Stanley Black & Decker’s tech chief shares how the 176-year-old company is mirroring Silicon Valley startups to build its latest products
Frederick Stanley made innovation a key part of the culture when he began what would eventually become Stanley Black & Decker, and the company is working aggressively to keep that spirit alive. From internal and external accelerators to innovation teams throughout the organization, Stanley Black & Decker is trying to buck the common problems that stymie…
- Frederick Stanley made innovation a key part of the culture when he began what would eventually become Stanley Black & Decker, and the company is working aggressively to keep that spirit alive.
- From internal and external accelerators to innovation teams throughout the organization, Stanley Black & Decker is trying to buck the common problems that stymie efforts to create new competitive offerings.
- Leading many of those initiatives is Chief Technology Officer Mark Maybury, who holds a monthly meeting for leaders across the enterprise to discuss victories and highlight any promising startups.
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Stanley Black & Decker’s innovation push remains as fervent as it did when Frederick Stanley founded the company in 1843.
Legacy companies are trying to adapt a startup mentality when it comes to product development, relying on internal teams and venture-capital-like funds to move quickly from research to the production stage. But despite the immense amount of resources available in many large organizations, the bulk of the efforts still fail.
Stanley Black & Decker, however, is one company that has seemingly solved the equation.
Behind new products like the home-healthcare companion Pria is a web of different innovation arms — from startup accelerators to breakthrough groups — that have been able to take unproven ideas to established product lines with millions of dollars in sales.
“It’s got to come with inspiration. What is your higher ground? What is your end objective?” Stanley Black & Decker Chief Technology Officer Mark Maybury told Business Insider. “Our purpose is: For those who make the world, we serve those makers and doers.”
Apart from sales, the company is also using those innovation efforts to figure out ways to become a more eco-friendly operation — like with its solar-powered water pump called Stanley Earth. Underlying all these efforts is a constant learning process from Silicon Valley and startups across the US, coupled with a willingness to take risks, according to Maybury.
“You’ve got to have a culture that values, and fosters, and curates, and challenges, and develops, innovation. It’s got to be literally in your DNA; it’s got to be in your bone marrow,” he said. “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough. If you can learn from someone else’s failure, all the better.”
A longtime public-sector employee and former Air Force officer, Maybury helps lead the innovation push at Stanley Black & Decker from his perch as chief technology officer.
He recently outlined how the company — which has over 60,000 employees and produces both household and industrial tools — encourages and oversees the various efforts, and how it structures the teams for success.
Innovation is ‘going to happen everywhere. It’s not about you; it’s about everyone else.’
Among the innovation arms at Stanley Black & Decker is an Atlanta-based internal startup accelerator. Products that have emerged from the group include Stanley Infrastructure InSite, a platform that monitors large cutting shears to help anticipate when maintenance may be needed.
At an external accelerator the company launched in 2018 in partnership with TechStars, Stanley Black & Decker is providing mentorship to a group of 10 startups each year. While they don’t initially take any equity in the organizations, several end up becoming Stanley Black & Decker suppliers or receive an investment from the firm once the 13-week “education” period is complete.
MetalMaker 3D, for example, was a member of the 2018 class of startups. The company, which can create a prototype metal casting in one day, versus the traditional 30-day production time, now supplies to Stanley Black & Decker.
The company also builds internal breakthrough groups that pair people who have proven success in bringing a product to market with experts from specific business units.
In one cohort formed in Germany, for example, the company joined metallurgists with robotics experts, mechanical engineers, and others to explore how to improve auto manufacturing. They produced an AI-powered application that could track the quality of billions of fasteners, or the screws and nuts that are included in 90% of all new automobiles and light trucks, according to Stanley Black & Decker.
To encourage more localized innovation, it has what is known as “Innovation Everywhere,” a program intended to give hundreds of teams across the enterprise the opportunity to pursue their own smaller transformation goals. Employees may want to band together to, for example, reduce the amount of digital waste that Stanley Black & Decker stores on external servers.
It aligns with Maybury’s overarching view that a chief technology officer should, ultimately, seek to empower employees to act independently.
“You are going to be whatever you want to call the CTO: the orchestrator, the cheerleader, the overall accountable person for innovation. The reality is it’s going to happen everywhere. It’s not about you; it’s about everyone else,” he said.
Managing the different innovation arms
Maybury chairs a technology council that includes a wide swath of executives, including research and development chiefs, technology officers from the specific business units, and officials from the social-responsibility group.
Once a month, they meet to discuss recent breakthroughs and promising startups. Occasionally, the group will bring in an external speaker, such as Jim Scholefield, the chief information and digital officer at the drugmaker Merck & Co., and Christy Wyskiel, the senior adviser to the president of Johns Hopkins University.
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Stanley Black & Decker also runs what it calls “Makerspace,” a platform that provides courses and workshops that help over 1,400 users create new products. Ultimately, however, Maybury says it’s the culture of innovation created by CEO James Loree that is the main driver.
“It’s a very fun culture. It’s a very humble culture. It’s a very high-performance culture. And that humility means we try to learn from others,” he said.
Building teams that are ‘fit for purpose’
Many of the innovation teams are crafted to build on the strengths of each member, according to Maybury. “You do want your teams to be fit for purpose. There are certain kinds of teams that will naturally fit better,” he said.
One way the company builds the cohorts is through cognitive tests such as the Hogan Business Reasoning Inventory assessment, which the senior leadership team and Maybury’s roughly 130-member innovation team took to help illuminate decision-making style.
The results are shared with the specific teams. That way, members know the mix of the cohort, including who might be more extroverted and those that may be more traditional planners or schedulers.
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