Time out with… Mike Schmidt
How and when did you get the idea to start your own business?When you come to Canada as an immigrant, you don't want to settle for what you could have had back there. My ambition was there from day on...
How and when did you get the idea to start your own business?
When you come to Canada as an immigrant, you don’t want to settle for what you could have had back there. My ambition was there from day one. I dreamt about it, but I didn’t know if I could do it.
Actually, we surpassed my first goal within two or three years as ABC Group. After a while, achievement becomes more important than monetary rewards.
My goal was to retire last year, but then my son Frank died. [Frank was executive vice-president of ABC Group. He died last year of cancer.]
What’s the one business-related achievement you are most proud of?
Realizing the potential of blow molding technology. Most innovations in blow molding for the automotive industry have come from ABC Group. The achievements of the company and building the team that is ABC Group — that’s what I’m most proud of. It’s a great satisfaction.
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made?
I’ve made many mistakes. I learn from them and move on. I thought I made a big mistake when my partners and I bought ABC Plastic Molding and Supreme Tooling. We had just signed a big lease and then the oil crisis hit. They said “What are we going to do?”. I said, “Well, we’re not going to shoot ourselves. We’ll just deal with it.”
The pace at which business is conducted seems to be accelerating every year. How do you manage your time in order to stay effective?
I still come in at 7:30 a.m., and sometimes I don’t go for lunch. I have learned to work smarter and more effectively. But whatever I do in life, I make sure I do it right. I always make sure I fully understand what I have to do.
I love to walk the plant floor, and getting back to it [after knee surgery] is a real pleasure. I love it when the employees say, “Where the heck have you been? We haven’t seen you for a while.” I always have an ear for the employees — you can learn from them.
What do you do to relax?
History. I read about history. I speak several languages, so I try to read both sides of the story. I also read all the plastics-related magazines, as I have for the last 35 years. I have 10 grandchildren and I enjoy spending time with them, and I sometimes take holidays.
If you could meet one person, who would that be, and why?
I admire and respect people that I can learn from, and there are many of them. At a toy company I worked for early in my career I admired the boss, but he never practiced what he preached, and that I didn’t agree with.
What has been the most important change in the industry a) for the worse; b) for the better?
For the worse: Competition in the industry is leading to poor business ethics.
For the better: We have higher productivity, more efficiency, better quality, delivery and pricing, that 10 years ago we didn’t believe was possible.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your career and your life?
To listen, to learn and to respect the people working with me.
[At ABC Group], we have programs in place for continuous development of our employees’ skills and abilities, far more than we think other companies do.
We believe our most important resource is our people. We practice an open door policy to encourage communication throughout the companies. We strive to create a safe work place, where fairness, equity and nondiscriminatory practice are the foundation of an environment for all parties to function as a team.
I’ve learned that whatever you do, you do for yourself. You learn from it. They can’t ever take that away from you.
Who had the biggest influence on your life?
The World War II situation and the refugee camps made a big impact on me. [Schmidt was born in Yugoslavia, and spent 8 years in refugee camps in Germany before emigrating to Canada.] My father died when I was a baby. My biggest influence was my mother. She was a hard working woman, destitute, with four children. She made us better people. My wife and my children also have a big influence in my life.
What would you do if you were Prime Minister for a day?
Put a plan in place to do better — decrease poverty, increase productivity, and improve the quality of life. I would work very hard at it, but there’s not much you can do in one day.