Transitions: paying it forward

Manufacturing leader shares his story about getting into, and out of, the manufactring sector

By Scott Keddie

Well to start this story, it’s best to go back to the beginning.

As a young lad growing up on the Prairies and in northwestern Ontario, I was lucky enough to spend time on farms and doing lots of outdoor activities including snowmobiling starting in the early 1970s. I basically grew up with the sport of snowmobiling as it developed, and I’m still very involved with it to this day. 

When it came time to start choosing a direction in adult life, I went into engineering with the sole purpose of designing new snowmobiles. So, I enrolled in the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Engineering in 1981.

Around my second year, a new program was starting up in the field of Industrial Engineering. I remember sitting through an introductory overview of this program, and I made my choice to take this route based on two things: one, I liked building things, and two, I liked working with people.

I finished up the Industrial Engineering program at the University and started as an industrial engineer in the garment industry here in Winnipeg, which was a fairly large part of the manufacturing sector back then. 

During my career, I’ve had the privilege of working with many great companies and people in Manitoba in a variety of sectors, including recreational vehicles, garment manufacturing, aerospace and defence, and building products – specifically windows and doors, then cabinetry. 

Now almost 40 years after signing up for engineering, I find myself at another crossroads in life, semi-retirement.

My wife, Deidre, and I made an early choice to stay in Manitoba to raise our family. She’s working as a counsellor for the Rural Municipality of Macdonald, and I wanted to slow down – but not completely stop working – after being General Manager of a large manufacturing operation.

We thought starting up a consulting firm would be a good option. So, in January 2020 Keddie Performance Consulting was incorporated. Now, it’s the time to do the ‘fun’ work that I want to do!

Throughout my career, I have had the benefit of having great leaders and mentors to guide me along my path. As I gained more experience, I tried to provide the same for others.

The situations that you come across in business are rarely taught in school, so having someone to share their learnings and experiences with you can be invaluable.

One thing I realized early was to never miss a chance to learn something from anybody or anywhere. 

Years ago, I was on an Oliver Wight manufacturing resource planning (MRP) course in California, where I befriended a gentleman who had been a teacher
and then had been asked to run a small manufacturing firm and accepted the challenge.

He knew that he did not have a lot of knowledge in manufacturing, but he used his teaching background to break things into three buckets: the “3 P’s” of people, process, and product/service. I thought this to be pretty astute and have been “borrowing” his perspective for quite some time now. Every time I started a new role with a new firm, I used the 3 Ps to take inventory of the situation to begin developing the path forward.

Another key learning came while being on a course at Queen’s University in Kingston, and the chap I sat with
was leading the Major Crimes unit of the RCMP out of Halifax and had been in charge of the investigation of the crash of SwissAir flight 111 off Peggy’s Cove. Andy shared many stories about that experience, but my key takeaway was when faced with making a decision in unfamiliar territory, always do
the right thing or take the high road, never compromise.

I find myself being very energized about going in and helping out other businesses and their teams going forward.
I get to take all the knowledge, expertise, and experience that I’ve collected, and pay it forward by sharing it with others who don’t have to make the same mistakes or face the same challenges I faced earlier in my career.

The most rewarding moments of my career have been developing and leading teams, so if sharing some of the learnings I’ve had with other businesses that are growing or stepping out into new ventures, then this next chapter of my life has the potential to be a lot of fun.

I was on the board of CME Manitoba for 15 years, and I learned there are a lot of great companies out there and really enjoyed meeting and working with them.

The areas that I believe companies can benefit from outside eyes are strategic planning, organizational assessment and development, and really looking hard at your specific market sector outlook and what steps you need to take your product, service, or value proposition to stay competitive for the long term.

Another good step for companies is process management and control, for which the needs will vary based on the complexity of the business model. The speed of change and advancement of technology is certainly not going to slow down anytime soon, so we need to be on our ‘A games’ to protect and grow our manufacturing base here in Western Canada.

Going forward later this year I plan on doing some more work with CME Manitoba and other manufacturing firms, with whom I’ve been in many positive and promising conversations.

Going down this road at this point in my life feels right. I’ll be able to keep my foot in the manufacturing arena while still having more time for my family, my grandchildren, and my friends. Who knows, there might even be time for some vintage snowmobile racing, which is how it all got started in the first place. 

Scott Keddie is living the high-life of the semi-retired manufacturing executive. He is now President of KPC Inc, a Manitoba-based business consulting firm specializing in the manufacturing sector.