Interview with Frank Siekmann of Merit Kitchens
At Outsource Marketing, we are very fortunate to work with many inspiring leaders of small to mid-size companies. When the opportunity arises, we like to ask them a few questions about themselves, their career, and what they would like to share with aspiring leaders and entrepreneurs. Here is the first of our ongoing series of interviews – Frank Siekmann, President of Merit Kitchens.
Why did you choose to be an entrepreneur?
To be honest, I didn’t really choose to be an entrepreneur, it chose me. My family has been in the business of cabinetry for almost 100 years. Being part of the family business was more of a calling than a true choice. In hindsight, I am grateful for how things turned out, but its fair to say that I had entrepreneurship thrust upon me.
As a business leader, what’s been the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?
I don’t know if I could pinpoint just one. I’ve learned several lessons along the way. To begin with, I’ve learnt that you always need to pay close attention to your mistakes – they are your greatest opportunities for growth. I’ve learned more from my mistakes than from my successes. And part of that, I guess, is to always to self-critical. To examine when you did something, right or wrong, and learn from it. I’ve also learned during my time in a business that you are only as strong as the team you surround yourself with.
I’ve been very fortunate of late. We’ve hired a very good team at Merit Kitchens, and a lot of the success we’ve enjoyed, particularly over the past few years, is as a result of their contributions.
What makes a good leader?
Great question. Let’s assume for a moment that I’m a good leader and that I have something of value to add to that particular debate.
To me, a great leader is focused on defining a strategic direction for a company, finding the right people to make it happen, and then getting out of their way. If I end up micro-managing my team, it means that I have not done a good enough job recruiting the right people to execute my vision.
If I have to handhold and direct my senior team on what to do, day in, day out, I think I’ve failed as a leader.
What’s the most painful, or difficult lesson, you’ve learned as a leader?
As I think back, there are a number of mistakes, things that didn’t work out, that I was not particularly proud of at the time. But they happened for a reason. And what I’ve learned over the years is that the most important thing is to learn from those lessons, regardless of how painful the experience is. To grow into a leadership role, you need to embrace every experience, whether you made the right call or not, as a learning experience.
Everything I’ve learned over the past, particularly as a result of making the wrong decision, has made me a better leader today.
Merit Kitchens has enjoyed a great deal of success. Why?
You are right. We have enjoyed a great deal of success. The last few years have been particularly good, and the future looks exceptionally bright.
Well, there is no question that it comes down to the people of Merit. I often refer to our employees as members of the family, and that’s truly how I feel. A lot of them have been with the company for three or four decades. And we have instances where different generations of the same family have worked as part of the Merit family. I am so very grateful for their contributions, and I believe that our family environment has created the necessary atmosphere for everyone to contribute something amazing and incredibly valuable.
Is there a book, author or leader that has been a source of inspiration in your career as an entrepreneur and business leader?
I get inspiration from a lot of different places. You just need to keep your eyes, ears, and mind open.
I recently came across something, not too sure where, but it really spoke to me. It’s a Chinese proverb – let me read it to you.
If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime, help someone else.
As a small to a medium-sized business owner, what concerns you the most as you look out over the next five to 10 years?
I find it very hard to predict the future. But what I can tell you for certain is that it will continue to get more and more difficult to find the right people. Recruitment is going to become increasingly difficult, and will really impact the ability of businesses like ours to grow. You need to be very strategic about your recruitment strategy – it’s fast becoming a competitive differentiator between successful and unsuccessful firms.
What one piece of advice would you offer someone starting a new business today?
Find a mentor.
Experience is a key ingredient to success. Experience is a great teacher, but it’s something that can only be gained over time. You can learn from your own experiences, of course. But there is also great value in learning from the experiences of others. It’s key to accelerating one professional development.
If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
I would have liked to gain more independent work experience before joining the family business.
After school, I worked for the accounting firm Arthur Anderson. It was a great learning experience, but I stayed there for just one year prior to joining our family firm.
Being the boss’s son, without having earned a lot of experience first, was a real challenge. It made it very difficult in terms of my professional development.
I have three sons and one daughter. If any of them choose to work for Merit, that would be great. But they will make that decision once they’ve learned a great deal in other organizations. It’s important that they learn, develop, and understand what’s required to be a success. That’s difficult to do when your only experience is working for your father in the family business. If one, or all of them choose to work for Merit Kitchens, they will do so after spending five to 10 years working with organizations. I want them to come to Merit with a great deal to offer based upon experiences working in different environments.
Frank W Siekmann is President of Merit Kitchens Ltd. Based in British Columbia, Merit Kitchens is a world-class supplier of beautiful cabinetry for the kitchen, bathroom and throughout the home. Today, Merit’s products can be found in homes throughout Canada, the United States, and Japan. Merit Kitchens has been in business for over 40 years. The Siekmann family assumed ownership of Merit Kitchens in 2000.