Leaving your Father’s Manufacturing Company and then Founding Your Own, with Howard Sheldon-EP 214

April 4, 2024 - 12:09pm -- Selcuk Gulboy
Howard Sheldon, Owner of Sheldon Precision Engineering

Our guest on today’s show, Howard Sheldon, grew up working in his family’s third generation precision turning company. He planned to eventually take over the business from his father, but unfortunately succession didn’t happen the way he had hoped.

Howard left his family company in his mid-30s, and 10 years ago started his own Swiss turning company, Sheldon Precision Engineering Ltd. 

Howard turned out to be a natural entrepreneur, and he has built a thriving business that gives him the lifestyle he wants.

Starting a business from scratch gave Howard the opportunity to create his ideal company and run it the way he envisions, instead of being constrained by the ways of a business that had been around for half a century.

If you’re currently working in a family business or you’re dreaming about founding your own manufacturing company that YOU can run the way YOU want to, I recommend you have a listen.

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Interview Highlights

Interview Howard Sheldon grew up working at his father’s screw machine job shop, which his grandfather had originally started in 1948 as the Wembley Screw Company in London.

Howard’s father eventually bought the business from his grandfather after a messy situation in which his grandfather had tried to sell the company behind his father’s back. There was contention over ownership and equity that caused strain in the family relationship. Howard’s father had even started another machining company in secret around the time of the turbulent succession. 

Growing up, Howard worked summers and holidays at his father’s shop. After graduating from college, he came on full time. He started in the maintenance department to get exposure to all areas of the operation. The first machine he ran was a Wickman multi-spindle that he nearly crashed his first time running it.

Howard’s dream was to eventually take over the family business from his father. However, as he got older and wanted more responsibility, he kept “banging into” his father who didn’t want to cede control. Howard likens his father’s demanding management style to a combination of Alan Sugar and Gordon Ramsay’s brash business personalities.  

Howard says his father didn’t think he had the tenacity to really run the company long-term. This took a toll on his confidence in his own abilities, despite the tremendous manufacturing knowledge he had gained by coming up through the ranks of the family machining business.

Eventually, Howard left his father’s company to pursue other career paths. He started a private tutoring franchise but realized after a year the business did not have great upside.

Then he landed a job as an applications engineer for cutting tools manufacturer Iscar. While servicing manufacturers’ tooling needs, Howard realized he had deep technical expertise to offer. He also observed that the business owners he called on were “regular people” who had just decided to take the entrepreneurial leap. This restored his confidence that he could successfully run his own machine shop.

In 2014, at age 37, Howard started his own CNC turning shop, Sheldon Precision Engineering, with one used Citizen A32 Swiss lathe in a 1,000 square-foot building. Over the next 10 years, Howard grew Sheldon Precision, reinvesting profits into more Citizens and Miyanos. 

Howard is currently implementing systems at his company such as the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) to establish a clear vision and organizational structure for scaling responsibly. He wants the business to be able to run independently from him as much as possible.

He recently changed the workweek for his seven employees to a 38-hour week over four days. (In England, the standard work week for manufacturing is a four and half days.) I asked him if his people request to work overtime, and he said they never have because they value their time with their families. Howard also has set a goal for himself that he will be able to work a four-hour workweek by the time he turns 50.

Howard told me, “You’ve got to make your business work for you. If your business is a pain in the ass, and you’ve got to slog your guts out each week, it’s not working for you. You’ve got to let go of the shop floor eventually. Get people to do it. And then you can work on the business and get it working for you.”

Despite his difficult relationship with his father, Howard says he has tremendous gratitude for the knowledge of business and manufacturing he learned from him. He knows he would not have created the successful company he has today had it not been for working at his father’s company and then leaving it. 

Eventually, Howard’s father visited Sheldon Precision Engineering. He was extremely proud of the business his son built, and their relationship flourished.

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