We sit down with Bill Huseby, President & CEO of SIGMADESIGN to hear a little about his background, the history of SIGMADESIGN, and what has led to the success of the company.
So I was born and grew up in Brazil: I lived in São Paulo, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, that’s where I learned to sail. I also played baseball as a little kid. And then when I was 14 we moved to Tehran, Iran and believe it or not that is where I learned how to ski; I had never seen snow in Brazil. And then for my senior year of high school I did that in Boston where I became a Boston Red Sox fan, and then I did a year of college in New York City at Columbia and then transferred to Stanford where I got a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Then after that I ended up here at the Pacific Northwest working for Hewlett-Packard.
I got a job designing printers which are a mechanical engineers dream. It’s gears and motors and belts and so that was a lot of fun. So, I did that for 16 years and became a manager in the printed circuit board stuffing group; I moved back and forth between manufacturing and R&D several times.
So I met John and Sue when I was at Hewlett Packard and John had left Hewlett-Packard and started a little company called SIGMADESIGN (just he and his wife). John and Sue became dear friends of myself and Becky’s. In fact John was the best man at my wedding and I quit Hewlett-Packard and joined John and that started the adventure. I did end up buying John out. He went off to pursue a product idea – I think there were four or five of us in the company at the time – and he did that for 10 years and then actually came back and worked for SIGMADESIGN for another eight years and formally retired and still remains a very good friend of mine.
THE EARLY YEARS
The most learning I did in those early years was about sales and marketing. I always did sales, because I had to. But the importance and the distinction between sales and marketing are probably the biggest learning for me. I had a little bit of accounting background that I got in school which was great. But those are the main things.
February 11th (2022) or so, I’ll have been with SIGMADESIGN for 24 years. My role in the company has certainly changed quite a bit. I started off doing design work, selling mine and John’s services, and now it’s transitioned. We have almost 400 people in the company I don’t do any design work anymore. My job is more of a culture advocate and making sure that our core values are adhered to and that we keep those foundational – so that becomes a big part of my job.
My priority has certainly always been my family; I’ve got two boys and a lovely wife. And then putting everything we can into the company so it can grow and so that we can employ people and create a nice place for people to work. And that really motivates me.
HOW THE COMPANY HAS GROWN
The company has changed dramatically over the years. We’ve grown certainly and they’re folks that have been here almost since the beginning. And we need to embrace change. I know that was a little bit tougher first cuz everybody liked the small company. A lot of people liked the small company – the 12, 13, 14 people – but we’ve changed a lot. We have a lot more processes. We have a lot more control and now being [ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management System Certified], that’s changed a lot – changed the way we work. But let’s always remember our roots of being small and getting stuff done and satisfying the customer and making sure they get what they need.
One of the big differences between then and now is the number of offerings that we provide. So, we call it concept through production. We can provide services anywhere between the early concepts all the way into production, and manufacturing. A lot of our clients come in and ask us to do one particular thing; test something, or a model shop job, or just do a mechanical engineering piece, or electrical. We have a lot more to offer and that’s kind of a message that’s difficult to get to clients because they come in one door and we go, “Hey, we’ve got a bunch of other pieces of the business that we can help you with.”
THE EXCITEMENT OF CHANGE
As we grow, and as we change, it’s exciting to me to see us add new capabilities. That’s always fun. Whether its machines, or you know, a branch of engineering, or expanding test, and doing more manufacturing. Just the added capabilities that we have are really kind of exciting and moving and growing our facilities cuz we need more space. That’s kind of the history of the company. It’s add more space, add more people, but I’m kind of excited to see us really focus on efficiency. We get projects through the door in an efficient manner so that we can satisfy more jobs and more clients. And do it with without having to grow the number of people exponentially which we’ve been doing for years now.
The success of SIGMADESIGN – I get this a lot – what do you attribute the success of SIGMADESIGN design to? And it’s the people. There’s no question about it. We want to grow by hiring, developing, and recognizing the best. My goal is that we only hire the best in whatever the job is just across the board. When we do that good things happen. And let people make a decision.
Another one of the questions that comes up often when I’m talking to people is, “What’s the most enjoyable project you’ve ever done?” There’s a lot of things that I can’t discuss because of confidentiality but by far it’s a job I never made any money on. A friend of mine came to me and his father who was elderly was suffering from dementia and would sit in front of the TV – and of course remotes nowadays have too many buttons on them. So he just wanted the on/off button to work, the channel button to work up and down, and the volume up and down. And I said, “No problem.” I took the remote and I cracked it open and put Scotch tape over the contacts that weren’t needed and gave him back the remote. That allowed his father to sit and watch the TV and not get not get lost, and that was by far the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done. And it wasn’t a big deal, but it was a big deal to someone else.
WHAT ABOUT THAT GREEN PEN?
Oh! Wait a minute! We never talked about my green pen. Let’s talk about the green pen. So one of the requests that I’ve made to the organization is that only I get to use a green pen. The reason that came about is because I was reviewing lots of documents. I wanted to make sure that my notes [were easily recognizable]. I didn’t want to put my initials by them all and so I started using a green pen.
The green pen [idea] came from my father who when I was a little kid (I’d go down to his office and my dad was a an engineer but what I call the big electrons type, so power distribution substations; that’s why we moved around a lot) and I would be down his office when I was seven or eight he’d go, “I’ll be right with you Billy,” and he would initial the documents that he had to initial with a green pen. So this is kind of in honor of my dad using a green pen and everybody’s great around here. They respect that and I’ll get the green pen return to me periodically cuz I’ll have left it somewhere in a conference room or something and everybody knows it comes to me.
For more perspective on this history of SIGMADESIGN and the challenges of growing a business, you can read my blog.