Teach To Learn Reliability

Michelle Segrest | January 13, 2017

Reliability expert focuses on multiplying excellence through teaching, training, learning, and developing leaders.

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 2.51.13 PMThrough 20 years of experience in reliability and maintenance, one ideal has remained at the forefront for Joe Anderson. “I want to be remembered as someone who cares about people,” the reliability manager for The Schwan Food Company’s global supply chain said. “Becoming an effective leader is the ultimate story of my life.”

The reward comes when he sees someone he has mentored experience success, he said. “It’s phenomenal to see someone I have coached reach their goals. I like it even more when it happens for them than when it happens for me. I knew they could do it, and when they finally see it within themselves…it’s just the greatest feeling, especially when I see that they have improved on the systems that we put in place together.”

Anderson is considered a “fixer” in the industry. Throughout his career, organizations have hired him to create, implement, and drive new programs designed to improve reliability. He most recently drove programs at Smuckers, before beginning his newest venture with Schwan’s Salina, KS, facility. Schwan is a manufacturer of more than 40 food lines. 

Anderson was hired as Schwan’s reliability manager less than a year ago with the primary task of developing a reliability-engineering program that is geared toward maintenance engineering. “I’m more of a turnaround guy,” the 38-year-old father of two said. “Once I get a department in compliance, I hand it off and go.” This is why developing leaders has become so important to Anderson.

Leadership development

Anderson said that the biggest challenge he faces when developing a new program for a company is dealing with culture change. “I try to get people to see that there is a whole other world of manufacturing besides the reactionary system,” he explained. “I try to get quick wins to establish buy-in. This helps to get more people on your side. Training and investment in people drives significant changes that are needed in order to see a turnaround. I spend a lot of time working with people, developing people, and trying to get them to execute on what I teach. This is what I do all day, everyday.”

Anderson said he has matured into more of a mentor than a coach. “I really strive to develop my credibility first rather than coming in and acting like I know everything,” he said. “Showing people that you care about them and their success is motivating to them. I don’t have to go and find what triggers them to do things. If they know I care about them and respect them, they are willing to do anything that is needed. That’s my goal—to get everyone to understand that I do care for them and their success and want to see them do better. I try to help them remove the obstacles that they normally perceive. Sometimes the obstacles are just perception.”

Anderson’s style did not happen accidentally. He learned about developing leaders from his mentor, consultant John Ambrose.

“There is such a lack of investment in people today. It’s something that shouldn’t exist, but it does,” he said. “John taught me that if you can learn to care about people and invest in them, you will be successful. All the leadership gurus will tell you that if you help enough people get what they want, you will get what you want.”


Anderson has worked in maintenance and reliability in the food industry since he was 18 years old. His first job was with a beef-packing plant in Holcomb, KS. He worked with the wastewater and groundskeeping systems and, as a result, began to develop some expertise in lubrication. He eventually moved into refrigeration maintenance and worked closely with ammonia systems.

“As a green 18-year-old, you learn quickly that you don’t really know anything,” he said. “So I focused on really studying and trying to understand the system. I did that for a year, then transferred to floor maintenance.”

This is where he began to work closely developing people and discovered that this would be his lifelong passion.

“I love providing solutions to problems, and in this field, it is a daily thing,” he said. “I started in maintenance and, through growth and evolution, I realized that reliability is a major piece. [It] encompasses an entire organization whereas maintenance is one specific piece of that.”

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Maintenance and reliability philosophy

Every location is different, Anderson stated, and the ultimate goal is to get each organization to a proactive best-practice level. He accomplishes this by introducing assessment tools to understand where the gaps lie.

“The gaps affect the strategy moving forward,” he explained. “Here at Schwan, a lot of it is just a basic skills gap, so we are spending a lot of time developing basic skills and getting people to understand what a proactive life looks like, versus their current reactive state. At some locations, for example at Smuckers, we had a very technical staff, so didn’t have to spend time on that, and we focused on other things.”

Anderson has developed a unique philosophy, which he often teaches to the organizations that hire him to drive change. “Many people will tell you to fix the PM program and try to launch PdM,” he stated. “I believe that PdM drives culture change when people see the value. For example, I can improve a PM on a gearbox for a mixer, but that isn’t going to help me to detect the condition of its current state. The mixer may have a $40,000 gearbox with a four-month lead time. If it fails, I’m down for four months. So fixing the PMs is not going to do anything for me.

“Instead, if I perform an oil analysis to understand the condition of the equipment, it can be a very simple win. When you understand the condition, you reduce the risk. When people see that, they start to understand.”

Best practices must be developed over time. “When you are a turnaround guy, you can’t just walk in and implement a best practice,” Anderson continued. “You have to develop the people and get them executing at a certain level. An example is precision lubrication versus the old-school method of just ‘pump it till the grease comes out.’ If they don’t understand precision lubrication, you can’t walk in and say this is a best practice. Maybe you don’t have the equipment or the training. To me, best practice is a state that you get to…it’s not necessarily something that you act on every day.”

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Maintenance as a profit center

Anderson has been a regular presenter at conferences and webinars. While his talks cover several topics, he focuses on how to identify maintenance as a profit center.

“It’s hard to believe, but 99.99% of manufacturing companies are not world class” he said. “There are 230,000 manufacturing facilities in the United States that employ more than 100 people. If you put a group in a room and asked them to name a world-class company, people could identify maybe 20 or 30 of them. This is because maintenance managers in general are promoted, glorified mechanics. They do their job well and get promoted, just like I did… through the school of hard knocks.” But, according to Anderson, they don’t necessarily understand the business side or how to show the value.

Anderson said that if you ask the CEOs at most of these facilities about the impact of maintenance, they will say that it is a cost center.

“Technically, they are using ‘cost center’ as an accounting term,” he said. “But if this is your philosophy, to me you are missing out on lots of money and lots of opportunities. One thing I do is teach maintenance managers the business side. I help them to understand how what they do in their daily activities can affect the bottom line. I show them how to reduce risk and convert that to a dollar amount to capture the cost savings. This is something that they are probably generating anyway, but they are not getting credit for the work they are doing. On the flip side, I also teach upper-level executives and operations guys the value of maintenance. I see this as a big gap, so I have focused on this.”

After almost two decades in reliability and maintenance, it was less than two years ago that Anderson decided to get his business degree. “I’ve taught myself the business side,” he said. “When I went back to school later in life to get a degree, I decided to get a degree in business rather than engineering. Years ago, when I left the beef-packing company, I went to work for a bakery. My maintenance experience at the beef-packing plant was very minimal, but I was really good at it. But I thought I was better than I was. I got into a smaller facility where I owned the storeroom. Now I had [responsibility for] electrical, facilities, and all these things where the beef plant was so big everything was departmentalized. I realized I had to lead these guys who had to be multi-talented and multi-crafted. This is when I realized I cannot be an effective leader if I can’t train and develop my guys. So, as I was learning the technical skills, I realized I can’t justify a lot of the things I’m doing because I don’t understand the business myself.”

The need to understand the business became even more apparent when he began trying to sell upper management on reliability programs and maintenance upgrades.

“I kept getting told no because I wasn’t bringing anything to the table,” he realized. “You can’t just walk in and say I need $50,000 to buy something. I was getting told no because I was not giving them a reason to say yes. Now that I understand how the business works, I can convert the language to what I know in maintenance.”

People retain 90% of what they teach and only 10% of what they hear when listening to someone teach. Because of this, he tries to reinforce his teachings by training others to teach. “We all retain things differently,” he said. “When I develop people, my goal in the end is getting them to teach me what I taught them. I live by the adage that if you don’t know something well enough to teach it, then you don’t know it at all. My goal is to explain things in a way that people can understand. When I’m developing other leaders I want them to do the same so we can multiply ourselves. I don’t want followers. I want other leaders.”



Michelle Segrest

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