By Andy Beth Miller

Recently, I sat down with Jason Huang, the successful VP of Manufacturing and Supply Chain/Business Development at Occipital, a science lab and special computing startup that develops state-of-the-art 3D hardware and software solutions. To fulfill his role, Huang wears a lot of hats, and when I say a lot, I mean…A LOT.

This ability to expertly “accessorize,” he explained, is nothing new, as he has apparently been working on his now wide-range of skills, building his wardrobe if you will, since before he even dipped his toes in the waters of the procurement pool. It all started back in Taiwan, when Huang was just getting started, building the firm foundation that would form the building blocks of his successful procurement career in a surprising and equally multi-faceted way, brick by meticulous brick.

Originally from Taiwan, Huang went to National Taiwan University and got his Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering. He then served in Taiwan’s Air Force for one year as a logistics manager. It was there that he got his baptism by fire for his foray into the procurement arena, while arranging missions, scheduling and maintaining 52 vehicles and their drivers, and much more. Again, it was a lot, but it was a challenge that Huang not only faced head on, but that actually sparked a curiosity and thirst for more knowledge within him that spurred him onward.

He explained of this season in his life, “That really got me interested in the things beyond mechanical engineering, such as operational matters, like how to schedule repair jobs or delivering military supplies. Then, eventually, I started dealing with ordering replacement parts and handling all of the resource constraints from budgets, regarding all repairs, the handling of crews and drivers, etc.” Huang then continued his educational journey at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he received his Master’s Degree in Industrial and Operations Engineering.

“We focused a lot on Mathematics, which later turned out to be very helpful in thinking about fulfillment and the best results in shipping, etc,” Huang shared. “These things I found very interesting, and it was during this time that I really stepped from a pure engineering degree into a more operational degree.” Huang then shared how he also took MBA classes at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, which really opened his eyes to the other side of business operations, an endeavor that would perfectly complement his engineering education later on as he proceeded to grow and expand his role within his professional procurement journey.

After hearing Huang’s fascinating backstory, all I could think about was him wearing a ton of hats as I asked, “What keeps you motivated as you make your way in the procurement world?” His instantaneous response to my question met my eager-for-inspiration ears, delivering its desired impactful effect: In a nutshell, Huang attributes his ability to thrive and succeed to his having an abundance of passion for, and pride in, his work.

The possession of this pair of stellar qualities is not only a requirement for success in regards to himself, explained Huang, but also extends to his colleagues at Occipital. In fact, according to Huang, the staff at startups have an even higher bar when it comes to all that the employees need to be able to do, and do well, within their (many) respective roles. It is at this point in the interview that we circle right back to the wearing of many hats motif.

Explaining of himself and two of his Michigan Alumni colleagues, who helped to co-found Occipital, Huang said, “We built our company in 2008, and at the beginning, it was a pure software company that used a cell phone camera to make software applications.” Then, a few years later, in 2011, the company decided to expand its scope of operations and began making their own 3D scanner prototype. But, they needed someone who was able to bring this device into the market successfully. Enter Huang and his many hats, who explained, “that was really the perfect field for what I had been trained to do thus far in my experiences and education.”

As Huang spoke of this fledgling endeavor, and of its ultimate success, which now includes fostering a team of 80 employees and 5 newly-acquired companies, I could hear the pride swelling in his voice, but this swell was a wave of audible satisfaction that was well-earned and much-deserved, and one that surpassed all notions of narcissism to really reach the crux of the matter: Huang’s voice was ringing with a pride that stemmed from a job well-done, or in this case, a product well-delivered to the masses. And, from that fateful start, Huang and this startup have been going strong ever since.

In the face of such success, I couldn’t help but desire to know the secret to emulating this same tour de force in my own endeavors. When asked for advice, Huang symbolically took me by the hand, and as if we were stepping into the magical wardrobe of CS Lewis’ iconic tale about wisdom and finding the light, he led me patiently… right back to the hats.

“When I first started with Occipital, we only had 8 people,” Huang explained. It is for this reason, that the people that his company chose for its skeleton staff really had to, just like Huang, be capable of wearing many hats. “Everyone that we hired had to be very knowledgeable and smart, and be able to cover two or three different types of tasks and areas,” he shared.

Huang then divulged that he himself is still currently responsible for handling “sourcing, supply chain, negotiations, etc.” Basically, especially for a startup, you have to have a team that collectively has among them a broader range of abilities than most in order to meet the demand of the tasks at hand that lay dauntingly before them on a daily basis. And since we are talking about Huang’s company, the requirement is not only meeting those demands, but meeting them with excellence.

In order to achieve this feat, once you have that priceless staff of multi-talented go-getters, Huang pinpointed how vital is the know-how of what to look for when it comes to the things that matter most, especially when dealing with a startup company. Huang offered the following trio of bullet points that can help you as you attempt to navigate your own startup journey:

- Have Clear, Manageable, and Realistic Expectations

- Streamline and Simplify Your Supply Chain

- Network

Everyone that we hired had to be very knowledgeable and smart, and be able to cover two or three different types of tasks and areas.

Of this last key point, Huang further explained that when choosing suppliers especially, you should go with who you know and who colleagues and business partners have worked with successfully before. In essence, do not be shy to ask around and find the best and most trust-worthy fit for your company’s needs.

Huang had much more golden advice and enlightening information to share, making me believe that an encore article is certainly in our near future, one that will further peruse the brilliant mind of this procurement sage. But, alas, as all good things must come to an end, I shall conclude this tome and tip my (one) hat to Mr. Huang. Thank you, good sir, it was indeed a pleasure talking shop with you.

Any small business owner wears many hats. We are the salesman, bookkeeper, scheduler, cleaner, customer complaint department, etc. If you aren’t organized and willing to do all these things (at least in the beginning) you are better off working for someone.

Dr. Tony Evans, Author and Speaker