THE POWER OF PEOPLE GENERATING ACULTUREOF INTRAPRENEURSHIP For Dawn Tabat — recently retired as chief operating officer at Generac Power Systems — entrepreneurially minded engineering is not an academic or theoretical concept. She saw the entrepreneurial mindset exemplified countless times over the 43 years that she worked at the company, which resulted in numerous breakthroughs in technology, product design, and the engagement of new markets in standby power generation. Tabat observes. “Everyone else in the space had been there for a much longer time. Our competitors were the behemoths of the industry — Caterpillar, Cummins, Briggs and Stratton. That required us to think creatively to find ways of adding value and commercializing products that would be successful in different segments of the market.” The corporate culture was crucial in Generac’s product development and growth. Tabat says, “We created an atmosphere that really allowed people to flourish. For new employees, it wasn’t a stepped process — you got thrown into the deep end of the pool. We already knew you had talent; now we had to see if you possessed the ability to adapt, persevere, and really commit. That environment was incredibly fast-paced and although you felt like you were always working on something that might be impossible, you were a key part of the team. We never had the absolute top equipment. We never ended up having the biggest budget, but we always had people who could collaborate on achieving the best outcome.” Over the years, the company continually morphed in response to growth opportunities. “When you work in that kind of dynamic environment, you have to be entrepreneurial and very, very agile. Robert Kern exemplified this — he was trained as a mechanical engineer but spent his entire career developing and refining electrical products after learning the principles of magnetism and electricity through self-study,” Tabat explains. Generac’s development of its revolutionary Modular Power System (MPS) exemplified the company’s ability to effectively respond to market demands by taking an entirely different approach than its competitors. Unable to compete directly with other companies’ huge, high output, single-engine generators, Generac took a building block approach, combining and paralleling the output of several of its smaller industrial generators. The result was a system with built-in redundancy that was less expensive, more flexible, and easier to service. The system created a significant competitive advantage for mission-critical applications such as hospitals and data centers. In a compressed time frame of just over two years, Generac’s engineering team created a unique, innovative product line that took the market by storm. “We looked at a way to make lemons into lemonade,” Tabat says. “We overcame our limitations and created a superior engineered solution using a modular approach that allowed us to compete head-to-head with our larger competitors — and everyone took notice.” “An entrepreneurial engineer capitalizes on opportunity,” Tabat concludes. “When I was hiring employees, part of the conversation was to talk about what was really of interest to each person. In addition to an absolute expertise and confidence in your abilities, there had to be an intrinsic passion — and it wasn’t something you learned from a book or developed once you got into the company. People who are curious and passionate are always investigating and exploring, which makes them very valuable.” W hen Dawn Tabat was hired in 1972 as a secretary, Generac had 150 employees and annual sales of $18 million. When she retired as COO in 2015, the company had a value of $1.6 billion and employed 3,500 at 11 manufacturing plants in four countries. Tabat attributes that remarkable growth and success to a forward- looking corporate culture that fostered an entrepreneurial mindset — not only among its engineering staff, but throughout the entire company. Tabat is not an engineer, but she demonstrated an intrapreneurial spirit early on at Generac. First hired as a secretary in the industrial engineering department, she discovered that she was “horribly ill-equipped” for the job. Looking around for an opportunity, she noticed that the company lacked a human resources department, so she appointed herself director of human resources. Her bold move was not without risk, considering she neglected to seek anyone’s approval. The new “department” began to produce immediate benefits for the company and its employees. That garnered the attention — and admiration — of Robert Kern, the company’s founder. Generac’s culture was a direct reflection of Kern’s own philosophy, which emphasized being adaptable, innovative, and able to act quickly upon demand. He himself had left a mechanical engineering position at a traditional manufacturing company to strike out on his own before founding Generac in 1959. Through his leadership, intrapreneurship was woven into the very fabric of the enterprise. It’s not surprising that someone like Tabat, who saw a need and single- handedly created a new department, would flourish in such an environment. During her tenure at the company, Tabat interviewed countless individuals for positions at all levels and became an astute judge of personality. In addition to assessing an applicant’s technical skill and experience, she asked probing, wide- ranging questions to learn more about their motivation, work approach, and willingness to handle uncertainty and change. From her own experience, Tabat knew that an entrepreneurial mindset was the common thread tying all successful employees together, no matter what their job responsibilities might be. And for Generac to succeed, such a mindset was imperative. Generac was an underdog from the very beginning. “When you look at the company that Mr. Kern created, getting into power generation was a bold move,” “AN ENTREPRENEURIAL ENGINEER CAPITALIZES ONOPPORTUNITY.” Dawn Tabat reflects on her career next to the Generac history wall display at corporate headquarters. 37 36