136. Hero – Mike Caccia, Industrial Territory Sales Engineer at Schneider Electric Transcript


Chris: 00:00

If someone were to walk up to you and want to know what your personal why is, how would you answer it? 

Mike: 00:03

It’s family. That’s the most important thing.

Chris: 00:05

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. 

Welcome to EECOAsks Why. Today we have a hero episode. We’re going to be talking with Mike Caccia, who is a product manager at Electrical Equipment. How are you doing? 

Mike: 00:37 

I’m doing fine. Thanks. 

Chris: 00:39 Good buddy.

It’s been a good day here at the EECO Asks Why studio. I’m enjoying getting a chance to talk to you. I look forward to this conversation for our listeners. So Mike, we typically kick these off buddy just by giving our listeners a little bit of your history about your personal journey. So what can you tell us? 

Mike: 00:57 

Feeling old when you asked me that question I’ve been in manufacturing, industrial manufacturing for about 35 years now. I got my start, believe it or not, I was in college taking electronics and things like that. And then I got my start and graving legend plates at a panel shop. That had nothing to do with electricity, but it got me next to somebody who was working with electricity. And I thought that was a good move.

It turned out it was, so it was at a control panel shop. I worked there for a couple of years. Designing, building custom control panels. I moved my way up from engraving and got the hands-on experience, which I’ll never trade for anything. And then later I went and worked in manufacturing at an end-user, carpenter company.

They manufactured urethane foam and they had about I don’t know, 10, 13 plants in the US and plants in England, Germany and France. And in about eight years, I got about 16 years experience because I was in a corporate engineering department and we did everything, drawings, PLC code, HMI drives.

I ran the contractors, solicited for quotes, I ran the startups and then had to live with the equipment after you deployed it, then you got the calls from the plant saying, “Hey, this thing’s not working. Come help me,” or whatever. And even saw some of the machines get upgraded over that time as well.

And then after that, I went to work for Siemens, one of the larger global electrical automation companies in the world. And there I did everything from senior application engineering and in the tobacco industry and the semiconductor industry.

And then I specialized in automation for about 10 years. And then I also did it for, in the drives business units supporting everything from fractional up to a megawatt of drive technology. And then after that went to go work for Electrical Equipment Company and enjoying things and on this side of the fence for about seven or eight months now.

Chris: 02:51 

Okay. Very cool, man. So I mean 35 years. So what’d you start in manufacturing, what first, second grade, something like that?

Mike: 03:03 

Yeah, something like that.

Chris: 03:04 

I hear you. I hear you, man. Where’d you go to school at? 

Mike: 03:07 

Went to Old Dominion University Norfolk, Virginia, not too far from home. I call home Mechanicsville, Virginia, 

Chris: 03:14 

Go Monarchs, man. I went to ODU myself. So hearing you’re in good company, my friend. 

Mike: 03:22 

It’s a great school. We’ve got a lot of practical education. And it didn’t hurt to be close to the beach at the time either. 

Chris: 03:29 

Yeah, that was definitely a perk. I must say there’s several perks at ODU. We can’t get into all that here because we don’t want to get fired Mike, but it was good stuff. ODU is a great campus. Great college. So I was just curious on that and I mean, it sounds like you had some wonderful experiences from learning hands-on to working for Siemens. And now working here at EECO so just sounds like you’ve really enjoyed your journey, buddy. 

Mike: 03:53 

That’s a good way to call it a journey. It’s a lot of experience, different kinds along the way. And it’s amazing you really remember a lot along the way and you build on your knowledge. And it really is. When I look back on the memories of what I’ve done, I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve done, wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Chris: 04:09 

No doubt. And I know you and your current role, you’re supporting the industrial end users. You have a lot of history with that in the past as well. So what are you seeing if you had that crystal ball and you can make that call for the end users out there, what do you think’s coming on the horizon? Any challenges that they need to be aware of? 

Mike: 04:27 

The biggest challenge by far I hear it everywhere is skilled labor. The factories, the machine builders, the distributors of technology, the vendors like Rockwell and Siemens. Everyone is struggling to compete, to secure the adequate skilled labor for all positions, not just technical ones for operators, for warehouse workers, everywhere you look there’s skilled labor challenges and I emphasize skill too, because in the US, let’s face it, a lot of the industries that were not automated that were very manual, those industries have already left the US years ago. And what we’re left with now is more of the higher tech industries and as such, we have to compete and in order to compete we gotta use the skill labor force that we have to the maximum capability we can.

And that means we need to really look at our efficiency of our plants. We need to run smart and advanced manufacturing. And in order to do that we got to labor the latest state-of-the-art technologies out there. And having said that if we accomplish this, which I think we are, I think we’re very successful competing on a global scale, but as we create that expert, best-in-class manufacturing capability, we got to lock that down because there’s lots of countries out there that would like to steal our ability to manufacture efficiently.

So what I’m talking about is intellectual property. And one of the biggest challenge to locking down intellectual property is not allowing hackers to come in through our firewalls and copy our recipes, copy the way we manufacturer, copy our designs. That’s a big challenge. And I know the federal government’s been funding, a special programs and universities across the US for the countermeasures to cybersecurity.

So, cybersecurity advancement and automation are two things that need to go hand in glove because if we can go back to the plant architecture in an automation mind set, you take the OT and the IT to the OTB and the operation environment and the ITB in the information environment of the plant we’re talking about in smart manufacturing industry, 4.0, bringing those two networks together, which means connecting them on ethernet, which means that now all of a sudden, now we’re potentially making our production vulnerable to cyber attacks.

So we can’t connect the two together and advance our efficiencies without locking them down and securing them so that we don’t give up the farm source. 

Chris: 07:04 

No doubt, man. This is, we’re hearing that more and more, the more people we talk to on, on EECO Asks Why as well, that IT, OT convergence and the doors that opens from a cybersecurity standpoint. And, I do want to go back to your first point. Just the skilled labor gap. It’s real. Some salient points that you recognized, my friend.

For our listeners they’re all tough topics, but having conversations like this and then being able to work together I think they are things we can overcome. So, you know, Mike, if somebody was out there and they want to pursue a career in industry or pursue a product manager type role, any advice you’d like to offer up to them?

Mike: 07:44 

Sure. I mean, I reflect back when I was in school and it was a dream to become a, technical resource and engineer in the market. My background is electrical engineering and I called myself that before I graduated and that was my thought. And when I graduated it was a personal goal of mine to do the work that I was educated to do. 

Some people get a degree in one thing and then to do something else. And that’s fine, but in my view, I went to school the of engineering. I wanted to be one. And when I got out I really thought that I was trained to do everything. I thought I was supposed to be able to graduate and go to a place to work and they would hand me a project and I would start designing it.

But what I realized looking back though, and I’d like to share that with everybody out there is. What college or let’s say technical trade schools teach you it’s not so important the actual content that they’re teaching you, it’s more important that you are learning how to learn, because let me tell you something in 35 years, I have never stopped learning and it’s the ability to learn quickly, whatever technology that your customer or your employer needs, the ability to learn whatever they need and putting it to work. That’s the value you bring to the table with your education. 

Chris: 08:58 

No doubt. You’re all over it. When you stop learning, you’re done and you have to have that mentality, man.

That’s great stuff. That is great advice. And we stand with you on that one, for sure. So from a learning standpoint what are some resources that you typically go to or that you use to grow in the past?

Mike: 09:17 

Well, mentors are really good. I’m a strong believer that surrounding yourself with people that are smarter than you is a really good thing to do because you’ve heard the analogy that the intelligence might rub off on you. And it’s true. You surround yourself with people that really know their stuff. And you’re going to learn a lot. 

Some people get intimidated. They want to be the smartest guy in the room or whatever, but when you do that, you’re limiting your exposure to learn more. So I really encourage people to try to surround yourself with people that are best in class or smart in their field.

And don’t limit yourself to one discipline. Everyone has something to teach you along the way whether they be mechanical, civil, process engineers, or even production people, they all have things to teach. Just keep your brain and your mind open to what everybody has to teach you along your way.

Chris: 10:06 

Now you’re stealing my thunder Mike because surrounding yourself with people smarter than you, this is the, this is on my business card. It’s kind of what I do, brother. Maybe there’s some listeners out there that can appreciate that, but you’re right.

One thing, put you ego down and be okay that somebody may know something that you don’t know. And that’s okay. There’s an opportunity to learn and improve yourself and you probably have things you can offer them too. You’re all over it. You don’t let the ego, your ego get in the way, but just be willing to surround yourself with better, smarter, and just learn, and absorb so good stuff, man. Now you’ve mentioned mentors, any mentors jump out that you’d like to give a shout out or recognition to? 

Mike: 10:48 

Well, my first mentor was a gentleman by the name of Buddy Clots and he owned an electrical control panel shop. I mentioned that I worked there. He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. He was a big time encourager. He knew me before I graduated from college. And he always just had so much confidence in me and thought that I was really going to be something someday and I was going to get that engineering degree and he always offered me work when I wasn’t in school.

He always gave me part-time work when, during the holidays and during the summers when I had off. And he actually offered me my first job out of college. I guess I was lacking a little confidence when I first started. And he gave me that confidence. And he actually gave me my first project out of a college and threw me to the wolves on a very large upgrade of a machine and I was struggling. I’m trying to get the drawings right, trying to, do everything perfect. I think that my commissioning start-up on the machine was like two weeks long and I thought I was a complete failure because it didn’t, you know, I just didn’t throw the power on, check a few things out and the thing just didn’t come up and run perfect. Turns out two weeks was like a crazy short start-up time compared to what most people had done in the past. I just didn’t have the right expectation of myself and, you know, and what it takes to commission a new machine.

So you know, I look back and, Buddy, he really encouraged me the whole time and told me, you’re doing a good job and don’t worry about it. Just keep plowing forward. And when I didn’t know something, he would help me. And I hope everyone can find that first mentor for them to help him over the hump.

Chris: 12:18 

Absolutely. I mean, have you had a chance throughout your career Mike to be that mentor to someone at this point? 

Mike: 12:27 

I have and it, there’s a lot of, young bucks coming in. And as I’ve gone along the way I’ve mentored several people. And it’s a real satisfying thing. And I share all the things we’re talking about right now. That’s what I share with them as well. As long as you have a good work ethic, you show up for time on work and you do due diligence. You study things. You’re alert.

 When you’re taking training classes, ask questions. Don’t sit there and be afraid to ask questions, even if they’re stupid ones. There’s no stupid question. If you don’t know the answer it’s you need to ask the question. What’s stupid is not asking the question. So just like I said, just keep learning and take every opportunity to the max.

Chris: 13:04 

No doubt. And thank you for taking the time to pour into others. It’s so important as we grow and as a community, particularly within manufacturing and engineering to support each other and help lift each other up. And so anytime that I hear about people offering mentorship, it’s just, it’s great things to talk about.

It may spark someone’s mind right now. If they’re listening to the podcast you know what, I need to be more intentional about mentoring others, cause a lot of it just comes down to being intentional, just make it a priority. So you know, hats off to you for doing that, man. That’s great stuff.

Mike: 13:37 

I think it’s really fun to teach others and if I retire, you know, a little early and still have some, some time in the day. I really love to go back to, like a technical trade school or back to high schools and go back and teach math or something because I’ll never forget in geometry class in high school you’re learning all these opposite angles and, theorems and all these things. I remember asking the teacher the question what is this used for and the teacher didn’t know the answer at all. And it was so discouraging at the time.

I just kept plowing through in math because I was good at it. I had no idea I was going to become an engineer, but if I could go back in time and be that teacher so that when they asked the question, why do I need to know the equation of a line? And I could easily explain to them when I was in the chemical industry, we use the equation of a line to come up with the flow chart for positive displacement pump.

We use linear regression. There’s a use for all this math and us engineers. Some of us that don’t have family that are already in the field and passing it down like me. I didn’t have any family members that were engineers and showed me the roadmap.

 I was figuring it out as I went along, but for those people who have the math capability and don’t know what to do with it, sure would be nice to have someone that can share with the young folks where the math is going and what it’s used for that really does have practical uses.

Chris: 14:54 

Yeah, no doubt. I mean, it ties it all together. Right? 

Mike: 14:56 

Absolutely.

Chris: 14:57 

Good stuff, man. That’s great. Thank you for sharing that. And when you think about engineering, a lot of people have certain preconceptions about what engineers are or what they do. Anything that you’ve found throughout your career that doesn’t align with what people think of when they think of engineers?

Mike: 15:15 

Yeah. I don’t know that I can pinpoint a good answer for that one, but I can tell you when you’re in social circles and you’re in a general audience or whatever, you want to stop a conversation real quick? Normally it’s when you introduce yourself as engineer, it stops the conversation right there. 

What’s funny a lot of engineers that, that, I think there’s a tendency to this. And I’ll tell you a little story on myself and the 11th grade, my English teacher told my dad without me in the room told me that I wasn’t bound for college. I wasn’t supposed to go to college cause I almost failed English. And my dad told her, ” Don’t tell my son that.” 

And I didn’t learn that until years later it turned out I went to engineering school and got a college degree, and I’ve been doing this stuff ever since then. 

And what I figured out was a lot of engineers, you know, we have weaknesses. Some engineers have it all, they’re musical, they’re technical, they know math and your history and they know everything. They are really smart guys out there. Me, I was strong in math. I had ADD, and I was weak in English and I hated English. Didn’t like to read it then like to write it.

And that’s why this teacher said, I wasn’t bound for college, but the key thing is when I got to engineering school, it was so funny. When you look around at all your buddies that are engineering school, you’re like, oh my gosh, they’re all like me. Most of us had ADD, weak in English strong in math. It was just hilarious when you get in a room full of technical folks, you find, “Oh, there’s all the guys that are just like me. I don’t feel so abnormal anymore.” 

Chris: 16:41 

You found your people, right? Very good.

Mike: 16:38 

All types to make the world go round, right? 

Chris: 16:41 

No doubt, man. No doubt. Thank you for sharing that and being open with our listeners. Don’t let people put limitations on yourself and if you’re determined to do something and you have the right work ethic and drive, you can get it done. So hats off to you, buddy.

 Last work question and we’ll get away from work. What do you enjoy doing the most, man? When you are the happiest in your career, what are you doing in those moments? 

Mike: 17:09 

I love solving problems. Give me a challenge and go scratch your head and design something. And then, commission it, see it to reality. That’s really satisfying. It really is to make improvements in, you know, our machines and oftentimes you’re in production. You have operators who, they’re living a hard lifeon a machine because it could be physically, challenging or it could be frustrating because they’re not able to produce the quality of product that they’d like.

And then you come in there and offer them a new way to do things with a higher automated machine. And I’ve seen operators have smiles on their face, as a result of the work that we, us engineers, that the type of work that we do. And I’ve seen that smile on operators. And, when you’re able to go back to the corporate office and, do another machine or another design. They’re still on that same machine day in and day out, that’s their life, 40 hours a week and you just improved it. So that’s really satisfying right there. 

Chris: 18:07 

Very good. You’re all over it. And no doubt that you find that satisfaction a lot in what you do. So, you know, let’s get out of work for a little while and let’s put it on our our non-EECO, non-career hats and talk a little bit outside. So any hobbies, anything you enjoy doing for fun? 

Mike: 18:22 

I’m not good at it, but I do enjoy golf. I haven’t had enough time to really hit enough of it, but I enjoy golf. Also have a fishing boat and I’d like to go fishing. I haven’t done much yet, but I plan to do a lot more. But the most important thing to me is my family, my wife and my two daughters.

And I recently just. We just added a grandson to our family. And there’s nothing more important than family and relationships. Let me tell you friends and family is the most important thing. I think we all bring with us. 

Chris: 18:52 

No doubt. And as this year, a first grandchild?

Mike: 18:52 

First one. Yes, sir.

Chris: 18:53 

Okay. And you say it was a boy? 

Mike: 18:55 

Yeah. His name is Miles. 

Chris: 18:58 

Miles. All right. So does Miles, does he live close? 

Mike: 19:04 

He does. He’s only 30 minutes from the house. 

Chris: 19:06 

So there’s a pretty high probability that Miles is going to get spoiled by grandpa, huh? 

Mike: 19:11 

A little bit. 

Chris: 19:14 

Now what do you prefer to be called? Everybody has a different name. What do y’all want him to call you? 

Mike: 19:19 

Papa. Yep. That’s it. 

Chris: 19:21 

Okay. Okay. Nice man. I remember having a conversation with my dad after my first daughter was born. It was about three or four months after she was born and he walked in the room and I said, “I don’t know who you are or what you’ve done with my father, but I’d like to say, I like to have him back at some point to talk to him,” because he completely transformed right from dad to granddad. So have you had that moment? 

Mike: 19:51 

Yeah. Yeah. You get a redo man. It’s really cool. 

Chris: 19:56 

That’s right. Well, hey man, that’s great. Sounds like you’ve got a wonderful family, a lot of fun hobbies you get to do. Maybe you’ll get to take Miles out on that boat and do some fishing. That is awesome. That is so cool, buddy. 

What about other things like books, podcasts, resources, things that you enjoy, that you would like to recommend for our listeners out there and it could be personal stuff or it could be business related. So is there anything you consume that you find a lot of value in that you would like to share with our listeners?

Mike: 20:24 

I can’t say that I know of anything unique that your listeners probably don’t already know about it. I mean, I can tell you that everything that needs fixing around my house my family has always expected me to take a whack at fixing it and I’ve tried my best, but in the last couple of years, oh my gosh, YouTube is your friend.

And it translates through the factor. We just got to figure out how to get, how to videos and how to information on a mobile device, in a plant that’s going to translate. But yeah, YouTube, everything that’s. That’s the biggest thing that helps me at the house, technologically. 

You know, our houses are all going smart. This for security reasons, for convenience reasons. I think everything’s going cloud. there’s a similar scenario that we’ve been talking about the plant, it applies to your house because guess what bad people want to get on that network too. So word of caution, I think we all need to think about cyber security on our houses especially when you think about cameras and things like that. 

Chris: 21:23

No doubt. Mike, this has been just a fun conversation. We’ve learned a lot about you. We always wrap up EECO Asks Why with the Why where we get down to the purpose and understanding what’s important. What makes you tick? What drives you so if someone were to walk up to you and want to know what your personal why is, how would you answer it? 

Mike: 21:41 

It’s family. That’s the most important thing to me. It’s my wife and my daughters and my church you know, and I’m a Christian, so that’s, my faith is really important to me. 

Chris: 21:52 

There you go, my friend with nothing wrong with that. Great answer. It sounds like you, you have your roots planet in good soul, and that is awesome. So we’re happy that you took the time with us on EECO Asks Why to share your story, Mike. I know it will inspire others and hopefully someone out there they’re listening, they picked up on some of this great wisdom and insight that you provided. So thank you for taking the time with us. 

Mike: 22:16 

Thank you.