Cabernet, Coffee and Cancer: A Family Story


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By Jason Zenger, Jim Carr and MakingChips LLC. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Part of being a machine shop owner—and a business owner in general—is that every day there’s a new challenge to navigate. A machine might break down. Perhaps someone who has been a team member for decades quits. Your factory could burn to the ground. Or your Dad—the owner and manager of the shop—gets sick with cancer. That’s how Nick Sainati was thrust into becoming the GM of Belden Universal. In this episode, he shares his journey. It will resonate with some of us, fascinate most of us, and impress all of us. Don’t miss this inspiring family story!

  • [0:26] Amper Technologies machine monitoring systems
  • [6:24] Dealing with supply chain issues caused by COVID
  • [8:09] Fun facts about family-owned businesses
  • [14:07] Create a Formal Business Succession Plan in 7 Steps
  • [16:52] Today's guest: Nick Sainati, GM at Belden Universal
  • [24:00] Check out ProShop ERP for more information on manufacturing software!
  • [27:42] When everything changed: How Nick took over his Dad’s machine shop
  • [40:10] Managing a machine shop through COVID
  • [44:35] What the future looks like for Belden Universal
  • [46:32] How Nick’s experiences have prepared him for the future
  • [48:42] Accelerate your digital transformation with Xometry
The history of Belden Universal

Belden Universal is an AS9100 manufacturer of precision universal joints and drive shafts. They started in 1970 as Belden Tools, founded by Nick’s grandfather and his brothers on Belden Avenue in Chicago. They used to buy tools from ZENGERS, which was just down the street!

Instead of going into the family business, Nick ended up in San Francisco in investment banking. He spent two years at an eCommerce startup and eventually moved back to Chicago. After both he and his wife got an MBA, they moved to Seattle for her job. After running a wine business, Nick transitioned into Starbucks Corporate in brand management. He helped launch the Starbucks evening program that tied-in with wine. He transitioned to a strategy team after that. He learned about culture, managing people, and running complex projects.

How Nick took over his Dad’s machine shop

Two months after Nick’s first daughter was born, his parents came to visit them in Seattle. They told Nick that his Dad had a rare form of Leukemia. He needed to take time off of work for treatment. They were going to have to sell the business unless Nick or his sister could come back and run it. Nick was shocked. His parents were healthy active people who were never sick.

After processing the news and discussing it with his wife, Nick decided to move back to Chicago to take over Belden Universal, an AS9100 manufacturer of precision universal joints and drive shafts. Four months later, he was in Chicago running a machine shop—and he knew nothing about manufacturing. Nick bought a large book about manufacturing that was for a college-level manufacturing class and dug into back episodes of Making Chips, which helped him get immersed in the language of machining.

Navigating challenges while learning the ropes

When Nick took over in 2018, the machine shop had just moved into a new facility, doubling the size of their manufacturing floor. They had a tenured team and people to help get Nick up to speed. But he was also their boss—and couldn’t do most of their jobs.

Soon after taking over, Belden lost their biggest customer—which was one of the reasons they had moved into the bigger space. They immediately lost what would have been ¼ of their business. Nick knew it would be his first challenge. But then his sales manager of 19 years quit three months in. Instead of panicking, he took stock of the situation and helped define where they wanted to go in the future.

They hired an internal candidate for the sales management position. She blossomed as a leader and got their team back on track. They worked hand-in-hand on the culture so people were excited to come to work every day. In an era like today where every shop is competing for employees, the culture matters. A shop can’t survive with a negative culture. 18 months later, after continuous incidents with the production manager (who had been there 29 years), Nick decided it was time to part ways. They let him go. But this man had been involved in every part of the business.

The benefit of letting him go was that Nick was forced to get more involved in floor operations. He began to work closely with his engineers on improvement projects and personnel issues. He got to know the people on the factory floor. He stepped up and earned respect from his team.

How did Nick manage the machine shop through COVID? What does the future hold for Belden Universal? Listen to the whole episode to hear more of his unique story.

How Nick’s experiences have prepared him for the future

What did Nick learn? The most important thing is that problems can look very daunting in the moment—especially multi-faceted problems. But the most important thing is to take a break, formulate a plan, understand what the desired end outcome is, and start chipping away at it. Family businesses have long timelines where things don’t have to be solved overnight. They can make progress every day, month, and year towards that vision. Eventually they will find success. A problem now may seem like a bump in the road over the arc of your career.

— BAM!

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