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Interview with Sumitomo Machinery Corporation of America CEO—James Solomon

December 19, 2016
Olivia Martin



Sumitomo Machinery Corporation of America (SMA), part of Sumitomo Drive Technologies, announced James D. Solomon as the corporation's next President & Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Solomon, who currently serves as the Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, will succeed Ronald J. Smith, President & CEO, on January 1, 2017.
In the position of President & CEO, Mr. Solomon will oversee operations throughout the Western Hemisphere including, 18 facilities spanning across the USA, Canada, Mexico, and Central and South America. As a proven leader for SMA, Mr. Solomon's knowledge and understanding of the power transmission industry will continue to be instrumental in the company's future growth and success.
We sat down with Mr. Solomon to ask him about his journey to CEO, his vision for the corporation, and how the leadership team will continue to progress. Mr. Solomon was enthusiastic about the future of SMA.

What was your journey like to get where you are today?
The majority of my background has been in finance. I have held positions in Public Accounting, as an Internal Auditor for three large corporations, and as a Controller prior to joining SMA. Each position has given me unique skills, and each one helped me in the next role. In 2000, I joined SMA as the Assistant Controller and began to experience more of the business side. I traveled to Brazil, Mexico and many of our other Latin America locations, broadening my perspective. When Ron Smith moved to Chesapeake from our Corona, California location, our styles clicked. We have worked closely together on many projects, several of which were outside of the financial function, and that has helped me greatly.

What is your vision for SMA?
I have the advantage of starting this role with an already strong company. We have a really good foundation on which to build upon, so now it's our opportunity to focus more on our strengths and how (and where) we can be successful. Customer Satisfaction will continue to be our number one priority-"Enhancing the Customer Experience" is the main focus of our next Mid-Term Plan. Aligned with the Customer Experience is the plan to steadily grow our profitability ratio even beyond the current levels. This profit growth will then allow us to reinvest more into this business to take it to exciting new levels. Our current structure throughout North and South America has positioned us well to grow into one of the premier players in this market

How do you see yourself shaping that vision?
I see myself shaping that vision through two key areas that are both tied to Personnel. As a top priority, we will enhance our Personnel Development program to attract and retain the most talented people in this industry. In this ever-changing market, that is a constant for what defines an excellent company. Tied closely to this is the establishment of the new Leadership Team that takes effect in 2017. I believe an important part of leadership is identifying and assembling the key players that can work as a team to move an organization forward. We have an ideal mix of strengths within this group that complement each other in a way that forms a powerful leadership team. When I was building the team, I looked at both the functions that needed to be represented and the people. We have individuals who are creative, technical, and financially minded-all individuals, but all a part of a team.

Who are your role models?
There are two types of role models for me-life and business role models. My parents are my life role models. My father was a coal miner who worked six days a week, driving two hours each way to work. When he wasn't working or sleeping he maintained a cattle farm in West Virginia. My mother was a homemaker who made some of the best meals imaginable. They had strong work ethics and lived simple lives but most importantly they cared more about other people than they did themselves. My business role model is someone named Alan Mulally. He originally worked at Boeing then became Ford's CEO when Ford was at its worst just before the economic crisis in 2008. As a die-hard Ford guy, I knew of him but didn't really know much about his management style. Having read much more about him since, I really grew to admire his ability to change the culture at Ford and build a true team environment. It was this strong team concept that ultimately saved Ford at a time when its biggest competitors were falling into bankruptcy.

In work or your personal life, what is the biggest challenge you have had to overcome?
When I first arrived at SMA, the thought of having to do a presentation in front of a large group gave me a lot of anxiety. I overcame my fear of public speaking by teaching at Tidewater Community College four evenings a week back in the early 2000's. This was not easy at first but it helped me prepare for my current role as CFO, and ultimately the role I will have going forward. Now, depending upon the topic, I actually look forward to and enjoy the process of creating and delivering presentations in public.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I am an auto enthusiast and enjoy reading more on the industry; this is where a lot of my passion and interest lies. I visit new car lots like some people visit shopping malls. I also enjoy attending auto shows. My wife and I attended the 50th Anniversary Event for the Ford Mustang in Charlotte, North Carolina back in April 2014, and that was a major bucket-list item for me. This January I will be attending the North American International Auto Show in Detroit with Dennis Katterheinrich, SMA's Automotive/Airport Baggage Handling Industry Manager. My wife Pam and I both enjoy being outside and a lot of our weekends are spent working around the outside of our house and enjoying the wildlife in the woods in our backyard.


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