- May 16 2013
- May 16 2013
Brian Reese, YEN Member Insights, August 2011
Brian Reese, 36 Years Old
V.P. of Engineering, COMP Performance Group (COMP Cams); YEN MemberÂ
Few individuals in the performance industry reach the Vice President level by the tender age of 36. However, even fewer work for a marquee manufacturer like COMP Cams, as Brian Reese does. With the flair of an entrepreneur and the experience of a highly trained engineer, Reese has overseen the development of some of the COMP Performance Groupâs (which includes leading brands such as COMP Cams, TCI, FAST, ZEX, RHS, Inglese, Quarter Master and others) biggest product hits in the last few years, including the FAST EZ-EFI Self Tuning Fuel Injection and the COMP Cams Engine Oils.Â
Brian cut his teeth as a GM Development Engineer before moving on as Chief of Engineering for SLP Performance Parts â a position he held for eight years. When the opportunity for the V.P of Engineering position at CPG opened up he was hooked. In this interview, Reese gives us insight into how a hard-charging young V.P. should lead and manage an organizationâs best resource â older, experienced employees.
Brian, youâve been in charge of engineering departments at both SLP and CPG from a very young age. What challenges do you typically face when dealing with an older engineer?
âThe biggest challenge I find in dealing with an older engineer is that oftentimes there is a gap of âtrustâ between the younger executive and the older engineer. Most young executives think they know everything, and have the attitude, âI donât need this old guy.â What Iâve found is exactly the opposite. Older employees have something that young people donât have â experience. You donât have to be smartest guy to have the most experience. You get experience just by living and working. Itâs the one thing where there is no shortcut. You canât cheat it, you canât learn it at Harvard, and you canât get it any quicker.
The challenge that occurs with an older engineer is that they know you donât have the experience. So if you demand their respect, you often wonât get it. Sometimes the younger executives try to then say, âwe need younger engineers â they get it.â That is wrong, though. The key is to surround yourself with older, more experienced people, not younger people. The older staff has got what you want and what you canât get without time. I believe it has been one of the key tickets to my success. I have been lucky to have really good relationships with older people and leverage their knowledge.â
Give me an example of when you didnât best utilize the experience on your team. Who helped mentor you in this?
âLook, I was forced to learn this early in my career. At the first job I ever had I was in a management position from day one, and what happened was, as a manager, I was asked questions and was expected to answer. The owner said: âwhat are we going to do?â I didnât know. I wanted to ask my boss, but I was the boss, of engineering, at least. So I had nobody to ask. I remember early on, even when I was working for SLP, I was the chief engineer, and I didnât know the answer. I didnât learn that in school; I was forced to go out and seek better advice. It was the only option that I had at my disposal. So I would say â personally â I had to use older employees from day one because I was forced to.â
Give the young executives some advice about what they should do when they run into resistance from an older employee?
âOh, you are going to run into resistance. Plan on it â you just better expect it. With senior staff, you have to earn their respect. Really with anyone. You canât be crowned ârespectâ. You canât be given ârespectâ, you have to earn it. What that means when dealing with older executives, when you are a manager of someone older than yourself; youâre asking someone that has more experience than you to accept what you are asking them to do versus what they might do on their own.Â
Without respect itâs almost impossible. So youâve got two options: you can demand it, yell, and scream, and you might even get some short-term success. But itâs not sustainable. So youâll either have them quit, or they will try to get rid of you. The only option is to engage them, listen to them, respect them, and to listen to everything they have to contribute. Rather than tell them what to do, what youâre really trying to do is get them to participate in the idea. The idea being what you need them to do. Youâre essentially getting them to buy-in by the way of helping them see what the right thing is.â
What about advice for an older employee with a younger executive?
âIt takes a unique person who is older to deal with a younger boss. Keep an open mind. Itâs often easier for an older person to keep an open mind than a young person. In my experience, older people get easier to deal with as they get older. If an older employee wants to help the situation, he can help his or her young boss learn how to manage. It works both ways. An older guy can go to a younger executive and he can help the younger boss avoid making a bad decision. The younger boss â if he has a half a brain â will start to learn that the old guy is a pretty important key player in here.â
Did you have an older employee â who worked under you â mentor you?
âYes. I mean, Iâve learned from almost everyone that has worked for me. At SLP, a guy worked for me, he was probably in his mid 50s when I was 25, Tony Calapatch. He read me like a book â he said âyouâre young, talented, but you are wound up.â He was like a father figure. He listened to me when he knew he should, yet he helped me when he knew I needed it. He helped me help myself.Â
He counseled me and taught me how to deal with him â he wasnât as fast as I wanted him to be, and he got me to calm down a little bit. He made me realize that if an employee isnât in a positive environment that he likes or enjoys, it wonât last in the long run. The fundamental first step for working with senior staff members is creating an environment in which they are happy.
Summarize the top 3 things that a young executive needs to know to develop a productive relationship with an older staff member:
1) I believe you should do more listening than talking.
2) Be aware and sensitive to create an environment that older employees enjoy.
3) You should leverage the experience of your older employees as much as possible. They have it, you donât. Use it.