189. Hero: Michael Manzi – Manufacturing Information Systems Practice Lead at Feyen Zylstra Transcript

00:00 Chris: 

Welcome to EECO Asks Why. Today we have a hero conversation. I’m very excited to have with me, Mr. Michael Manzi, who’s the manufacturing information systems practice lead at Feyen Zylstra. So welcome, Michael. 

00:17 Michael: 

Thank you, Chris. You did well with that. That’s a mouthful. 

00:20 Chris: 

It is a mouthful, my friend. Do you use an acronym for that, or you just go with all the words?

00:24 Michael: 

MIS is what we’re kind of going with. Everything’s a three letter acronym. 

00:30 Chris: 

It’s got to be in the world that we live in. It has to be an acronym, right? Correct. 

00:36 Michael: 

We should do a podcast just on acronyms, but that’s right.

00:39 Chris: 

That’s right. I was so pumped up to have you. Where are you located out of? 

00:43 Michael: 

I’m with a Feyen Zylstra’s headquarter out of Grand Rapids. I am located in Cleveland, Ohio. 

00:47 Chris: 

Oh, you’re in Cleveland. Okay. We’ll get to some fun stuff later on in the conversations about sports teams and things like that. So are you from Cleveland or? 

00:56 Michael: 

I was born and raised in Cleveland you know, spent some time outside of it, but I would say 90% of my life spent in Cleveland.

01:02 Chris:

Okay. We are anxious to get to those answers in later. So get us started. Maybe we love to hear from our heroes about their journeys and that you’ve had a fantastic career. So, just walk us through how it’s been for you. 

01:14 Michael: 

I think Robert Frost had a poem, I took the road less traveled by and it’s made all the difference. My journey has not been a straight line journey. A journey of, from crawling to standing to running. When I graduated high school, deciding what I wanted to do know I had good grades. I had scholarships at places, but in my head I thought I was too smart. At least I was smart enough to recognize that and I was fearful that if I went to college, I didn’t have the discipline to really do what I needed to do. I felt that some of the outside influences at college might derail me. And I’ve seen it happen to some friends and things like that and so I decided to join the military. 

I went into the Navy they had a nuclear program. So I became a Navy nuke. It’s an interesting program. I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. It’s it’s brutal. They compare it what the Navy seals are physically. The Navy nuke is mentally starting to class. I think when they say, when we went to bootcamp, there’s about 1000 or 1200 of us, two years later, when we got off the boats, there was about 300 of us left.

They drop you out for just about anything, but you know, if you’re trusting somebody to run a nuclear reactor under the water, potentially in foreign waters, you’re kind of looking for, people that can handle a certain level of stress and be able to respond and have a level of confidence in what they’re doing. That’s my props to the Navy nuclear program. But if you have what it takes, they want to test yourself, put yourself through it. I spent 20 hours a day in a classroom and it was brutal. Some of my best friends I’ve made in life were there, but I was a mechanic in the Navy. So I worked in the engine room. I operated pumps, evaporators, nuclear reactors. I learned how to fix all this stuff. Turn a wrench. 

02:54 Chris: 

You said something that just caught my ear. Did you say 20 hours a day and a classroom? 

03:00 Michael: 

Yeah. At a nuclear power school. It was a six month school in that first two years and we called one the light side and the dark side for all Star Wars geeks, but during the first three months you’re kind of breaking in. And in the last three months, you’re deep into it. And you would show up at school, it was dark and when you left the school, it was dark. So we call it the dark side. 

03:21 Chris: 

Oh, my gracious. Wow. Okay. I’m sorry. Keep going. I just, that wasn’t, that was amazing.

03:26 Michael: 

Oh, we can do a whole other podcast on that one. And then the third course of learning to handle the stress of submarine life was a whole different, thing as well, but at some point in time, I said, the military was enough. Decided I want to be in charge of my own life, figure out what time will I get up. Didn’t necessarily want to have my shoes shined every day. And it was just time to come home and grow. So got out of the Navy got a job at a chemical company for a couple of months realized that wasn’t for me, got into the maintenance field, became an industrial electrician for two or three years.

During that course of time there was a lot of hours. I improved several machines uptime and that, and it just wasn’t rewarding for me. I was seeing other people get a lot of credit for concepts I was coming up with. And that point in time, I met a girl and got married and we looked at things. We looked at our finances. I had my GI bill and we decided it was time to go to college. So I went to community college for two years. Lakeland Community College in Willoughby, Kirtland, Ohio was a math student of the year. My second year there graduated Summa cum laude with I think I had a 3.96 missed the 4.0 because I took the hardest math class in the summer with the hardest professor and only got a B plus.

04:38 Chris: 

You just liked the torture. I’m picking that up.

04:42 Michael: 

You know what, you’re probably right, but I went to Cleveland State after that. And I went, I was there for two or three years. While I was there I interned at Rockwell was working on a global missile defense project which was a really cool project, but had the military background and I had the confidentiality clearances. So I was put into that group. Graduated from college, I didn’t quite want to stay at Rockwell. It’s just seemed at that point, it was there’s too much ladder climbing going on at the time. And at least doing around the group, I was in. I found another company uh, Washington Group. They had an opening in their power group. I wanted to be a controls engineer, but the pay was really good. I liked the hours. I liked the people I met with in, I was at a round Robin interviews and it went really well. 

One day after being there a year now, maybe a couple of months, they had me doing a arc flash study and they gave me these Excel forms that I had in the output from a program. And they said here keep turning all these outputs into this Excel report. And so I look at this one page of Excel, copy paste. I noticed I was doing the same thing over and over. So I decided it was about to be a better way to do this. And I bought an Excel for dummies book. I learned about macros. And then I saw that there was coding behind Excel, VBA code, and I’m like, oh, so I wrote a VBA program that turned three months worth of copy and pasting into a five minute push button. It would go and retrieve all the files, format, everything, and just spit out the report. So in a 60,000 person company in my first year, I was runner up innovator of the year.

Then, the controls group asked the power group lead. Hey we’re doing this project. We need somebody that can write some code. You have anybody you can borrow Mike for a little bit. And I haven’t gone back to the power group since, so I ended up working with some water plants around the city of Cleveland where I got introduced to a bunch of GE software products and the GE rep in the area noticed my work and pried me away from Washington Group. So I went for working for a company called Gray Matter Systems for close to 10 years. 

Within that I learned how to do SCADA work, historian work reporting work got into networking taught myself how to build virtual servers. And. Self-educated myself into becoming, ultimately an OT expert. I understood the, the network components, how the PLC programming and all the on the modules that were involved on the process control side. And at some point there I felt I needed to grow some. So I went to a PPG and became a global engineer for them and got into designing their process control networks on a global scale, working with the IT/OT team and even driving that I caught the attention of one of the senior VPs of IT when I sent the $300,000 capital request across this desk that didn’t even have his name on it. So I get a call from this guy and he’s like, what the heck do you think you are after ever after about a 15 minute conversation. He kind of agreed with me and then we had a big IT/OT summit. So we drove that. Project ultimately stalled there. There was some instability in the upper management.

An activist investor came in and stalled the project we’re working on. Right. And Kennametal called with a funded $300 million monitorization project. So I went to work for them helping design their OT networks designing the machines to be network capable and smart machines, ready to be plugged into the plant floor and deliver the information we want. COVID hit and when you’re designing stuff and you carry a big number, you know, you become expendable. So I was unemployed for all of about two hours and that’s when Feyen Zylstra called. And one of my friends from the past Ryan Cahalan now the president of the industrial tech group within Feyen Zylstra and Kyle Reisner, who was a director of customer success, you know, said funny, you’re calling, we’re going to call you tomorrow. They reached the recently had taken a position at and we’re expanding the capability of the industrial technology team and made me an offer. 

08:43 Chris: 

Wow. What a story and I know Ryan I’ve met him before. Of course, we’ve had one of your colleagues, Jake Hall on EECO Asks Why as well. So, you know, man, what a amazing story, Mike. I mean, it’s been all over the place. It sounds like you’ve traveled the world. 

08:58 Michael:

Oh, I can list it off. I mean, I’ve been to Germany so many times, Italy, Finland. I was stationed in Pearl Harbor. I’ve been in the Guantanamo Bay twice. I’ve been through the Panama Canal twice, a couple of islands in the Caribbean, all up and down the east coast, the west coast a month in Japan a month in Guam. And, I tell people since I was on submarines I’ve been to a hundred countries, probably seen six of them. Right, right. I can’t tell you. Oh, well, that’s right. 

09:24 Chris: 

You can’t tell us that’s right. So, yes. Well, I’ll tell you just with that knowledge and with that experience, I can only imagine the advice that you have for others that want to pursue a career in industry. So what would you offer up for that young person out there who may be listening? 

09:41 Michael: 

And I’ve given a few speeches at some colleges. And one of the first things I tell them is be an advocate for yourself. Don’t be a passenger in a ride of your life, be active. And I remember one company I was working at and I would go into my boss’s office every day and tell him how it was making the company money. And that year nobody got a raise, except me. And, and, And all my buddies looked at me. It was almost like a scene out of Office Space. You don’t seem to be working as hard as the rest of us, and you’ve got to raise. And I said, okay, what do you do here? And he’s like, I do AutoCAD. And what do you do here? I do AutoCAD. How many people here do AutoCAD? Like, a hundred, what do I do? Well, what do you do? I was like Chandler Bing to them. What is Chandler do? I program. How many people here program? Me. Yeah. 

So you try to find that niche that makes you unique, that separates you from the pack and then let your boss know that what you’re doing for him matters. And now as a boss, people think their boss bosses always recognized what they do. Their bosses are actually quite busy just trying to keep the department going and they need that feedback from them or they’re just going to assume that you’re just doing your job and if I didn’t hear anything good about you or anything bad about you, there’s no reason to fire you. No reason to promote you. 

10:57 Chris: 

Do you think, so far as advocating for yourself, that can be taken a couple of ways. You could go too far to one side where you’re being pushy and you it’s all about me, me, and then you couldn’t be, like you said, the meek person who never says anything. So where did you find a happy medium? What advice would you have there? 

11:14 Michael: 

That is the key to that cause you don’t want to be that backstabbing ladder climber. You’ve got to keep your integrity. Don’t lie. And be honest your boss, if he’s a good boss, they will appreciate honest feedback. Don’t go into hyperbole, don’t exaggerate and what they really appreciate. And I’ve done this a couple of times. Do you remember the first time somebody said, I don’t believe you just did that. Fall on the sword, when you messed up and you did something incorrect or you did something that’s going to hurt the project. Fall on the sword, go to the boss, immediately, let them know what happened and help be part of the solution.

11:50 Chris: 

That whole owning it. When I see people in particular on our team, that they just step up and own it and just, Hey, that’s my bad, but I’ve learned from, and here’s what we’re going to do to fix it to your point of the solution.

12:02 Michael: 

Thank you. 

12:03 Chris: 

Very good. Now how about mentors? So you’ve been all over, so many different places. Did you find it hard to actually latch onto some mentors and also in your position now or throughout your career? When have you had an opportunity to be mentors to others? 

12:18 Michael: 

Mentors are absolutely critical. Another thing when I talk to younger engineers, I talk about building your library. And your library, consists of a skill sets that you have. So you’re always adding to your skill sets, but it also consists of your network, the people you know, and within that group, are your mentors.

I’ve been lucky to have several very good ones. I’ve had some bad ones and you got to recognize, when you’re in a bad one, you have to extract yourself from that situation. Right. Good mentors they will advocate for you. They will enable you to do great things. And there’ll be honest with the feedback on you when you’re falling short, you know, they’ll praise you when you need to be praised and they’ll tell you that you’re not living up to what you’re supposed to be doing, but then they’ll also add the advice of how to get better, how to grow things that worked for them. Didn’t work for them. That’s what a mentor should do. 

13:11 Chris: 

How do you find them? 

13:15 Michael: I think you kind of find each other, you know, if you’re lucky enough you get assigned to somebody, but I honestly believe that, as long as you’re willing to put yourself out there and communicate to people and things like that. Like people will find each other and good people that want to develop people look for people that want to be developed. And then that’s where we talked about before you’ve got to advocate for yourself. You can’t be meek and you can’t exaggerate because if I have somebody I know is constantly exaggerating to me, I don’t want to work with that person because they’re just, a glory hound. And I want somebody, that wants to develop that wants to be, a real solution provider. I tell the guys that I hire now if you’re working for me doing the same thing in five years, I’ll be disappointed. 

13:58 Chris: 

Right, right. You have to have that drive. 

14:02 Michael: 

Yeah, that’s right. I’ll never pigeonhole you. You know, if you want to grow, I’m going to let you grow and I’m not afraid to move you on and have you do better things knowing I have a hole to fill I’ve worked for people that I felt I got pigeonholed, and that’s the worst feeling ever because you’re doing a great job. And, you’re making a company a ton of money and now loving what you’re doing, but you’re not growing. And you’re in, and if that’s all you want to do your entire life, maybe you’re happy doing it, but if you want to grow and they’re afraid to move you or promote you or enable you to grow, because they’re afraid of having a backfill the spot because of the work you’re doing, you need to extract yourself from that situation. 

That’s the advocate thing. It says it’s I have a tendency to throw a simple word out there that has a whole bunch of complex meanings.

14:51 Chris:

That’s true. Now, I am curious with your illustrious career, what would it be a highlight? It could be maybe from the Navy or, post Navy work to just curious anything that stands out? 

15:04 Michael: 

Well, I did like a, I already talked about that Excel program. That was pretty fun. The other highlight to me is when I developed a virtual and thin solution for Gray Matter Systems. So I taught myself VMware figured out how to do this multiple server set up within a couple of hosts boxes, set up the switches myself, and put together a whole multi-layered control system, that’s deliverable within a box. 

15:31 Chris: 

Wow. That’s awesome. Great job.

15:35 Michael: 

And that’s all leveraging your library too. I mean, I did a lot of research on my own. I knew like the IT manager from the city of Cleveland water. I knew guys from Rockwell, I knew guys from, GE and, and I definitely leveraged it. And I knew how to do my own research, but I also knew people that knew how to ask the right questions or if I was asking the right questions. And that’s where those mentors come in too.

15:59 Chris: 

Yes. So key. Last question on your career. And then we’ll talk, outside of work. When are you the happiest? What work are you doing?

16:07 Michael: 

Seeing people I enable do great things. 

16:09 Chris: 

Beautiful. Beautiful. Can totally see it to totally see it. Well, Mike let’s talk a little bit outside of work here for fun and get our listeners to know who you are when you’re not behind the keyboard, making magical things. What would be some hobbies, things you enjoy doing for fun? 

16:31 Michael: 

Well, I do like PC gaming. That’s why I said that. So there’s that aspect of it, but I have I built a swimming pool in my backyard and the deck around it. So I do like to do home improvement projects. I’m good with tools. I like designing things, but I also like using them too. So, you know, this summer I built the barbecue pit cause I was doing a pig roast, hosting, a family reunion. I had probably 75 people from around the country show up at my house. Learned a lot. I needed a way to cook the pig. So I built the barbecue pit. Did my research found what I would call redneck engineering, barbecue pit it’s a bunch of cinderblocks and some rebar and some expanded metal. And the summer has been all about learning how to barbecue. 

17:10 Chris: 

That is awesome. That’s awesome. You did the swimming pool too?

17:13 Michael: 

I hired somebody to put the swimming pool in, but I did I did all the utilities for it and I did the design and where it was going. And then I did design and build the deck around it. And it’s a 30 by 60 deck around the pool. So it’s not something inconsequential. 

17:27 Chris: 

That’s a massive deck. Okay. Wow. And you did all that? 

17:31 Michael: 

I had help. I leveraged my library. So I had a buddy from high school that works for a construction company. And I, burned his ear on how I should do the beams and joist. And if what I was doing was right. And I even paid him hourly to come in and work with me to show me some carpentry things that I didn’t know how to do. And it all stems from, before I said, don’t be afraid, or you said it don’t be afraid to do something. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step and the first one. 

18:00 Chris: 

That’s wonderful. Any other hobbies? 

18:02 Michael: 

I coach baseball. I coach basketball, sometimes well, sometimes I get overly angry. I’m very competitive when it comes to sports. I like to do more of it, but father time catches up. 

18:14 Chris: 

For sure. Yeah. Coaching, I’ll make an answer the other day about what are some guarantees in life and, you know, we have death and taxes and then I threw in your blood pressure going up if you coach kids, cause it’s just the way. 

18:25 Michael: 

And if you just have that competitive streak it takes a team of coaches, you know, we each rotate, calming each other down at times. Yeah. Yeah. That’s right. Remember it’s about the kids. 

18:37 Chris: 

I keep telling myself that, but I’m trying to get there.

18:41 Michael: 

And my poor son, I tell him, sometimes buddy, you get it from the coach and dad. 

18:46 Chris: 

Right. That’s right. That’s a great lead into the next question. I’d love to hear about family. You said you just hosted that big 75 plus family reunion. So what can you tell us about your family? 

18:58 Michael: 

Well, I got an 11 year old boy, a 17 year old daughter. They’re both radically different. The young man is he’s into sports. He’s a, you know, aspiring future engineer, good at math, good with spatial relations and all that. Very extroverted. Now has a lot of friends, puts himself out there. The daughter, she’s a fantastic artist. A lot more introverted. And it’s interesting, you know, what can come out of the same gene pool. She is 17. We started looking at colleges, we’re looking at several art and design colleges. One in Georgia, one in Florida. She aspires to work at Disney and the back to the library. I was at a Rockwell Automation tech ed event and got, went to a dinner. And I was sitting next to two engineers from Disney. So, where do you hire your interns from in the conversation? 

The wife met her after the Navy. She’s a special education teacher for 20 years. She’s actually running for the school board in Medina City here.

19:53 Chris: 

Oh, very cool. Yeah. So any other family there in Ohio? 

19:59 Michael: 

Oh, tons. Very good. I got family in Ohio, in Texas and Florida and Louisiana, and I had probably left a few out. 

20:09 Chris: 

Nice, nice. Well, it sounds like you have a wonderful family. I have 11 year old myself and that’s a fun age. They haven’t got to 17 yet. I’m dreading that because I have girls. So you can give you some advice on how to manage a 17 year old girl. 

20:21 Michael: 

I have to do it offline because it’s not all appropriate. That’s right. That’s right. One of my old bosses or mentors gave me a great thing. And again, I’ll, just there’s two years where you just got to be really strict with the girls. That’s right. It’s pretty much the boys too. Cause we know as teenagers we tend to be more responding to the chemical processes happening in our body than in the intellectual processes between our ears. That’s right. 

20:46 Chris: 

Very well put very well. How about things you enjoy for fun podcasts, YouTube channels, any books you read? And it could be, personal stuff, professional stuff. Just, we love to share resources with our listeners? 

20:58 Michael: 

I always tell people often I’m not an engineer, I’m a philosopher, who took up engineering. I like the process of thinking more than what I’m thinking of. And with that I got introduced to several good books as in my high school years. One was called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance written by Robert Pirsig. Very good book about a concept called , which the closest a equivalency in English language is quality, but you can tell when somebody actually cares about what they’re doing and the quality they put into it, there’s an excellence to it.

And it talked about what’s missing in modern life, why are people not happy? And how, why are we not reaching what a Retta is? Cause we’re not doing what makes us happy or what we care about. And in many ways, and another one was Irrational Man, where I got to study a bunch of existentialists. Very big fan of like Heidegger. Kierkegaard has said a few of the good things, Pascal. But you don’t take everything they say as a whole, just a clubs and clubs in your own, a bag on your back when you pull them out when you need them. 

21:56 Chris: 

Very good. Very good. And we’ll make sure we put those links in the show notes for listeners. I want to check those out. So Mike, we love to play a lightening round in these hero conversations and this just firing off random stuff at you. Love to get some, get your feedback. So it’s quick hit. You don’t have to go deep in the answers. 

22:12 Michael: 

Seven. True. Pyramids. Dogs.

22:18 Chris: 

I hear you, buddy. Let’s go, favorite food to start?

22:21 Michael: 

Lobster.

22:22 Chris: 

Lobster. My man. How about adult beverage? 

22:26 Michael: 

I’m a big in the old fashioned lately. 

22:28 Chris: 

Oh man. We have a lot in common. All right. Very good. So favorite sports? 

22:33 Michael: 

Well, it rotates. But as much as I hate them and I say, I’m never going to watch him again. I always find myself back on Sunday in my abusive relationship with the Cleveland Browns. 

22:45 Chris: 

Well, you’re kind of there. You have to be that right. 

22:48 Michael: 

That’s it. I had my opportunity. I lived in Houston for three years. They had a pretty good team and I just, it just didn’t feel right. 

22:54 Chris: 

Right, right, it just felt wrong.

22:56 Michael: 

I was cheating on them or something.

22:59 Chris: 

Now what’s your favorite app on your phone? 

23:01 Michael: 

I still use Facebook a lot, probably date myself with that. 

23:04 Chris: 

That’s okay. How about a guilty pleasure? 

23:06 Michael: 

I already covered that bourbon, right? 

23:10 Chris: 

Nothing wrong with that. What’s on your nightstand? 

23:13 Michael: 

What is on my nightstand, a lamp and a clock.

23:17 Chris: 

It’s simple, man. There you go. I am curious on this one from you, since you’ve traveled the world, what’s the coolest place you’ve ever been to 

23:26 Michael: 

All of them. I’ll throw some stories out there. Like the one place I thought never was that wasn’t on my list. I didn’t think I ever really wanted to go there until I went there was Scotland. Just seeing that the history and the beauty of it. And then the people there too are were outstanding. And obviously Italy and Spain, the food, the churches. Germany. I’m a foodie. So there’s that aspect? The beer in Germany, the people the architecture there is just was fantastic.

Japan just seeing the architecture there as well. And there’s a long story about in Japan where I got lost in a train station and I had the Japanese people just help me where I wanted to go. It was just nice affirmation of humanity, no matter where you go. Part of that is whenever you go somewhere, don’t be afraid to experience it. Don’t just stay in the casino. 

24:12 Chris: 

Right, right. Get out there. And like you said, experience it, see things, experience things and live. So how about last question? It’s a softball, dogs or cats?

24:21 Michael: 

Dogs. 

24:22 Chris: 

My man, 

24:23 Michael: 

I have, I, that was one of my kids I forgot to mention is my five-year-old son Ludo. He’s a lab/German shepherd mix.

24:30 Chris: 

Oh wow. You got a big dog. 

24:32 Michael: 

Yep. Probably bigger than he should be, but most people in my family are. 

24:37 Chris: 

That’s. Okay. I’m sure he has fun out there by the barbecue pit. 

24:41 Michael: 

Oh yeah. He sees, he knows when it’s barbecue time and he shows up. 

24:44 Chris: 

Right. That’s right. This has been a wonderful conversation, Mike, and we would always wrap up EECO Asks Why with the why. And it’s just talks about your passions. What’s important to you. What drives you? So what would be your personal, why? 

24:56 Michael: 

Always be better. 

24:58 Chris: 

Always be better.

24:59 Michael: 

And I’d give my son three rules. I always do the last 5%, work hard, make good choices and do what’s expected of you. 

25:06 Chris:

That should be on a t-shirt 

25:08 Michael: 

You do those three things. And one of them, I slipped two in there. So maybe it’s four things. You do those, those things you’re probably going to be successful. 

25:15 Chris: 

You got that right. Well your son is blessed to have you, speaking that type of truth to him. So hats off to you, you are definitely one of our heroes. Mike I really enjoyed this conversation. And for the listeners, check out the show notes, links to connect with Mike, links to connect with Feyen Zylstra and all the other items that we talked about today. But Mike, this has been just a fun conversation to get to know you. So thank you for taking the time with this.

25:38 Michael: 

Well, thank you for having me, Chris. And if you ever pass through the Cleveland area, we can partake in my bourbon collection. 

25:44 Chris: 

I have to do that. An old fashioned with you and maybe some barbecue sounds like a reason to come to Cleveland. 

25:49 Michael: 

Don’t forget the soundboard guy. He’s important too. 

25:51 Chris: 

That’s right, Mr. Adam, I’ll make sure Adam comes with me, man. We’ll have a good time. He’s an old fashioned connoisseur as well, so I will be good to go. 

25:59 Michael: 

Outstanding. Well, you have a wonderful day. 

26:01 Chris: 

Yes, sir. Thank you, Mike. 

What a great conversation with Mike. I know what stood out to me the most was how you need to advocate for yourself and you need to leverage that network because that’s what really is going to help you grow in your career. And remember send us those war stories. You can hit us up directly on Facebook and Instagram. Love to hear from you. If you’re really enjoying EECO Asks Why please hit that five star rating. That would mean the world to us. And I hope you remember, keep asking why.