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Our CEO, James Barlow, recently spoke at the Southwest Tech Council, where he shared his thoughts about the BZI Story, building a team, harnessing innovation, and experiencing growth. 

When you think about the word Innovation, the idea of inventing a new widget or piece of equipment typically comes to mind. However,  innovative ideas are often found not just in the object you create, but in the changes to processes that challenge the status quo and deliver greater value to your customer and your team.

An Environment that Requires Innovation
Our story of innovation began in one of the most interesting environments possible: farming. We started erecting pole barns and pre-engineered buildings – a far cry from today, where we work on major construction projects. Farm innovation taught us that necessity is truly the mother of invention. It occurs with few available resources – and it’s not uncommon to pull from the scrap pile to make a widget or salvage parts for rigging up a new piece of equipment that had never been seen before. Creative thinking is baked into everyday farm life, and we harness that spirit every day.

Staying Curious – Always Ask Questions
Innovation is a state of mind – constantly assessing and reassessing the processes and equipment being used with the ever-present inquisition: Isn’t there a better way? Identifying when to spend, how to spend, and how to market innovative ideas or products are challenges that BZI has experienced and learned valuable lessons along the way.

For instance, although our steel erection team was only about 25 team members, we had big dreams – and believed that we could bring meaningful change to the steel industry. So, we articulated a new mission statement: To revolutionize the steel construction industry through innovation and team performance – accelerating project delivery, while setting new standards in safety and efficiency.

Making Innovation an Intrinsic Part of Our Organization
Early on, we established the CIO role – Chief Innovation Officer. Their job was to continuously assess and re-assess our steel erection processes to iron out inefficiencies and collaborate with the field team on support equipment that could be developed to improve safety and efficiency. We committed to continuous investment into innovation and began assembling a dedicated team for innovation projects, including designers, engineers, fabricators, assembly crews, etc.

We also secured a facility to support our innovation initiatives and began to establish the disciplines and processes by which we would innovate – sketches to design, engineering, then prototyping, feedback and modifications. The qualifying criteria for new projects were: Can we make it safer – possibly engineer out the hazard? Can we make it more efficient – remove steps or double handling? Can we simplify the design – remove complex assemblies or connections?

Working Through Friction in the Process
To bring change to an industry and to influence key stakeholders, we learned that we had to be willing to change as well. We had much to learn about safety, quality control, contractual disciplines, relationships, customer service, and professional etiquette. We also established targets and triggering events for when we would begin funding qualified projects, and what our timeline for return-on-investment was expected to be.

The bottom line is that innovators want to invent. But business requires discipline. These principles are opposite and can cause a tug of war between the “no-boundaries, creative-thinking” mindset that is inherent in innovation, versus the traditional “making sure the train leaves on time” thinking to make a successful business work. Aligning these two principles through teamwork and strategic planning is like adding rocket fuel to a business.

Through balancing innovation and discipline, as well as having a purpose, vision, values, and culture –  I believe that BZI has created an innovative enterprise. We are a disruptor in the steel industry, and quickly becoming a market leader. But we wouldn’t be here without the hundreds of dedicated, innovative team members that work hard every day to create an incredible experience for our customers.

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