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By Brian Martucci

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A Day in the Life

A Day in the Life


What do manufacturing CEOs actually do all day?

Contrary to popular belief, they don’t stand akimbo in skybox-like offices with panoramic production floor views, cackling softly as their underlings toil. In fact, they’re more likely to be on the floor themselves.

To learn more, we spoke with the CEOs of two Best in Class 2016 Manufacturing Awards winners: Jaime Harris of Hydra-Flex and Vicki Holt of Proto Labs. We came away with a better understanding of their daily activities — and newfound respect for Minnesota manufacturing.


Jaime Harris, Hydra-Flex

Jaime Harris founded Hydra-Flex in 2002. For five years after that, “It was basically me, my cofounder and a beer fridge.”

Those were the days. Today, Hydra-Flex employs 40-odd machinists, managers and clerical professionals. “As the business has evolved, I’ve evolved with it,” says Harris.

Though no two days are ever alike, Harris’s day-to-day schedule does include some well-worn patterns:

Standing meetings: Harris runs several “standing meetings” throughout the week, including the mandatory, all-hands staff meeting on Wednesday mornings. “These meetings are opportunities to communicate shared goals, to allow employees to speak up, and to detect friction before it becomes a problem,” says Harris. There’s also a monthly meeting where the leadership shares financial and operational details in a “very transparent” fashion.

Walking the floor: Much of Harris’s day simply involves walking the floor and interacting with every floor employee for 10 or 15 minutes.

Polling and coaching employees: Harris is focusing on building a strong, consistent company culture. He devotes time each day to soliciting honest feedback from employees — “what they’re excited about, what they need to succeed” — and coaching employees to uphold the company’s goals and values.

Devising and communicating new processes: As Hydra-Flex grows, Harris is less focused on implementation and execution than on tactics, strategy and communication. Most days, he works on improving processes that benefit operations, product lines and market verticals, and “articulating what our products do for the applications we serve.”

Other important duties are periodic, but not part of Harris’ day-to-day routine.

Visiting major accounts and sales territories: Harris tries to meet each year with his major customers — whether that means hosting, visiting or meeting in the middle at trade shows.

Hiring: The top goal this year is improving recruiting and retention: “getting the right people on board the first time; we won’t have the luxury to make mistakes in the future.”

Planning and visioning: The beer fridge is no more. “We’re at the stage as a company where I’m not the answer to everything,” says Harris. “I continue to fill a visionary role for longer-term questions, but beyond that, I need to get the hell out of the way and let our amazing team do its work."


Vicki Holt, Proto Labs

Vicki Holt didn’t start Proto Labs from scratch, but she’s been competently steering the ship — with nearly 2,000 hands in at least six distinct locations — for three years straight.

Proto Labs, a contract manufacturer that fabricates high-tech prototypes and short production runs for a wide variety of clients, is much larger and more operationally diverse than Hydra-Flex. It’s also publicly traded, meaning Holt has to devote some energy to investor relations. While, like Harris, she avoids the “typical day” trap, she makes time every day for:

Self-care: On a normal day, she’s up by 4:30 a.m. The early morning is reserved for exercise, either at home or at the first gym class of the day. “I’ve converted my night-owl husband into a morning person,” she says.

Engaging with direct reports: Much of Holt’s time involves checking in with her direct reports — other members of the C-suite and senior VPs. This helps her keep up with the big picture, which can change rapidly in the digital manufacturing business.

Checking in with project teams: Something is always happening at Proto Labs. Though Holt can’t be quite as hands-on as Harris, she consults with project teams at major milestones and on an as-needed basis.

Walking the floor: Like Harris, Holt spends much of her day walking around Proto Lab’s facilities — mostly at the company’s Maple Plain headquarters, and to a lesser extent at its nearby Plymouth plant.

Like Harris, Holt has lots of other duties that demand her time on a more occasional, but nonetheless recurring, basis. At various intervals throughout the year, she’s expected to:

Travel throughout Proto Labs’ domain: Holt spends most of her time in Maple Plain, but she’s not a homebody. She gets down to Plymouth two to three times per week and hits the Rosemount plant at least once a month. Farther-flung locales get attention, too: She visits facilities in North Carolina and England once per quarter, and gets to Proto Labs’ Tokyo plant twice per year. These movements are designed to keep Holt in touch with her “awesome leadership team without interfering with [its members’] time, which is immensely valuable.”

Meet with customers, candidates, investors, and directors: Holt hosts Proto Labs clients in Maple Plain almost every week — a relatively new, widely liked practice. She also personally interviews finalists for key roles: last fall, for instance, she spent hours speaking with chief revenue officer candidates. As the leader of a publicly traded company, she also has to meet and maintain contact with the board of directors, finance experts and institutional investors.

Plan for the future: Holt estimates that 20% of her time is devoted to “strategic and logistical” matters, including long-term visioning and planning. Like clockwork, she sits down with her assistant in January and figures out where she’s going to be, and when, during the next 12 months.

Headquarters: Eagan
Inception: 2002
Leadership: Jaime Harris, Founder and CEO
Employees: ~40
Revenue: $12 million +
Description: Manufactures high-performance chemical injectors and dispensing systems.

Proto Labs
Headquarters: Maple Plain
Inception: 1999
Leadership: Vicki Holt, CEO
Employees: ~1,000
Revenue: $200 million (2014)
Description: Manufactures customized injection-molded, CNC-machined and 3D-printed parts for prototypes and short-run production. Web: