Bruce A. Vaio is a seasoned, multi-dimensional, executive leader skilled in operational and resource management, acquisitions and divestitures, land optimization, organizational strategy, and financial performance. He is a passionate expert and leader, owning extensive experience working in the building materials and aggregate mining industries. Bruce holds a bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in history from the University of Denver and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix.
Mr. Vaio possesses 35 years of unique experience having led executive roles in private and public, and national and international companies. These include being named as the youngest CEO, at the age of 35, for one of Redland PLC’s (at the time, a FTSE 100 Top British Companies with over 100 years of longevity) decentralized operating companies, and executive vice president for (NYSE: MLM) Martin Marietta. As president of Martin Marietta Materials West Group, Mr. Vaio was responsible for the executive leadership and financial performance of the company’s Western United States presence, located in 17 states west of the Mississippi River, with an employee base in excess of 1,400 people and total gross revenues exceeding $1.2 billion.
Presently, Mr. Vaio serves as the founder and managing partner of Crescita Holdings LLC and majority owner of D&B Precision Cutting and Manufacturing LLC. D&B Precision Cutting and Manufacturing, operating as SaniSafe Products Company, is a leading supplier of plastic and acrylic merchandising products and displays for the grocery and retail industries. It is also a leader in the manufacturing of merchandise security cabinets and has a proprietary, key-less locking system capable of generating unique marketing and asset protection data. Inc. Magazine recognized D&B Precision Cutting and Manufacturing as being one of 2017’s 5000 fastest-growing private companies in America.
Mr. Vaio is an avid seeker of knowledge who shares a great passion for executive management and leadership. Bruce is an accomplished public speaker who works tirelessly to motivate, encourage, and empower teams and leaders in the quest of achieving levels of success never seen before. Bruce serves as an ambassador of Strategic Business Operations and is inspired by the drive to nurture the business leaders of today and tomorrow, and is at a point where he would like to actively engage and utilize his skills for the betterment of an organization seeking a highly-skilled mentor.
How did the concept for SaniSafe come about?
After a very successful 35-year career in the construction aggregates and building materials industries, culminating in the advancement to executive vice president for Martin Marietta Materials (NYSE: MLM), I was afforded the opportunity of early retirement. At heart, my passion and leadership style mirrors that of an entrepreneur and my dream has always been to take an incubator company with start-up traits to a level of excellence and growth never envisioned by the founders. After a year of exploring various acquisition opportunities, I ran across SaniSafe Products located in San Antonio, Texas. Although I was enamored with the manufacturing aspects of the business, I was captivated by the customer list that the founders had assembled. The partners SaniSafe had established was like a “Who’s Who” of admirable companies: Walmart, Valero, Whole Foods, and the southwest’s largest privately-held grocer, HEB, were but a few of the companies that SaniSafe had developed as consistent customers.
From the onset of due diligence, it was apparent that several changes could be implemented to improve the business processes and value proposition. Improved technology, equipment, and personnel were easy answers to the many challenges plaguing SaniSafe. More importantly, the vision to grow drove the acquisition and development of SaniSafe under new ownership. Simply put, “Despite raw business skills and acumen, the founders established a concept and idea that clearly was valued by many highly-regarded grocery and retail businesses. Surely, if the scale and offering was expanded, while quality significantly improved, the opportunity to deliver a new value proposition would be even more attractive.” From there, we were in business, and now we’re five years down the road.
How was the first year in business?
In one word, “CHALLENGING.” Simple items like assuring all the computers in the company were networked and working off the same operating system took time and resources. Culling through the workforce to assure that staff was capable of delivering the vision and mission of the company required effort and non-biased evaluation. Although “revolution” certainly could have been deployed, I am a strong believer in evolution. Taking the time to implement cultural change required effort and commitment. Getting the team to believe in a very admirable game plan was accomplished, but it took a full year to get everyone to realize that “our world” was about to get a whole lot bigger.
What was your marketing strategy?
One of the first elements we did was identify the cells or buckets that our products and services fulfilled. SaniSafe Products is in business to create, evolve, and construct plastic and acrylic products for the merchandising or protection of assets in the grocery and retail industries. Although there are others who compete in this arena, we are not a B2B business. Our products are generally specific to a marketing scheme or store essential. Therefore, our ability to listen, interact, and create a product from a customer’s vision generally directs a sale. To this end, we invested in a higher level of CAD software and combined these tools with a more competent and creative design team. With added investment in new CNC machines and other essentials, we immediately began a customer diversification strategy. In other words, with a whole new toolkit, our sales team worked feverishly to expand the awareness of SaniSafe’s capabilities. Fortunately, the receptiveness has been outstanding, culminating in us being named by Inc. Magazine as one of the 5000 fastest-growing companies in America.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Actually, the first two years can be divided into two segments: “Taxi and Takeoff.” Year 1, we shall call the taxiing stage. There is no doubt that we had rebuilt the company and positioned it on the “runway” for takeoff. Although revenue improved, it was incremental. So much time was spent assuring that the platform was sound and airworthy for the journey forward that increased sales really didn’t evolve. During the “Takeoff” phase (Year 2), we felt much like Charles Lindbergh must have experienced when getting ready to takeoff for his journey across the Atlantic. Our infrastructure was loaded and fortified as we headed down the runway. Our tail may have bounced a couple of times, but before we knew it, we were off and soaring. From Year 2 forward, our annual growth rate has exceeded 50%. We are working right now on diversifying our customer base while positioning the company for growth consistent with what we experienced after Year 2.
How do you define success?
As an ex-collegiate baseball player, I am someone who thrives on statistics. For me, the definition of success is easy. Achieving continuously-improving goals commensurate with the opportunity resource afforded is the key measure of success. As a leader, I find my primary function to be unifying the organization and its resources to achieve levels of performance never considered to be possible. Although improved profitability is essential, I gain more satisfaction orchestrating the vision and realization of taking teams to championship caliber level.
What is the key to success?
The key to success is being able to transform your personal passion into a vision and mission that a team aspires. This means assuring that you are able to assemble the right team members and put them in the right position to effectively play at a consistently-winning level. Continuous evaluation, measurement, and improvement relative to the daily, weekly, quarterly, and annual challenges determines if you will do more than just survive. Remember, “If you are not passionate, excited, and clear minded about what you do, then you can’t expect your team to deliver outstanding results.”
What is the greatest lesson that you have ever learned?
There are really three “Aha” moments that have resonated with me in my career. Early on, I found myself quick to the trigger when the need for change appeared obvious. Although deploying immediate or spontaneous actions may seem necessary, and very much entrepreneurial, swift reaction can appear knee-jerk and tactical to the organization. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes instantaneous action is necessary, but only when weighed against the middle and long-term implications to the company. In a strategic sense, “More evolution and less revolution” seems to benefit the organization strategically. The second element I learned over time was the value of looking beyond the evident when assessing personnel. Over the years, in both private and publicly-held organizations, I have observed how some employees make a career of being “smart rats.” Smart rats are people who know all the “buzzwords” and company lingo and effectively seem to be able to sell themselves as useful just by their continued appearance and demeanor. Smart rats are experts in being able to tell you what can’t be done but don’t effectively know how to achieve change or improvement. I have learned to focus extensively on identifying the “doers” in the organization and rely heavily on them to lead change. Knowing who can truly get things done is essential if you aspire excellence. Finally, what gets measured gets managed and what gets managed gets done. The importance of measuring performance is invaluable in moving a company forward.
What are some of your favorite books?
Still high on my list is Jim Collins’ Good to Great. In my mind, Collins’ book is a bible for how to evolve an organization. Knowing your “hedgehog principle” while getting the right individuals on the bus in the right seat are essential elements in running a business. Although Collins’ book was written in the early 2000’s, the message still resonates today. The current book I am reading is Measure What Matters by John Doerr. In this text, Doerr takes time introducing the concept of OKR (Objectives and Key Results) and exploring how to implement OKR as a key to exceptional performance. This is a must read for anyone concerned about organizational performance. Finally, an old mainstay that I still find as an organizational behavior guide is Lou Holtz’s Wins, Losses, and Lessons. Lou is one of most inspirational speakers I have had the opportunity to hear and meet. He is a wizard of motivation and genuinely gets how to unify a team towards a consistent objective.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Unfortunately, in my prior career as an executive in both the private and public sectors, I have experienced workplace fatalities. The construction mining and material supply industries are inherently dangerous. From drilling, blasting, crushing, and stockpiling tons of material to transporting heavy loads of aggregate, concrete, and asphalt, the industry is embedded with constant dangers. Knowing that you have lost a valued team member as the result of an industrial accident is something you will never forget. Telling a loved one that their spouse isn’t coming home is something you will memorialize forever. Having dealt with this situation multiple times, I cherish the fact that our employees are “real people” who deserve the commitment and pledge that assures their safe return to their families daily. To this day, I make “World Class Safety” a priority for any organization I am affiliated with.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Two things: 1) experience and 2) the payoff. With over 35 years as an executive leader, I realize that any challenge will face adversity. Keeping focused on the payoff helps to navigate the stress and turmoil of adversity. In every case, the ecstasy that comes from a win more than offsets those gut-wrenching moments of turbulence.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Aim big, shoot small! Dreams and aspirations are achievable when you master the road map to success. It is okay to have the dream as a vision, but you must be able to align your guns and take the right shots to ultimately succeed in the mission. Planning and measurement are key.
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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