60 seconds with Jack Cooney, CEO of Somero Enterprises, Inc.


60 seconds with Jack Cooney, CEO of Somero Enterprises, Inc.

Tell me about Somero Enterprises

It’s a unique group of ground-breaking technology products for placing and screeding of commercial floor slabs, supported by the most experiened team of trainers and concrete installation specialists in the world, that are passionate about their customers’ success.

What is your greatest achievement / proudest moment?

I think it was probably surviving the recession of 2008 to 2011, because we had so much debt when we started out. Everybody goes through recessions, but when it is right after you were sold and you’re saddled with $20 million of debt and then a year later a recession begins…it required some very unusual restructuring to make it through that kind of situation. At the same time we had a lot of support from the shareholders, which was very important to us; we did an equity raise and every single shareholder participated. 

What would your superpower be?

I don’t think I have any superpowers. I’m so busy running a business I don’t have time to solve the world’s problems. If you had one you’d have to use it, and honestly I don’t know that I have the time.

What would be your specialist subject on Mastermind?

I love US sports, so it would probably be one of those. I watch all of the US sports; baseball, basketball, hockey, football. I think football is probably the one I’m more passionate about. Out of all the sports it’s the one I didn’t really play, but I enjoy the challenge of it and really admire all of the work that goes into assembling a team of around 53 players.

If you weren’t in the role you’re in now, what would you be doing?

My role at Somero has been one to grow the business and in the process, due to the recession, I’ve also unfortunately had to do a lot of restructuring. I have always liked solving problems. I’ve done a number of acquisitions in my lifetime, I’ve come into a couple of start-up companies, and I enjoy that sort of challenge, so if I weren’t at Somero I think I would be somewhere else solving those kinds of business problems.

Which event in your career has taught you the most?

I think from a learning standpoint, it isn’t about one particular event, I think the most important things you learn come over time and with experience.

For example, I learnt from every time I made a mistake. When I started my career, I was fascinated by what made good teams, whether that was a good sports team or a good business team. When I started working it was a matter of trying to find out how they came about. What I eventually learnt, and I always thought I’d meet that one person who would give me that secret formula, but what I actually learnt over a period of time came not really from what various bosses taught me to do, but what they taught me not to do.

We’re all so hard on ourselves when we make mistakes but the reality is humans make mistakes every day and you don’t want people focusing on their mistakes and you don’t want a witch-hunt as to why something has happened. You want people focused on finding solutions. So you have to take that burden off people of being perfect, sit down with the task at hand if you have any issues, and figure out what the solutions are and go forward.

If you really boil it down, so much of what is meaningful to all of us in business comes down to communication. We all want to know what the goal is, we all want to know what the resources are, and we all want to know what the time frame is. Then as we go along trying to achieve the goal, we’re given lots of other tasks so priority setting is extremely important. We run into challenges because some people are ahead and some people are behind so there are always roadblocks and it takes a lot of communication to overcome those roadblocks and time constraints and everything else.

 What career advice can you offer?

Some people are fortunate in that they know at a younger age what they want to do in life, and what their skills allow them to do, but I think for most of us that isn’t the case. When I took my daughter to college they said 90% of the students change their major within the first two years, and that makes sense, because mostly, we don’t know what we want to do early on.

What I encourage people to do is not to worry about the money. Worry about finding out what you really like to do, what you really enjoy and have a passion for. Because once you do that, all the hard work gets easier and the money always follows people that are passionate and good at what they do. That is my advice to people, find what you love.

What is the skill you’d most like to have?

I would love it if someone could give me some patience. I’m always in a hurry to get to the next improvement, to the next new product, to fix the problems faster. As you can imagine that can drive people crazy, so I always wish I could be more patient.

Which famous person would you like to have dinner with?

There is really one person who has stuck out in my life time as being great at running a team and that is Jack Welch, who used to run General Electric.

He came into the Company, took an enormous corporation and tore it apart. He got rid of things, like five year plans. People used to spend huge amounts of time on these five year plans and then you’d find when you were doing the thing that you didn’t know what you were doing next Friday, let alone in five years from now. It made no sense.

So when Jack took over GE the first thing he did was to take out this enormous department of five year planning, and went to a one year plan instead. Then, after 9/11 he eliminated even the one year plan because he said that the world changes so rapidly that if something happens today, we need to change today. I would love to sit down and talk to him about the things he has done to bring teams and corporations together.

And finally…what keeps you awake at night?

Every company’s success can be based on products and things like that, and that is a large part of it, but nobody can be truly successful without having the right, talented people, and keeping them motivated.

Somero is a little bit different because we assemble our products, and we design them but the whole company, and what allows us to do sales and technical support in 93 countries, is all about the people.

So what keeps me up at night is finding the right people in all of these different countries that have different cultures, and understanding what motivates them, understanding what their expectations and desires are. Being able to make sure those people have the drive and determination to do what we need to do to make Somero successful, that is what keeps me up at night, definitely.

Mr. Cooney, age 68, joined Somero in December 1997 and has served as its Chief Executive since that time. He has been a director of the company since August 2005.

Mr. Cooney has 33 years of experience in various senior management and sales and marketing positions. From 1995 to 1997, he served as the chief executive officer of Advance Machine Company, a US$145m industrial equipment manufacturer located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. From 1990 to 1995, he was the vice president of sales and marketing, as well as the vice president of manufacturing, at Ganton Technologies, an aluminum die caster and precision machine business located in Wisconsin, USA.

Mr. Cooney has an Associate's degree in Industrial Engineering from Central New England College and a Master of Business Administration degree from College of St. Thomas.