Apr 20, 2017
Manufacturing Makers and Shakers, Michael Marks -Indian River Consulting Group

Mike Marks – Indian River Consulting Group

“Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” Michael Marks uses this quote from Beatles singer-songwriter John Lennon to explain how he ended up creating his own firm, the Indian River Consulting Group.

“I actually was going to semi-retire at the beginning of 1987 as I had been very lucky in my career,” said Mike.  “My plan was to be a college professor at the Florida Institute of Technology.”  

Then life happened. In a divorce, he ended up with full custody of a six-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy as a single parent. So instead of “buying a tweed jacket with patches,” Mike made the decision to partner with a past business connection, Roger Gabriel, and form the Indian River Consulting Group. Today he serves on the Board of the Business School at the Florida Institute of Technology.

“Our first office was in a complex that used to be the town hospital where [Roger’s] son was born many years earlier,” said Mike.

Through the years, Mike had been developing business experience and deep knowledge of B2B channel-driven markets in the construction, industrial, OEM, agriculture and healthcare industries. Today, Mike’s expert team counsels manufacturers, dealers and distributors about how to improve their market access. He also serves on many boards including as the chair of Hisco’s board of directors.

Before all of that, however, Mike was lucky enough to benefit from several mentors.

Just one of Mike’s many outside and continuing interests–sports-car racing and instructing.

At an early age, high-performance cars were a part of Mike’s life. His Dad encouraged the interest. Mike tried sports-car racing, and the interest has continued throughout his life. He still races and instructs racers with SCCA National Competition and PCA Licenses.

 “I was basically forged as a young kid and throughout my early career,” said Mike. “Working for a bunch of mentors who just demanded all kinds of things out of me that I didn’t know I could do. You may not like working for a mentor because they do provoke excellence and they’re very challenging.”

One of his mentors was a VP of Systems Engineering for a defense contractor who taught him how to think outside the box and how to “speak to power.” Another was a brilliant HR executive in organizational development who taught him how to use models and create change in large organizations. His most famous mentor was Peter Drucker (recognized as the father of modern management), who served as Mike’s faculty adviser while he attended Claremont Graduate School. “Dr. Drucker taught me how to ask questions,” said Mike.

Mike worked his way into progressively higher positions coming up through sales and eventually to general management in a distribution business. He also gained experience with a short stint in human resources and business development doing acquisitions.  Like others, Mike has seen manufacturing metamorphosize into something vastly different when compared to the past.

“To be able to add value in the market, manufacturers used to have to do everything,” said Mike. “They owned the plant, had access to energy, capital, people and even delivered the goods. They put it all together and competed with people who did exactly the same thing as they did.”

Due to global sourcing, however, today’s customers have many more choices and buying options.

“They’re not making things anymore,” said Mike. “All major manufacturers are globally sourcing, buying from other people who are specialists. The new success model for manufacturing is to do what you do best and outsource the rest.”

The business model to add value is changing as are the ways customers choose to buy. Tomorrow’s success will be about doing new things with innovation and marketing, not just doing the same things better with lean and six-sigma.

“Today, manufacturers can’t just go to the edge; they need to go beyond the edge,” said Mike. “There’s something called the first-mover advantage that often creates growth in shareholder value. The industry has shifted from making products to using products to creating a service revenue stream— the aftermarket revenue stream. This is what the Internet of Things (IOT) is all about. Give the customer the product for free and charge them for using the product or managing their information.”

What about the often-stated belief that manufacturing is disappearing? Mike disagrees.

“It has the highest output ever,” said Mike. “It’s not in decline at all—it’s robust and it’s growing.  With productivity advances the output is created with fewer workers and those jobs will never come back, just like coal mining.”

He does, however see the challenges facing manufacturers due to the lack of qualified workers available to fill the new technology-driven positions being created because of robotics and 3D printing.  

“Manufacturers can’t solve the shortage problem alone by training from within,” said Mike. “The education system is not changing and adapting; it’s still developing loyal factory workers for the 1950s. The economics today often make it cheaper to bring in a trained person from overseas.”

What’s Mike’s biggest challenge these days? Time management.

“I wake up and there are so many things that interest me,” said Mike. “I have terminal curiosity. I love sharing what I’ve discovered with other people.”

To that point, Mike’s also a permanent faculty member with Purdue’s University of Innovative Distribution, has served several terms as a Research Fellow with the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors and spent years as a Graduate Adjunct Professor for Texas A&M’s Industrial Distribution Program.

Mike stays close to his roots and continues to race sports cars and attend at least one executive development program each year. When he attends a Hisco board meeting as the Chairman, it always involves a visit to his daughter and his two granddaughters. Emma is 3 and Megan is 2.

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