Meet John Mannarino, Vanguard’s latest Game Changer. John is the President of Mannarino Systems & Software Inc. About 18 years ago, he started out in the defence industry as a control system engineer at a gas turbine engine OEM in Montreal.

His first seven years were spent in engineering including design, analysis, modeling, testing & certification.  “This was great technical training. I enjoyed the work quite a bit,” he said. But there was something else that John wanted to try. He decided to start consulting for a US-based company developing aerospace controls systems. “After a couple of years of proving myself, opportunities developed to handle larger projects and I took them on. I eventually expanded the company to multiple customers and started branching out to include other engineering services.”

Here is the full interview:

What is your role in your company today?

It is the same as when I first started – President & CFO. However, my role these days is really twofold: to plan for the future, which includes making required changes within the organization, and to play “traffic cop” to ensure the smooth running of the company

What was your worst moment?

It was seven years in, having only one customer and 30 employees, and realizing that my customer was not able to sustain the same level of business for my company as they had in past years. I got busy trying to figure out a path forward. We visited a bunch of new potential customers and gave them our best pitch. We were starting to think about a Plan B, namely what other businesses we could start in case we couldn’t drum up new customers. We stop pursuing Plan B when the phone started ringing.

What was your aha moment or epiphany that you think will resonate most with our reader, tell us that story?

There have been a few. I’ll tell you about the first significant one. After a few years working for my first customer and successfully delivering a few projects, they asked me (a mechanical engineer by training by the way) to develop an airborne Operating System (OS) software. I turned them down – twice – thinking how the heck is a mechanical engineer going to develop an OS. The third time they asked, I said yes! I told myself, “I know exactly what this software needs to do at any given moment. All I need is some good software engineers to help me get this done”.

Our first OS program was highly successful. We were just about on budget and the quality was excellent – the software did what it was supposed to do at all times. The moral of this little story is: listen to the market demands and figure out a plan that makes sense …. always!

Step back and analyze your journey, what is the takeaway you want to give to our audience?

Again there are many takeaways. Business (and life for that matter) is not just about one catchphrase which will answer all of your questions and problems. I’ll summarize my business cumulative takeaways as follows:
– to be successful you will most probably have to work quite hard – be ready for this
– be ready to learn and change – you will need to figure out the truth, set aside your emotions and do the right thing
– hire the best people you can find
– do something you really like – you need to feel good about your business

What is the one thing that has you most fired up today?

We recently received the largest IRB/ITB investment ever made in Canada from our long-time offset partner Lockheed Martin Aerospace. These investment dollars will allow us to transform the company to become a provider of our own proprietary software products. These software products will be complimentary to the engineering services we have been providing since our inception. This is really a transformational change and has brought a new vision and life into the company.

What is the best advice you received?

It’s quite funny actually, in its simplicity, “Be happy, you deserve to be happy”.

What is a habit that contributes to your success?

There are probably a few:
– Respect for everyone – employees, customers, suppliers … everyone.
– Hard work – this was kind of engrained into me with my upbringing. It’s got it upsides but can easily be overdone.
– Rationalizing issues – this kind of comes naturally to me which sure helps because at times emotions can drive bad decisions (I’ve made a few of those).

What people or organizations do you believe best embody the innovation mindset?

I don’t really follow any organizations or personalities closely enough to put them in this type of category. I try to identify positive or admirable qualities in the people that I deal with on a day-to-day basis and identify what qualities of theirs I can learn from. I have seen innovation (both personal and business-oriented) in many people that I deal with including customers, suppliers, employees and most of all a few really good friends.

How is your company changing the game within your industry sector?

We are an SME with attributes, capabilities, accreditations and skilled personnel that match and or exceed that of our much larger customers. Combined with an entrepreneurial and continuous improvement culture, we intend to become a supplier of choice in the service and product markets we serve. Also, our environment is unique with a focus on high quality, professionalism, respect for all and allowing employees to find a balance between their work and home and personal lives. It’s an awesome formula.

What are some of the biggest impediments to innovation in your company or industry sector?

I’ll answer this from an industry segment perspective. I see three main factors:

1) The certification process. This process makes it more difficult and time-consuming to innovate. However, the process is absolutely necessary so one just has to think harder to make it happen.
2) Intellectual Property (IP) protection impacts true partnering relationships and the efficient exploitation and commercialization of IP.
3) Supply Chain management and consolidation often by nature prohibits the exercise of innovation that often comes from small businesses.

What are the biggest impediments to innovation in today’s enterprise?

Generally, for larger organizations, the resistance to change and the many motivations that promote the status quo (protectionism, short-term profitability, etc.)

How has innovation become engrained in your organization’s culture and how is it being optimized?

Customer satisfaction processes and indices are integral to everything we do at MANNARINO. We benchmark what our customers do that is best-in-class and adapt our policies, procedures, and processes accordingly while striving for improvement with each new mandate we receive.

In addition, we have had some recent major accomplishments in the past year (like our DAO and the Lockheed Martin offset award) which have changed our mindset from a day-to-day service provider to a more open-minded, broader approach to one of “what else can we do and do well.”

What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?

We see the level of transparency becoming increasingly important to how we do business in order to foster efficiencies and opportunities across the value chain and effectively reduce project costs and risks. Transparency also allows for a heightened level of trust and accountability not only with our customers but also with our employees.

What is your parting piece of advice?

Do what is in you to do. Push yourself to accomplish more and don’t just settle for the status quo. We are fortunate to live where we do and have a world of opportunities available to us – go do it and be happy.