127. Hero – Ray Ziganto – Manufacturing Unicorn at Linara International Transcript

Ray: 00:00 

So my why is to find opportunities where I can either learn new things, apply those things. And in every possible instance share that and encourage folks as many folks along the way as I can. To do the same, pay it forward. I’ve I have been and continue to be blessed because others have given me a shot and I owe that to the next group. 

Chris: 00:23 

Welcome to EECO Asks Why a podcast that dives into industrial manufacturing topics, spotlights the heroes that keep America running. I’m your host, Chris Grainger. And on this podcast, we do not cover the latest features and benefits on products that come to market, instead, we focus on advice and insight from the top minds of industry because people and ideas will be how America remains number one in manufacturing in the world. 

So welcome EECO Asks Why today we have a hero conversation. I’m so excited to have with me Ray Ziganto, who is as the founder CEO, I think he said that the chief dishwasher, he does everything over at Linara International. So I’ll let him tell you more about that.

And he’s also the co-host of a wonderful podcast. One I listen to it’s called Manufacturing Out Loud. He has a wonderful co-host. They have a lot of great guests. They talk about manufacturing and they’re making us all better. So welcome Ray. 

Ray: 01:20 

Thanks Chris. Appreciate it. Glad to be here.

Chris: 01:23 

It’s exciting to have you, man. So been looking forward to working with you for sure. 

Ray: 01:27 

Cool. Likewise, likewise.

Chris: 01:29 

We’d love to start these conversations, Ray, just by letting our listeners know a little bit about you. You know the journey to what you’re at? Oh man.

Ray: 01:37 

Yeah. Well, you know, I’ll keep it short, but my journey into manufacturing. I guess part of it was growing up in the sixties, it was a time when folks didn’t have man caves or whatever. My dad had a shop and my uncles had a shop or they had a bunch of stuff in the garage or whatever. So I kinda grew up and got interested around that stuff. And got to the bug for the manufacturing side occurred like a lot of things did in college or around the keg of beer.

I happened to be talking to a guy that owned an injection molding company. And we were bonding over stuff like that. And I, got my first job out of school working there and never looked back. So had the great, good fortune to work in a lot of different organizations, usually tool and die type stuff.

We metal stamping, plastic molding, things like that. Just had a phenomenal run, got to work with awesome people, have great customers, visit places all over the world. And it’s been an awesome ride. Now I got to Linara International founded that about three years ago because I saw that, you know, what, if I’m out on my own I can share a lot more about what I’ve learned and more often than not how to avoid some things with more companies than if I stay within the four walls of one organization. So here I am. 

Chris: 02:48 

I hear you man. So where are you from originally? 

Ray: 02:50 

I’ve been based… I was born in the Chicago area. I was born in Brookfield, Illinois by the zoo. So not in the zoo but, by the zoo, but I’ve I’m a Midwestern guy, lived in the Chicago area my whole life. I’ve had the opportunity through my work to be able to live and work in Singapore and China and Malaysia and Mexico travel, I think at last count about 30 some countries around the world. So, got to see and do a lot. 

Chris: 03:16 

That is really cool. And so how about from a school sample? Where did you go to school out in that area? 

Ray: 03:22 

I did actually I attended Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois. Go Leathernecks! I attended College of DuPage. After I had graduated because they had a plastics technology program that seemed really interesting and the guy was working for same one I met around the keg of beer. 

He told me about it and said, “Listen, you didn’t study engineering in school.” I was business major. So he said, “Why don’t you go learn some of the vocabulary and stuff?” I went and did that. And then, along the way got an MBA in leadership and change management from North Central College. So I accumulated all the paperwork, it’s funny today, back when the accumulating paperwork meant something, it’s kinda more what you know how to do.

Chris: 04:04 

Yeah, no doubt. Absolutely. So how about for our listeners that want to check out Manufacturing Out Loud? How long have you been doing that? 

Ray: 04:12 

We started MFG Out Loud, March 17th of 2020. So that’s a St. Patrick’s day number one. Number two, it was, the start of the COVID thing, but that was the Genesis of Allison DeFord and I had met each other on LinkedIn and just bonded over manufacturing and where it is and where it could be. And we used to have, we were having weekly conversations with each other, just getting each other fired up about where things could be. And finally, one day Allison said why don’t we do a podcast?

And I was like, I don’t know how to do that. And she goes, great. When are we going to start? So we just did, man. 

Chris: 04:48 

I love it. I love it. I love her. I love her go getter attitude, man. That’s awesome. So speaking about the industry and the challenges, just with the things that you and Allison are addressing, what do you see as some of the greatest challenges for industry? Because, I mean, I know the landscape’s changing fast. 

Ray: 05:02 

It’s changing part of it is overcoming perceptions. You know, Among manufacturers because everything has changed so fast. There’s the good news that’s out there is there’s never been a David and Goliath moment in manufacturing like there is right now because technology and the cost of technology, the access to markets and everything else is at a point now where if you’re a solo entrepreneur, if you’re a small manufacturer or midsize, you have access to basically the same tools and functionality that the really big kids do.

So the notion of I’m not big enough or, I can’t go out and do these things because I’m just a small fill in the blank is wrong, number one. The other myth is that we see all the time is around social media. It’s like, oh, that’s for kids, that’s for influencers, that has nothing to do with manufacturing.

And it has everything to do with manufacturing. And here’s why there is a conversation happening on social media right now about topics that you have expertise in that your business is uniquely positioned to respond to. And if you’re not online contributing to that conversation, It’s happening anyway, and somebody else was getting the attention.

So that is a channel where you need to be in the right proportion in the right way as part of an overall strategy for companies. So that’s a challenge. And again, just getting over the notion that technology is the purview of the big guys. It’s not. Get comfortable asking questions about it and ask more than one person. Best of all, ask somebody that’s actually using it and doing it. So those are some of the things we see. 

Chris: 06:56 

No doubt. I mean, From a social standpoint and from social media standpoint, you’re active. You’re out there. You put you publish great content. I can definitely tell you have a heart for helping manufacturers. So if you’re out there, you’re listening, follow Ray and what he does because it’s a lot of good information. 

Ray: 07:12 

So I appreciate them. And likewise, back at you and following you and your company, and ask why team. I’m digging it. I’m learning. 

Chris: 07:20 

Well, thanks, man. We really appreciate that. And we’re trying to do with EECO Asks Why just inspire people and get them into manufacturing, get them into industry or engineering or our business of supporting manufacturing. So any advice you’d have out there. I mean, have a ton of experience working with manufacturers. This is for people that may be new to industry. 

Ray: 07:39 

Oh man. I’m working on a project right now with a community college. They’re going for an advanced training academy that they want to put in place. And the biggest challenge that’s out there and we all see the statistics. There is a shortage in the not too distant future millions of jobs, in manufacturing and the biggest challenge that’s out there that I hear time and time again is the pipeline. It’s getting people through the pipeline and it’s not at the training side where, you know, we’re beginning to build up the resources to be able to train at scale.

The problem is earlier and earlier, not even at the high school level, I’m talking, you gotta get down to the grade school level and you’ve got to engage with parents. Not many parents today looked down at their newborn baby and wish them a career in manufacturing, you know, it’s like, because they don’t know. Their perspective on it is based on old information. They think that it’s dirty. It’s not. They think it’s dangerous. It’s not. They think there’s no room for creativity or growth, not true. They think it doesn’t pay well, pays great. There’s a lot of those types of perceptions that need to get knocked out of the way.

And. Man, if anything, the last chapters I have to write in my career can do anything. It’s to help build some enthusiasm for manufacturing and bring some new folks in so that they can have a shot at the career I had.

Chris: 08:59 

No doubt, man. No doubt. Ray, that sounds really cool about the, what’d you say, the advanced training academy you’re working with and developing because we did a whole series working with the Academy of Advanced Manufacturing with Rockwell. And you just , basically said word for word, what we’re hearing and that’s workforce attrition. People, they’re going out faster than you’re coming in, and we’re trying to attract them. Curious. What type of work are you doing there with the group you’re working with? 

Ray: 09:26 

Well, you know, it’s a vocational school to start with. So what they’re looking at is the what’s next and what’s interesting. What they’re really seeing is that part of the historical problem has been the delivery mechanism. You know what I mean? Because it’s tough when you’re running a very dynamic manufacturing environment. Yeah. You got to get the training for your folks, but if that training is only available, from 8-2:30, Monday through Friday, you know, for an associate’s degree or whatever.

So the real innovation that we’re starting to see even at the community college level, in other areas is in how that training is being delivered. There’s more of an online component where you can perhaps get some of the background out of the way, you know, learn the theory on your time at your pace kind of a competency-based model.

And then provide a lab opportunity. That’s much more flexible where you can get the hands on experience with the guidance of, somebody that’s skilled in that area. Why should somebody be in a seat to get theory? You know, to get that, download it to them. So I think they call that the flipped classroom. Do the bookwork at home, answer the quiz, whatever, when you’re on campus in the lab you’re doing, and you’re asking questions and that type of thing. So that’s really, a big part of it as well as man working your way back down that pipeline get engaged in the K through 12 segments of the community. Create events that are exciting. Draw them in. Bring the parents. Interact with other students, you know, not just guys that look like me, you know?

Chris: 11:07 

So embrace that whole STEM right? 

Ray: 11:10 

Oh, you have to, it’s especially now because what’s happening in manufacturing is we’ve created a donut, we’ve got the old folks with tremendous domain expertise that are graying out. There’s kind of a gap in the middle because there was a period of time where it just wasn’t cool to go into manufacturing, so nobody did or only a handful did. And then we’re starting to build this bottom section, of young folks and trying to move them up as quickly as possible.

And hopefully technology can help us solve some of that gap in the middle. But there’s a push there’s good jobs coming. The jobs that are there now, and that are going to be there 20 years from now are going to look a lot different. You’re not going to see as much operator on t e line type thing. It’s using your head more than your hands. 

Chris: 11:52 

And I think the manufacturers out there needs to embrace, perception, like you said, perception and social media. One thing that we had a guest come on and he was talking about. When he was at his school, there was a manufacturer that actually came to campus to recruit, and they did it by dropping a helicopter on the football field. They rolled out a lot of their cool products and then they had, some cool videos and things like that to really just make the experience, more understandable for that generation. And it hooked him. He was hook line and sinker. 

Ray: 12:23 

Oh yeah. Absolutely right. You got to think outside the box. If the first thing you do is well, we’re going to start your with an apprenticeship, and we’re going to give you a block of steel and a file. And then the second year, you’ve got to make it more interesting than that. Some of the training methodology is prehistoric. Especially given the tools that are available today, kids learn differently today than they did 30 years ago. So it’s just, man, keep up. 

Chris: 12:50 

No doubt. Absolutely, man. Sounds like it’s great work you’re doing there. Hats off to you and if you have any links for the people to check out. We’ll link that in the show notes for us, for that academy. 

Ray: 13:00 

Sure. That’d be awesome. 

Chris: 13:02 

Very cool, man. So when you, think back across your career and people I’m sure have influenced you in a you’re influencing so many people, does anybody jump out as a mentor or has really helped you along the way?

Ray: 13:13 

Different folks have appeared at different points along the way. I’ve been very blessed in that regard. Cause there’s plenty of folks out there who are way smarter than me that, haven’t had access to some of the opportunities that I have. So I attribute that a hundred percent to the mentors or there was somebody along the way that saw something I didn’t and said, “Hey, I want to give you a shot.”

And I recognized that at that time and didn’t want to let them down. Yeah. It was part of it. So I’m blessed that my very first employer, that guy met around the keg of beer. I’m still best of friends with that guy. He lives 10 minutes from my house. `We get together on a pretty regular basis and have just stayed the state of the best of friends over the years. In fact, to this day every time I either got a new job or got a promotion. Yeah. He was the first guy I gave my new business card to. 

Chris: 13:59 

That’s really cool. 

Ray: 14:00 

I managed to do that all the way through my career. So, really proud of that. He has always and continues to be number one, cheerleader. I’m so thrilled about that.

Chris: 14:07 

Man, that is awesome. So do you guys still gather around a keg or those days passed? 

Ray: 14:12 

We’ve moved on to bourbon and he’s he’s another craft beer knucklehead, like our friend Chris Luecke. So I never know what to buy him. 

Chris: 14:19 

Right. Yeah, those guys are tricky and they really are. Yeah. 

Ray: 14:24 

Bourbon’s easier. 

Chris: 14:25 

Much easier. Much easier. I’ll just fix me old fashioned. We’ll be good to go. Well Ray, how about, you know, when you’re out there you’re doing the work you do, and you do such meaningful work, when do you find yourself getting the most fulfillment?

Ray: 14:39 

It’s rolling up my sleeves and getting in there with the group and seeing what’s up because I always tell clients when we’re going to do a project there. Whatever’s going on in the magic is happening out on the shop floor right now. Good or bad that’s where it is. So always tell them, I’m going to spend way more time out there than I am in your conference room.

And up to, and including, you’ve got to get out there and meet not only the formal leaders, but the informal leaders. There’s always somebody in a plant, the people will look through and go, should I do this? Is this guy full of crap? Or, you gotta get to know them.

So I, I really enjoy getting on the shop floor, meeting with the folks, get the, really, get the unbiased, the unvarnished truth about what’s going on. And when they recognize they’ve got an advocate and you start pushing to do some stuff different they’re with you and it’s moving forward. Nothing feels better than being able to point to, the improvements that were made and then point to the crew that was there and say, look what you guys did, this was it. So, that to me is the buzz. It’s helping them move the needle. 

Chris: 15:39 

Have you seen with, COVID obviously access to plants and things like that has been impacted. Are you still able to get in and make those rounds or move to a more virtual environments? Just curious how that’s worked. 

Ray: 15:50 

Some of the stuff that’s moved to virtual probably should have moved to virtual a long time ago. It was just cheap and easy to jump on a plane and get in the car or whatever. Some of that in that initial discovery or whatever, there’s a lot you can do online. In some initial interviews, you on those types of things to answer your question yes, I do still get access. You have to jump through some more hoops these days. Make sure you’ve had recent tests, that type of stuff. And you take lots of precautions and all that, but it’s you get it done. It’s what manufacturers do you just figure it out.

Chris: 16:25 

That’s right. It’s impacted us too so far servicing and helping manufacturers. Everybody has different requirements from a PPE standpoint or tests and things like that, but you still got to get out there at some point. And like you say, get on the floor to understand what’s happening to help them. 

Ray: 16:39 

Yep. You know, man, I’m sympathetic because, nobody went into COVID purposefully building an assembly line with everybody six feet apart also, the scramble to reconfigure and everything else and keep them safe. Totally get it. 

Chris: 16:51 

Well, when you look back across your career, anything stand out as a highlight or something just you could look back and be like, man, that I was a part of that. And that was really cool. 

Ray: 16:59 

Again, I’ve been fortunate. Well being able to do international startups from the dirt all the way up in another country with a different workforce and a different market, doing those types of things has been hugely rewarding. Well, one company I was with, we had opened a factory in Shanghai, China in 2000.

And when I left that business in 2017, there were people still there that, that were there when we started. So to see that kind of progression and longevity and development was awesome being given the opportunity to do some really innovative things create of factory focused Makerspace for engineers to come in and play was a new adventure to be able to do that.

 I guess, going back early on, man, I remember making the conscious decision that one of the things I really wanted to do in my career was have some international experience and going to get that. And if I look back on one pivotal moment, it was, the fact that I had the opportunity to be able to go out and live and work and do stuff globally. And that’s eyeopening. That’s been awesome. Beautiful. 

Chris: 18:03 

That’s really cool, man. Some great highlights there. My friend. 

Ray: 18:06 

Oh man. Not done yet. 

Chris: 18:07 

Oh not dont yet. That’s right.

Ray: 18:11 

Oh and being here today.

Chris: 18:13 

Oh, you’re too kind. How about these hero conversations? We don’t like to just talk just careers. We like to get to know the person. So if it’s okay we’ll talk a little bit about you outside of work, man. So how about any hobbies? What do you like doing for fun? 

Ray: 18:25 

I’ve been bad with disciplined hobbies. Over time, my wife was always like, you ought to get a hobby. So I started and stopped a lot of different stuff. What restores me the most, is the, and it’s still takes effort to do it sometimes is the get outside.And do something I’ll complain at start, but I love working around our yard. My wife’s designed and created a beautiful garden for our home and I grumble about it, but I enjoy every minute of being out there and looking at it.

I like reading. Reading all kinds of different stuff. I’m a sucker for history particularly engineering or manufacturing related history. I love reading about times when enormous challenges were overcome successfully when resources were a fraction of what they are today. You know, if you look back to a terrible time, World War II, however, what that inspired the manufacturing community to be able to do basically zero to what we were doing. 

Henry Ford and the automobile, the building of the Brooklyn bridge, the building of the Palomar telescope. I’m a geek for that stuff. I love reading about it because then it brings you to today when we can simulate everything, digital twin, this, everything else it’s tell me again, why we can’t do this. You know? 

Chris: 19:40 

Well, how about any favorite books, since you, you brought up books and reading about history and engineering, anything that jumps out as like, “Man, you got to read this.” 

Ray: 19:48

It’s been a couple of things recently that I’ve read one that I came across a book called Emotional Agility Dr. Susan David, who it’s just, she really gets to the heart of how people’s, how your decisions, if they don’t really tie back to your core values, how that creates some internal conflict within people. Especially during times of great change. If you don’t have a handle on kind of yourself and how you cope with stress and recognizing, and or your emotions and stuff, and this isn’t a standard around the fire sing kumbaya.

This is based on some good science and just some good practical stuff. She’s awesome. There’s a great book out called Creativity, Inc. Ed Catmull, and it’s a great study in like how organizations, how cultures innovate. He was one of the founders. I believe it was Pixar. So it’s the story of that team and how they created some of the things that they did.

And that, that is fantastic. So I draw from a lot of different areas, about beings and connections just sort of happen and you don’t get well, what if we applied this over here and did these things. So that’s some of it. 

These days, there’s so much content you can get. If I want new stuff, of course you can always do Google alerts, but one of the tips for manufacturing leaders out there, if it’s podcasts such as, Ask Why I look at a ton of research that gets published on a regular basis from the likes of McKinsey, Deloitte, PwC.

You can sign up and this doesn’t cost anything you can sign up for alerts about stuff that’s going on in the industry, based on what you’re interested in. Am I interested in additive or am I interested in steel? Am I interested in international? What is it? And they curate these lists of stuff that come your way and, man, that’s the way you can catch up on stuff real quick. 

Chris: 21:36 

It really is. And we’ll link all the the book that you refer to in our show notes for our listeners too. So they check that out. So how about your, you mentioned your wife keeps you busy outside. What can you tell us about your family?

Ray: 21:47 

It’s my wife and I, we, wouldn’t not, we’ve been married for 35 years now. And so she’s obviously a woman of immense patience, but we met in college and got married shortly thereafter. She’s from Penang Malaysia. So my interest in international things, all of a sudden became my family and my experience internationally and I’ll share. 

Anytime I get is, the first time I met her family, father included was when we were being married in Malaysia. And what struck me was that was the first time in my life. I had traveled so far to a place that was so different and was made to feel so welcome. And that’s a theme that has recurred many times in my international travels. I think a lot of times there are people that will be reluctant about doing business internationally or whatever. Yeah. Just because they haven’t experienced it is the thing. I am so grateful for my wife and her family and that reinforcement has served us all well and been very enriching.

Chris: 22:50 

That’s wonderful. That’s wonderful. Thank you for sharing that with us as well. How about, from a personal standpoint, I know you had Manufacturing Out Loud and you’re big into the manufacturing podcast. Any podcasts that you enjoy just for personal consumption that you like or refer to? 

Ray: 23:06 

There’s a, the short answer is yes. 

Malcolm Gladwell does some cool stuff out there. He’s written some really interesting books over the years that kind of caused people to really think. So Malcolm Gladwell’s got a good one. There’s another one out there called the Happiness Lab. Dr. Laurie Santos hosting and that’s a great series based on her work that she does as a professor, I think at Yale where she does things. Armchair Experts got some cool stuff from time to time. I listened to your podcast. There’s my friend Jim Carr, and Jason Zenger with MakingChips on the manufacturing side. They do some cool stuff. Chris Luecke is the stuff that he’s doing out there. So yeah, it’s a, it’s some of the usual suspects. I get enjoyment out of manufacturing stuff, so I don’t consider that work. You know what I mean? That’s why it blends. 

Chris: 23:55 

It all blends. There you go. Well, cool man. Well, we started doing a lightning round Ray and Chris had a lot of fun when we did it then. And we were doing it with everybody. I’m somewhat new to this, but all right. It can be short answers. This can be long answers, but we’ll just go as long as we, we feel good. How about that? All right, so man, we’ll start simple with maybe your favorite food?

Ray: 24:20 


Chris: 24:20

Oh, okay. How about adult beverage? 

Ray: 24:24 

Wow. First one that popped into mind is bourbon. 

Chris: 24:27 

Okay. Any particular type of bourbon? 

Ray: 24:29 


Chris: 24:32 

My man. All right. We will get along very well. There you go. How about sports teams? 

Ray: 24:39 

Oh man. I live in Chicago. So anywhere not here.

Chris: 24:45 

I hear ya. I hear ya. How about music? 

Ray: 24:48 

Oh, wow. I like all kinds of stuff. You know what everything from from classical through some hip hop. Oh, I like, so I have a very wide taste in music. 

Chris: 24:58 

Across the board. Okay. Okay. How about favorite movie?

Ray: 25:05 

The one I can recite The Blues Brothers. 

Chris: 25:09 

Nothing wrong with that. We’ll stick with that same theme. TV show? I mean, people still watch TV.

Ray: 25:16 

Man current or ?

Chris: 25:17 

It could be any, all time.

Ray: 25:20 


Chris: 25:22 

That’s a good one. Yeah. I always go back there and one of those Christmas Frazier, it was one of them, but it was. It cracks me up every time. But anyway. 

Ray: 25:31

Eddie the dog?

Chris: 25:32 

Or when Niles cut himself and he kept fainting, can’t get over that one. That was just so good. How about best place you’ve ever traveled to? 

Ray: 25:42 

Oh, the last one or well the next one. 

Chris: 25:46 

Okay. Next one. How about a destination you haven’t been to yet? 

Ray: 25:52 

Destination. I haven’t been to yet. I haven’t been to Italy. 

Chris: 25:55 

Haven’t been to Italy? Okay. Any pets? 

Ray: 26:00 

Oh, man, we’ve got a Keeshond named a Juniper cause I’m also a gin fan. So she is 35 pounds of pure knucklehead. 

Chris: 26:11 

Nice, nice. That’s awesome. Our last question, you’re taking your wife out on a date and then you’re trying to really win some points for that night. What are you guys going? What are you doing? 

Ray: 26:23 

Oh man. It’s probably somewhere. That’s got some live music happening somewhere where we’re sitting at the bar cause we’re bar and appetizer people. And the bartenders are fun and entertaining and we’re just having a good time. We meet some interesting folks there and if the music’s right, we get up and cut a rug. 

Chris: 26:39 

I hear you, man. All right. All right. Well look. Great job at a lightening round. That was a lot of fun. I think our listeners just like, just get to know people a little bit deeper, man. So that’s fun. 

Ray: 26:51 

So that was fun. Appreciate that. 

Chris: 26:53 

We always wrap up EECO Asks Why with the why and we’re talking about the passion, what drives us as individuals. So if somebody were to ask Ray, man, what is your, why, what will be your answer?

Ray: 27:05 

That’s always a tough one. My why for what I’m doing is. I have a passion for learning, applying and then sharing is a, is the thing. So my why is to find opportunities where I can either learn new things, apply those things. And in every possible instance share that and encourage folks as many folks along the way as I can. To do the same, pay it forward. I’ve I have been and continue to be blessed because others have given me a shot and I owe that to the next group. 

Chris: 27:36 

Man. That’s great. That’s a, that’s tweetable right there. Ray. That’s good. Hey for all our listeners, all the references that Ray mentioned, we’ll put that in the show notes from his podcast that he co-hosts to his company, to the books and podcasts that he listens to. So you can check all that out. Please connect with Ray. I know he’s very active on LinkedIn. When I reached out it was an immediate response. I’m sure you’re quick to draw on that aren’t ya? 

Ray: 28:01 

Hey, if you’re interested in me, I got news for you. I’m interested in you. 

Chris: 28:04 

Hey Ray this has been just wonderful. We’re blessed to have you as a guest, as one of our heroes through this conversation. So just thank you for taking your time. 

Ray: 28:13 

My pleasure, my pleasure. All the best.