years learning to leverage the design for manufacturing, machining, integration and automation skillsets from Armo with the high-quality fabrication and defence experience of Abuma. Now we offer prototyping and production of parts and assemblies with attention to detail and creative manufacturing ideas. The two teams are working together smoothly, and I am excited about the larger opportunities that customers are trusting us with.
What people or organizations do you believe best embody the innovation mindset?
For many years Armo and Abuma have supported local high school teams in an international robotics competition called FIRST. The students are called upon to build a robot from scratch each year to meet a new set of challenges. Watching these young people learn about manufacturing, wiring, programming, fundraising, project management, and team building has been inspirational. Going to one of the competitions and seeing over 50 teams, each with a different approach to solving the problem, is a great lesson in innovation. It also reminds me of the enormous potential of even our least experienced team members. Please go online and check out this amazing organization!
How has innovation become engrained in your organization’s culture, and how is it being optimized?
As a low volume manufacturer, we are constantly starting new projects. This allows us to innovate every day. The challenge is to see the similarities between projects, so we improve processes and embed systemic improvements.
What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?
Two years is a relatively short window, but we see a push for lighter, stronger assemblies. This is pushing new materials into the supply base. With the experience we have had in light-weighting coming from the automotive industry, we are well-positioned to support this trend, whether it is new grades of steel or aluminum or more exotic metals like titanium.
What is your parting piece of advice?
What got you here may not get you there. Keep learning, and support your team members to do likewise. Foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement. Even learning things not directly related to our careers helps us develop new perspectives and communication skills.