Metalforming Magazine asks Kent Djubek, president of Ajax Metal Forming Solutions, to share the insights gained from his 30-plus years in the metalforming business.
Djubek took the company’s reins from the Ajax family 4 years ago, having worked his way up through the ranks after starting there in 1990 working second shift “and with no prior experience running stamping presses,” he says. Now Ajax’s chief executive and with a significant ownership stake, Djubek has set a course for continued growth by spreading the company’s wings and commissioning—in early 2021—a new manufacturing facility in Raleigh, NC.
At the same time, the company, which performs progressive and deep-draw stamping, as well as sheet metal fabrication using press brakes, turret presses and laser-cutting machines, recently launched its Ajax Academy to help ensure a steady stream of skilled workers.
Metalforming Magazine Q: What’s the best management-related book, webinar or event you’ve recently enjoyed, and what were one or two of the key takeaways?
Djubek: Earlier this year we tied up our conference room for three days to broadcast the Dave Ramsey EntreLeadership Master Series training workshop. Most of our management team, around 12 people, attended some or all of the program. One of the standout speakers, for me, was Jocko Willink, whose book (“Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, Dichotomy of Leadership”) my plant manager and I both purchased after hearing him speak.
Willink really reminded all of us here that, even with the best planning things can unravel, so it’s important to plan for potential pitfalls and then learn from any our mistakes so we don’t repeat them. And, personally, I appreciate his perspective on where to place the blame when things do go wrong.
That is, when something goes wrong it’s likely due to lack of leadership rather than someone else’s shortcomings. As a leader, if you don’t set the right parameters in terms of expectations, the results likely will be less than expected.
Metalforming Magazine Q: What is the biggest challenge you face as a company leader?
Djubek: We continue to be challenged by the shortage of skilled workers, but we’re making inroads here by first striving to hire the right people—with the right attitude—and then investing in training, via our Ajax Academy. Years ago, hiring was done at a high level, but we discovered that I may not always be the right person to be hiring people that I’m not working with day in and day out.
So, now our leads and managers do all of the interviewing, and as part of that process they walk through the plant and try to get a feel for the attitudes of applicants and gauge whether or not they would be good fits for the Ajax culture.
When it comes to operator training and solving the skills shortage, Erick Ajax (former vice president, now retired and serving on the company’s board of directors) did a great job developing close relationships with the community colleges and trade schools. Building on that, recently we launched our Ajax Academy, partnering with a local technical college and then adding some of the virtual learning options through PMA’s METALFORM EDU program, as well as plenty of hands-on learning on the shop floor.
Metalforming Magazine Q: What are two or three of the most important things you look for in a mid-level manager?
Djubek: As noted earlier, it all starts with attitude, and drive. Most of our management team has been promoted from within, and here we look for self-starters—those team members who have been commended by their managers and are looking for opportunities to grow with Ajax. I look for people who want their plates filled, and over-filled, who will accept added responsibilities and push themselves.
Ajax Vice President of Sales Don Wellman (L) and Ajax President Kent Djubek on the plant floor.