Ihab Farag doesn’t believe in work–life balance. “You don’t have to balance life and work,” he asserts. But don’t mistake the Managing Director of Fike, an industrial safety solutions manufacturer, for a workaholic. “Work should be an enjoyable and fulfilling part of life, rather than an antonym to life,” he clarifies.
Describing how he puts this mantra into practice in the company, Ihab says, “We try to be very flexible when it comes to working hours and give each employee a reason for doing what they are doing, so that it’s more than just a job. This may sound like a cliche, but when we get caught up in the daily grind, it’s easy to forget that what we’re doing has helped save lives from fires and explosions. I try to remind myself and my team of this.”
As a company, Fike has been saving lives for 75 years. But the founder, Lester Fike Sr, certainly didn’t know what he would come to do that day in October 1945, when he took his tools to some metal in his home basement.
Nor did he know for a whole decade following the firm’s foundation, as LL Fike Metal Products Company continued to be a struggling small business that didn’t look like it would ever outgrow the basement. But Lester persisted, taking on any one-off odd job he could find that involved metal fabrication.
In the early 1950s, Lester heard that his brother’s company, which sold chemicals to an agricultural product manufacturer, was dissatisfied with the rupture discs it was being supplied. Lester saw his chance for a breakthrough.
He took it upon himself to make an improved version of the disc, and soon the orders were pouring in. By 1955, the small firm had gained a reputation as a specialist manufacturer of rupture discs, marking the materialisation of Lester’s business empire.
Today, the company exists as Fike, still owned by the same family and headed by Brad Batz, Lester’s grandson, who is President and CEO.
It now has manufacturing facilities in five countries and sales and service offices in North and South America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. High-performance rupture discs remain a key product line, but the firm is also a global leader in explosion and fire protection solutions.
Despite its global expansion, the family spirit at Fike remains strong. “Brad is really supportive of having a family-like culture and work–life balance,” Ihab shares.
“He wants to build a business that remains viable into the next generation, which is why it is so important for us to be a very stable company and a trusted adviser for our customers. We can’t think about generational survival without building long-term relationships with our suppliers, customers and employees. Brad really pushes for the family culture; he personifies it.”
With every employee considered part of the Fike family, employee retention and satisfaction are a priority for the company. “I think most people are attracted to work environments that bring out the best in them,” Ihab says.
“Everyone wants to be successful, to go home with the feeling of satisfaction that comes from having done a good day’s work. There’s nothing more frustrating than to feel like you’ve worked hard but haven’t achieved much. To avoid this, we make sure we equip our people with all the tools, training and authority they need to do their jobs well.”
He credits David Kemp, the Executive Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing, for establishing a strong spirit of employee empowerment in the company. “David is a true pillar of support for each and every regional office Fike has across the globe. He gives them the freedom and authority to do their own thing but provides help when they need it,” he attests.
The company’s flat organisational structure also helps. “The leadership team is very approachable. Any employee can simply talk to Brad or David, with the conviction that they will be heard and they can effect true changes in their company.”
Having always worked in multinational firms before joining Fike, the company’s focus on its people is a refreshing change for Ihab. “This is the first time I have worked for a family-owned company that is medium-sized and not publicly traded,” he says.
“I have observed a big difference in how flexible Fike can be when it comes to making decisions that are right for the business and the employees. We adapt to changes much faster than larger corporations.”
Such strong leadership and a healthy company culture is going to come in handy for weathering the tough times that Ihab predicts are ahead for the industry.
“Many new players are entering the market lately. Some bring innovation and value but many lack the experience or the core values necessary to instil customer confidence. It may become a challenge for our customers to identify the products that are authentic and trustworthy.”
Achieving success is like going to the gym. You don’t go once and see results. It’s what you do every day, day after day, that counts. It’s a journey, not a single breakthrough event.
To Ihab, this only emphasises the importance of continuing to ascertain Fike as a trustworthy partner to its customers. “We have to remain competitive, of course, but there are limits. We cannot compromise on quality when it comes to life safety.”
Lester took 10 years to see success; his grandson Brad is carrying on his legacy with a strategy that focuses more on long-term goals than short-term gains. Like the members of the founding family who continue to guide the company, Ihab Farag doesn’t believe in instant gratification.
He shares, “Achieving success is like going to the gym. You don’t go once and see results. It’s what you do every day, day after day, that counts. It’s a journey, not a single breakthrough event.”
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