Supply chain issues abound, employees are difficult to find, and market demand is volatile. As a technical services organization with a materials laboratory, one of RJ Lee Group’s enduring survival strategies for the last 35+ years has been diversification. We serve multiple industries, have significant business in the government sector, and have launched product lines from technology we developed. Collaboration is at the core of what we do, who we are, and how we are built. Our technical staff hold advanced degrees from across the scientific spectrum, allowing us to tackle problems in a multi-disciplinary way that other firms can’t or won’t. We are confident in what we know, but are humble enough to recognize that the very clients we serve are often subject matter experts in their own right. Solving complex problems quickly with high scientific reliability (often with incomplete information) works best when collegiality is the culture and the focus is more on the solution than who gets the credit.
Collaboration need not stop there. I was recently told by an executive from a “competitor” lab that the one thing that he has learned through the years is that “lab folks” are different; they are willing to help each other out where possible. Perhaps that comes from supporting heavy industry that has had a rocky road for as long as everyone can remember. Perhaps that comes from high capital investment necessary in the lab business such that only the largest companies can test everything. I won’t speculate on others’ motivations but I can certainly speak to our own. As a relatively small business (~150 employees nationwide), we have punched far above our weight class in terms of the projects we have tackled precisely because we have learned how to partner with those who fill our gaps, and learned how to fill theirs. It has occasionally led to some unlikely alliances – and not every engagement has worked the way we hoped. But we are still here and always learning how to be better.
The concept of ‘Coopetition’ is not new. Industry’s professional societies were founded on the premise that sharing of information was beneficial both for professional development and the public good. Sharing of best practices helps keep industry healthy, vibrant and able to support all of those vendors and service providers that support it. Some of the most rewarding professional experiences I have had have been in development of standards or technical publications where the focus was on getting scientific guidance right for industry as a whole, not on individual companies who might benefit. Term it ‘Collabetition’ if you will, but competitive alliances to achieve (1) a specific goal for (2) a finite period of time may open the door to capture market niches or limited-window business opportunities. Given the strain on staff and other resources experienced by many companies in our region and across the country, a fresh-eyed look at your market competition may be timely.
Not everyone will be open to this; there may be (healthy) skepticism about motivations, or rivalry that runs too deep. In our business, it is uncommon to find a company that competes with us on everything we do, and finding the areas where we complement each other is where potential new relationships can form. Forming a successful alliance is a balance of having confidence in the value your company brings, tempered with humility that you’re not the best at everything and can’t supply everything to everyone… combined with a collaborator who shares that same attitude. They might not be as rare as you think.
Author: Matthew J. Perricone, Ph.D.
Principal Investigator and Technical Consulting Group Manager at RJ Lee Group