As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard White, Chief Executive Officer at Capture 3D, Inc., the leading provider of innovative 3D measurement solutions and official U.S. partner for GOM GmbH/ZEISS. He co-founded Capture 3D in 1997 and has since devoted his career to advancing some of the most influential manufacturing companies into the digital age. Through his vision and leadership, he is credited with contributing to the Industry 4.0 revolution in the U.S., effectively modernizing engineering practices by introducing Smart Manufacturing technologies. Attracting a team with a mutual passion for transforming legacy processes and improving the future of manufacturing technology, he led the organization’s growth from a few people to a workforce nearly 100 employees strong. With tenacity and grit, his leadership reflects the resilience of the American manufacturing sector, navigating the company through any challenge while still retaining industry-leading customers like Ford, Pratt & Whitney, and Howmet and helping iconic start-up companies thrive.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve always had an interest in technology and business. Years after my father retired from the Air Force, he started his own business. I saw the incredible hard work he put into making it successful, but also the personalization, pride and satisfaction that came with building a business. After graduating from Colorado State University, I spent time working for some large, medium and small corporations. I gained tremendous experience in doing so. Through the years, I had a growing sense to build something different than what I was experiencing in the corporate world, something that prioritizes customers, team members, the company’s health and business partners for the long term.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
In 1997, our first company office was my dining room, which had a thick, plush carpet. After a frustrating day of error messages, I learned that trying to operate precision measurement equipment on constantly shifting flooring would not provide accurate results. A quick trip to the hardware store to pick up a 4’ x 8’ sheet of plywood created a temporary, stable platform until some early customer successes warranted renting actual office space. There were actually lots of little mistakes along the way, but luckily nothing very major. The important thing was not to get disheartened by the mistake, learn from it, and always improve your approach.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
A gentleman named Ernst Mueller was our original main contact with our major supplier in Germany. His dedication and commitment to our success and that of our joint customers was inspirational and a great model for what is most important in building strong partnerships. It really didn’t matter what the time was; he would answer the phone when I called to help troubleshoot technical and business issues. As I was finding and building customer relationships in the U.S., Ernst was finding and building partner relationships around the globe. While the technology showed good promise, it was quite crude compared to what we have today, so I would have frequent technical problems, and Ernst would always make himself available to help.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
When my partner Johan Gout and I first started the company, it was to introduce this new German 3D measurement technology into the North American market. At the time, there was only one direct competitor in this niche, and we knew this would be ground-breaking technology that would change the future of product development and manufacturing. Our purpose of changing the way people think about and experience measurement continues to be the driving factor of our company’s success, and we still envision our technology in every area that develops, engineers, and manufacturers products.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
The uncertain time we’re living in creates anxiety for everyone. To navigate these times, we need to build confidence by developing a plan that shows our way through the crisis. That plan must be both understandable and achievable. We started by reviewing our business model and forecast to understand why the business we were working on would be postponed — but could not simply go away.
Next, we needed to understand why we could weather the slowdown, which involved discussing our financial strength and reviewing how we previously navigated through tough economic times back in 2008–2009. This is a bump in the road for us, and our commitment to our team, our customers, and suppliers dictates that we must be prepared to weather difficult financial times without reducing our commitments to each. Therefore, we were prepared. Sharing and explaining this was important for us.
Obviously, we still needed to make changes to address the changing work conditions and lockdowns around the country. Our entire team was involved in developing plans on how to contribute, be productive, and continue to service our customers. Each of our teams worked with management to present their plan to the entire company. By incorporating everyone’s input and buy-in into the process and promoting and sharing ideas across departments, we maintained a focus on succeeding as a team. We quickly implemented new technologies, processes and services that meet the needs of both our customers and our teams. Virtually all of these new ideas will continue to be used in the future to provide higher quality, more efficient services.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
While all the bad news coming in this past year was daunting, giving up never crossed our minds. Motivation is everywhere; it comes from within when facing a new challenge, it comes from our team when we see them rise to new challenges, and it comes from inspirational stories of others and how they’ve managed through difficult times. You only have to look for motivation, and you will find it.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Demonstrate confidence, present a plan, be as transparent as possible, and remind everyone that our collective strength makes that plan achievable. Your team wants to know that there is a plan to get through uncertain times. We reminded our team that we went through tough economic times in the past, and, though there will be struggles, we are prepared to do it again. When faced with challenges, making your entire team part of the solution makes them determined to contribute to and achieve the overall goal.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
In my experience, involving our team in the problem-solving process gets and keeps them engaged. By listening to and encouraging their ideas, they become inspired to make them succeed. This naturally boosts everyone’s morale because we’re all committed to common goals that were not dictated — but developed together.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Be honest, clear, precise, and provide detail on the next steps.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
You must always keep the mission, vision, and purpose in mind. Consider how these can be met in the new climate. Plans must always be flexible to meet your goals in changing market conditions. Some of the plans we made were short-lived, and we learned and moved on to the next plan. It’s important to move to the next plan quickly and with a positive attitude. Yes, the future is unpredictable, but it has always been, so this is not new.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Bring people together. Be in front of your team, share information, and answer questions. If you don’t have the answers, that’s okay, but clear, honest conversation is key. During turbulent times, it’s important to continually communicate and interact with team members. Positive energy and motivation are just as contagious as fear and apathy, so lead by example.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Every business faces its own challenges unique to its industry and dynamics. For us, being financially conservative, continuing to re-invest in our future, and avoiding extravagances has helped us to be prepared for and survive fiscal downturns.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
In normal times our team was meeting with our customers and potential customers on a regular basis. Facetime helps to create a strong understanding of the benefits that our products and services can bring to our clients. During this unusual climate brought on by the pandemic, we no longer had these face to face meetings. We had to find a way to replace customer visits and industry tradeshows. We’re now performing virtual demonstrations, hosting educational videos over the web, getting better use from remote diagnostic tools to support our customers, and providing more online chat opportunities to answer customer queries. All of this required investment in retraining, phone technologies, and network infrastructure, but it all paid off. Now there are more ways to communicate with our team than ever before, and we are much more efficient and flexible to meet our industry’s needs.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Bring people together
This year deepened a growing divide within society and our communities. When employees report to work, they just don’t drop their feelings and emotions before starting their projects. What happens outside of the workplace impacts our employees, whether we like to admit it or not. So, as a leader, it’s important to be empathetic and understanding. Mentor and coach the people around you to make them feel supported and part of the greater purpose.
2. Be an influencer for motivation
It almost feels like our growth happened overnight. We grew from a 30-person company to a workforce 100 employees strong, and, consequently, new processes, departments, and positions had to be developed concurrently. One of the things I learned from growing so quickly is to lead by motivation and empower the right team members to help lead the company in the right direction.
3. Be clear in your communication
We live in a digital world in which we communicate through a variety of platforms at rapid speeds, so it’s good practice to clearly write out an important message you need to be received. Use strong examples and context so people can connect to your message and have a deeper understanding.
Phone or video calls are also essential because a lot can be misinterpreted by an email or instant message. There have been times when I questioned if the message I delivered was clear to certain team members because everyone hears and learns differently. As a resulting strategy, I ask those team members to summarize what I communicated. It’s also been an excellent way for me to learn how to be a more effective communicator. Delivery is just as crucial as comprehension, and that’s something we can all improve.
4. Be creative.
In the dynamic world of business, creativity is essential to devising effective ideas and strategies. When we first learned about the pandemic, we quickly shifted our marketing and sales approach. We learned that evaluating the past allows you to understand what has and has not been successful and visualize where you want to be in the future. Be agile, learn to transform existing strategies and be open for refinement.
5. Have a plan and act on it.
Lastly, have a plan and act on it. I think we’ve all heard that an idea is just an idea until it is acted upon. Bring together your leadership team, share and explain the vision, and then create processes and measures to act on the plan to deliver results. To be a leader, you need to direct your team to the goal, which means helping them reach the finish line.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This quote has been my favorite this year. The uncertainty around the pandemic compelled me to share it with our team because it conveys the right perspective for approaching turbulent times like these:
“When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening. That’s where your power is!”
How can our readers further follow your work?
We publish company news and updates on our website www.capture3d.com and on our social media platforms.