Benchmarked to Succeed

By G.C. Skipper | April 28, 2011

Reprinted with the permission of Equipment Manager magazine, the magazine of AEMP.

At a young age, Dave Gorski, CEM,  learned that a job isn’t finished until it’s done correctly. The son of an ex-military man (Navy), he also learned to cross his t’s and dot his i’s. That discipline was further instilled all the while Gorski worked for the family business, which was established in 1915 and still operates today.

“A small percentage of my 40 years of working life has been controlled by a clock,” he says. “Mostly you were taught that the work finished when it is completed successfully.”

That self-discipline stayed with Gorski, shop administrator for Illinois-based K-Five Construction Corp., after he made the transition from family business into the construction industry in 1993. Originally started as a residential paving company, K-Five is one of the largest paving  contractors in the state. One of the first things he wanted to find out, he says, was where he stood as an industry newcomer, not only to compete in the field but also to know how to strengthen his knowledge and managerial skills to leverage them into a position of industry leadership.

 “It’s akin to playing basketball,” he says. “You go out in the backyard and shoot hoops all night, and you constantly swish the net. But when you play somebody one-on-one, now you have a whole new perspective of your skills. I was already doing basic business fundamentals, such as equipment cost analysis and crunching all kinds of numbers, but I reached a point when I said, ‘Okay, I’m doing this, but how good am I and where are my numbers coming from and is there anything else I should be using?’ And I wanted to know what the best in the industry were doing.”

That’s when Gorski decided to benchmark himself. He wanted to find out how well he was doing his job and by whose standards. “You get to the point where you start setting your own standards,” he says. “And, fortunately or unfortunately, you start to raise the bar.”

To start the process, he began to look into different associations across the country to evaluate what they offered. He eventually became a member of what was known at that time as the Equipment Maintenance Council (EMC). EMC, of course, eventually became AEMP.

“I started getting out and talking to people, especially AEMP members, and discovered a whole world of other ideas,” Gorski says. “For myself, I believe the association’s conferences are world-class education year in and year out. By attending the two- or three-day sessions, you become aware of different track levels for networking. For me, it stimulates better ideas.”

Like many other equipment professionals, Gorski had a tendency to focus closely on administrative details and what was going on at the various jobsites. He became totally immersed in the daily routine: putting out fires and dealing with constant interruptions. “You start to lose sight of the big picture,” he says. The broader view became clearer after joining AEMP.

“When you attend a conference, you start to get involved. You attend the executive track levels or you get on a panel or you become a speaker on a certain program. All this involvement refreshes you with a wealth of knowledge learned from the people you are with. You find out just how much you don’t know.”

And get involved is what Gorski did. He has served on the education committee and emissions task force, and on the Board of Directors as director of construction and as vice president. He also has participated on numerous conference speaking panels.

That involvement and self-benchmarking led him to AEMP’s 16 core competencies. Asked what two or three had the most impact on his job, Gorski answers, “I can’t pick a particular one. Right now, I’m using all the core competencies in everything we do. In Chicago, during the winter time, we slow down and revisit almost every one of them.”

He uses most of them every day, Gorski said, “because they are so intertwined that it’s hard not to. For example, a parts manager comes in to discuss a defective part. That leads into a discussion of warranty issues and to discuss warranties you have to know something about negotiations. “You can’t practice shop and facilities management or walk through your shop without thinking of safety. Sometimes that safety leads into human resources, because if you see someone repeatedly doing something unsafe, you have to address this immediately.”

On top of all that, he notes, companies are being bombarded from all sides by environmental issues. “I can’t put a value on any single core competency because they all are so important,” Gorski says.

But if he is pressed into an answer, he will tell you that, day in and day out, the three he “leans on” and uses the most are safety, preventive maintenance and employee training. “Then, I try to tie it all together with financial management,” he says.

This association experience isn’t just an exercise in business philosophy or esoteric managerial techniques. His AEMP membership, he says, ties directly back into his job and gives him the background, education and tools he needs to do that job better.

“Some of the subjects that hit close to home for me—especially today—are discussions, updates and learning about the experience of others who have dealt with the Environmental Protection Agency and where it is trying to go. Those are some of the most recent challenges we as fleet professionals have to face,” he says.

True to his upbringing and his experience working for his father, it’s not surprising that Gorski views his career path as being similar to a military model: “Be all that you can be.” In striving to reach that goal, it was only natural for him to go after and obtain his Certified Equipment Manager credentials.

“Like the 16 core competencies, getting a CEM is just another step to see what areas you’re good in and identify the areas where you can improve. It brings everything to fruition—what I’ve got to do and what I’ve got to have to totally do the job that my position calls for. All of it gives me the knowledge and training in what I do for my employer, K-Five Construction.”

Gorski set out to benchmark himself to improve his managerial skills, which he has done. As for his leadership accomplishments:  Gorski is the in-coming president of AEMP.

That in itself speaks volumes.