Jason Hurd is the son of an Idaho backcountry bush pilot, stands about 6' 5" tall and runs an aircraft maintenance shop at the Erie Municipal Airport in Colorado – about a mile as the crow flies from my office. Airplanes are in his blood, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more interesting character or competent mechanic anywhere. His shop is not the cheapest around, but pilots who value their lives know that Jason's is the place to go if they want a thorough inspection and the work done right the first time. When an aircraft breaks down, the pilot can't just pull over to the side of the road, hop out and fix it. In fact, aircraft maintenance is about as mission-critical as it gets. Oh, and it's heavily regulated and operates on razor-thin margins, too.
His mechanics are all first-rate – Jason sees to that with high standards and expectations for both hiring and conduct. The shop is spotless and his employees are both competent and courteous. He runs a tight ship. What I find most fascinating when I visit his shop though is the incredible amount of money that his employees have spent on their tools. The rolling tool boxes ($8,500 each…without the tools) are painted with blazing yellow paint, and festooned with chrome Snap-On logos. But the real money is inside; the value of the tools can easily reach $50,000 or more – all paid for by the mechanics themselves, and each mechanic earns maybe $45,000 per year in salary – much less when they're fresh out of aviation school. And…when they're new to the job and making the least money is when they have to start building their tool inventories.
What's also fascinating to me is the differences in each mechanic's collection of tools. Some things like socket sets and hammers are the same, but there are wide differences in the more advanced tools. Some of Jason's mechanics have sharp vision and observation skills, so they have advanced inspection tools, like expensive borescopes to look inside the engines for hairline cracks and early signs of mechanical failure. Others are better electronics troubleshooters, and have advanced tools for electrical tests and diagnostics.
The point is, what each mechanic is good at determines both how they contribute to the success of the business, as well as the tools they spend money to buy. Jason figures there's no point in having a guy with marginal eyesight wasting time and money trying to do airframe crack inspections. Everyone on the team brings something different to the table, and it's the diversity of the team that collectively forms the shop's capabilities.
I also asked Jason why the business doesn't offer a pool of advanced tools that the mechanics could share. He laughed and asked if I've ever seen how mechanics treat their own tools versus someone else's. Good point. We also discussed how he can be sure that the tools are up to the standards they need to be for aircraft work. He says since most are Snap-On tools and the Snap-On truck comes by once every couple of weeks, the mechanics can have their tools calibrated by the manufacturer when they need it for a nominal cost, but it's seldom needed anyway since the tools are high quality.
And that's the whole point of this blog, really. When the tools a person depends on for their job belong to them, we often can observe 3 things: 1) They will buy tools that align best with their own strengths and help them do the best work they can, 2) They will generally select good quality tools given the choice, because they don't have time to waste dealing with cheap ones that break, and 3) They buy them from companies who stand behind them and will pay more to get better service. In their world, as in ours, time is money.
This observation has implications for the way we think about BYOC programs in the enterprise. Our data shows that employees who have spent their own money on technology for work spend an average of $1,252 on hardware alone, and another $500 and change on software.
So what should we do about it? Should we just let everyone do it? How can we get our heads around this and develop a rational policy for it? What advantages can it bring to the business? We answer these questions and more in our latest report, where Chris Voce, Ted Schadler, Kelley Mak and Eric Chi joined me in research, to find out how several companies with successful BYOC programs are doing it: