New Management Team Steps Up
Compass Precision acquired Strom Manufacturing in July 2022. Nine months later, Paul Sonderen became one of the company’s new co-general managers following the retirement of Bill Strom, the firm’s previous owner and President.
A few months after the one-year anniversary of the sale, we re-checked in with Paul to see how things were going at Strom.
How surprised were you about Strom’s sale to Compass?
I kind of had that feeling that Bill was going to sell. Over the years, with just the two of us in the office, we would talk about things, and a lot of our vendors, customers or other machine shops in the area were selling. He said someday that’ll be us, and he talked about that for a couple years. But when the sale was done, it was still a really big surprise. It was like, ‘Wow, he actually pulled the trigger on it.’
But I was never worried. It was just kind of uneasy not knowing what the future was bringing. But Bill spoke so highly of Compass, and he made the best decision to sell to Compass. Some of the companies that were interested in buying Strom didn’t know anything about machining. They were just investors that had no clue what they were buying. The huge advantage of having Compass is that the company knows manufacturing. The company knows the good, the bad, the stress and the happy times that go with it.
How did the first year with Compass go overall?
It went really well. Since Bill has left, I’ve grown a lot. When Bill ran it, he did everything. I always worried about the company but didn’t have the final say. Bill always made those final calls. Now, more of that is on the three of us – Mike [Strom], Brian [Kedroske] and myself. We’ve got to make the right call. We also reach out to Bill Canning (Compass VP & COO) to get support from him and ensure he’s on board with our decision. But we are making the calls.
What have you liked about the transition?
We don’t have any turning equipment. We mainly machine brass, copper, aluminum, plastics, non-ferrous materials. But we’re learning how to do that stuff now. I also like the fact that we have sister companies. If I get a request for a quote on a turning part, I can send it off to a sister company. We try to keep everything in the family.
In the past, we’ve had to submit no-bids on stuff. But we were meeting with one of our customers a few months ago, and I asked if they would mind if I subcontracted the quote to one of our sister companies. They were onboard as long as we guaranteed our usual quality. So Douglas Machining did that job for us, and it turned out very well.
Is that the biggest new bonus Strom has offered its customers the past year?
Yeah, I’d say so. We had another new potential customer recently – they need 5th axis or lathe parts or even some milling that we’re not able to do in our own shop. So I’ve been in contact with Jim Miller (Compass VP of Sales), and he’s working on devising a plan on what sister company to send the work to. Hopefully we land that customer.
What’s changed for the Strom employees?
As I said before, when Bill was in charge, he was in charge all the way down. Without him now, we’ve given these guys more responsibility. We’ve been counting on the guys to step up a little bit, learn a little bit more. Two of our guys, Joel Gonzalez and Cesar Macias-Banuelos, were named Compass employees of the month. Both have really taken off.
Biggest achievement of the past year?
With Mike and Brian, I’ve had to make tough decisions, and I think I’ve stepped up to the plate to meet those challenges.
As for the company overall, we’re going on a little bit different path going forward. We’ve got a tooling system set up now that we never did before, and we have a new ERP system. We’re pushing ourselves to machine different metals, and we’re in the process of earning new certifications.
Goals for the upcoming year?
Mainly, earning those ISO certifications, and getting ourselves on track with the new ERP system. Right now, our setup is very old school. Guys write down their run times on the program sheet, and there’s occasions when guys will forget to write down their time. But now that will all be implemented into the ERP system where I can reference it on my computer to help with quoting parts.
Switching to that will be a challenge, but I think it’s going to be a really good thing for the machinists in the shop and the three of us.
I’ve really enjoyed working with Brian and Mike in the capacity that we are now. Before, they were workers at the company just like I was. Now, we’ve got to keep this ship afloat. We’ve got to figure out how to do it correctly. The unity between the three of us is the best thing.
For more information about his new general management experiences and about Strom in general, please contact Paul Sonderen at email@example.com. For overall information about Compass, please reach out to CEO Gary Holcomb at firstname.lastname@example.org.