KTM's early years:
On April 21, 2005, Ginger and I began an adventure. KTM Solutions, a mechanical engineering company, was born. The two of us shared an office of approximately 120 square feet. We began in the basement of our home with one contract, an abundance of naivety, and a dream of building something special.
KTM Solutions was created to provide services initially to the aerospace community. We wanted our customers to experience high quality engineering services as if our team were a part of the customer’s internal organization. Traditionally, especially in aerospace, contract engineers had a reputation for being overtime hounds and were not always the quality of engineer that a manager would want on their staff. KTM’s business proposition was to provide engineering services that any engineering manager would be proud to have on their staff. The concept was to hire engineers that loved their technical career and identified as a professional. We wanted creative and innovative engineers that were passionate about serving and making the world a better place. We were blessed to find great people. Unfortunately, the majority of our customer base resided outside South Carolina.
Being located in the heart of the southeast automotive country (BMW, Michelin) and energy industry (GE), we quickly recognized that interesting opportunities existed close to home. The science behind aircraft engineering is directly transferable to other fields. We decided to focus on engineering services supporting aerospace, automotive and large-scale manufacturing. Although the majority of our business in the early years related to aircraft structural design, we found great success in supporting large scale manufacturing. This is where the majority of KTM business is found in 2020.
In 15 years, we have experienced highs and lows. I would like to share some of each and what we learned along the way.
Great people. I believe that each KTM associate has been God ordained to be a part of our history. We have very little turnover. From our first employee (Dev Belflower), to our direct staff, and the 35+ student interns, all have a place in our story. Each personality contributes to the strength of KTM. The company wouldn’t be the same without each. Key lesson—Hire based on character, passion for the career, and ability to learn. The rest will work out.
The strong DNA of our company. We have a thing we do at each huddle meeting. Each week, a different employee shares a story with the theme “people like us do things like this.” It’s a story of something that has taken place at KTM that reflects the values of the company. Employees encourage each other and reinforce behaviors we want to see in each other. Key lesson—Define values, reinforce through example, and let your employees build and make them their own.
Loyal clients and suppliers. In the past 15 years, KTM Solutions has had the privilege of serving small and large companies. In 15 years, we have also learned that companies don’t do business together. In reality, people do business together. We have great clients and suppliers. In fact, many have become virtual partners. Key lesson – Put your clients’ needs first; find ways to solve their problem even if it means sending them somewhere else.
Exciting work. At KTM, we have participated in so many cool and unique projects. In fact, I wouldn’t have enough room in this post to describe them all. From startup companies developing a product to the design of a business jet wing for an Original Equipment Manufacturer, the work has been interesting and challenging. Key lesson—Every industry offers exciting opportunities that require engineering talent. Aerospace doesn’t have the corner on cool.
Naivety is bliss that leads to the school of hard knocks. When we first started KTM Solutions, we had no idea what we were doing. I had run large engineering organizations. However, I never had to find business. I had some exposure to profit and loss but had never experienced the loss in my back pocket. I thought sales and marketing were synonymous. I also thought that my professional network would be standing in line for our services. This led to some lean years in the beginning. Key lesson—Anything of value takes time to build and nothing new ever happens as quickly as you imagined.
You can do everything right and still experience loss. KTM was formed just before the great recession. 2008 and 2009 were difficult years. Then in 2016 the aerospace industry brought the outsourced work we traditionally performed back in house. Although our customers had no complaints with our services, both of these changes were significant blows to our business. This is where we learned some of our most valuable lessons. Key lessons—(1) Diversify and continually re-invent your business. (2) Stick with what you know; that is the bedrock of the company. And (3) recognize that a higher power is in charge.
Conclusions from 15 years of experience:
It’s been a sweet ride. It would be easy to say I wish we could have avoided some of the lows and experienced more of the highs. But as odd as it might sound, I am most thankful for the lows. The lows are where I learned the most about myself and stretched my faith. I am a believer in God Almighty and that he spared no expense on my behalf. Jesus Christ is the reason I have a hope. I learned that through good and bad times God holds me in his hands. He has never abandoned me. Further, I truly believe he built the KTM team. Every employee, intern, customer, and supplier was presented by him.
My plans have once again been changed as we celebrated 15 years in business amid the global COVID-19 pandemic. Business is slowing. Yet, like 2008–2009 and 2016, God will see us through. I know that we have nothing to fear. In my mind, that is the best way to conclude my reflection on 15 years.