If ever there were a license plate to spur a person on to a rocking early retirement, it would be the one on the 1973 Bronco that Steve Randazzo refurbished himself.
Still Buckin’ indeed.
Although he retired from Ametek four months ago, the man still has plenty of horsepower generating from his restless curiosity and his need for speed.
When asked how it is possible to retire in the Bay Area – a place known for being beautiful in every way but affordability – Steve, a person as humble as he is hardworking, points to luck.
But after spending an hour with him, it is clear that the only definition of luck that has touched his life is the one that explains luck as the moment when preparation meets opportunity.
For Steve Randazzo, this “luck” allowed him to jump two rungs on the corporate ladder and travel the world as president of the Ball Screws & Actuators division of the Danaher Corporation.
This isn’t exactly the way you would expect things to play out for a man raised to pursue a trade and whose own official studies prepared him for a career as a journeyman machinist.
Yet after a dozen years of working on the manufacturing floor, Steve’s curiosity and experience with the inefficiencies in production systems led him to read business books that had a profound impact on his thinking and, subsequently, his career.
The first book that resonated by putting words to all that he observed on the factory floor was, The Goal, a book about the Theory of Constraints, which is described as a gripping, fast-paced business novel about overcoming the barriers to making money.
Shortly after reading this book and taking its principles to heart, Steve was informed that the company he worked for as an operations manager, Ball Screws and Actuators, Inc., would be acquired by Danaher.
He was thrilled to see that Danaher’s lean practices were in exact alignment with his beliefs. Steve’s boss and boss’ boss weren’t quite as convinced and soon found themselves let go, while Steve – in one big leap – found himself promoted to president.
In his time with Danaher, he watched the $1B company grow to $14B by implementing lean systems modeled after the post-WWII Toyota Production System (TPS). The system was implemented after Japan had been decimated during the war and had to rebuild manufacturing while leaving much of the land available for farming to feed their isolated nation. With limited land for factories, Japan had to maximize every efficiency imaginable. Danaher subscribed to this thinking, as did Steve.
To drive these lean practices in Danaher’s global subsidiaries, Steve traveled to every western European country, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia.
When asked how his travels have influenced him, Steve says: “Visiting these countries has made me de-tune my American heritage. I still think the U.S. is the best country in the world, but traveling abroad makes me appreciate other cultures and points of view that sometimes look miserable through an American’s lens but are perfectly good in theirs. Some of the people I have met who work in factories in the jungles of China look, to me, like they are living in squalor, yet they are vibrant people who seem happier than other people I know who live in much nicer conditions. I had to learn not to impose my American view of success on them.”
Steve’s travels have also allowed him to visit places that have taken his breath away in a good way. Having lunch on a dock while looking at the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps is one that still leaves him awestruck.
Having seen beauty and challenges in his travels has only made Steve’s love for his native Bay Area grow stronger. “The weather here makes us lucky, but the people are what makes it so unique. We are more diverse and accepting of differences in thinking and culture than anywhere else I’ve been,” Steve explains.
While working within the rich diversity of the Bay Area, he has been confronted by some personal epiphanies that were hard to accept. “I had to admit that I was a hard-core white guy and I didn’t like that about myself,” he explains as an acknowledgement of the privilege this carries.
“You have to come to terms with the fact that you don’t know what you don’t know,” he adds. “When you approach people realizing that about yourself, you ask more questions, want to meet new people, and have a quest to learn.”
That’s humbling stuff, but when you’re brought in to fix an underperforming business and that business deals in particle physics and you do not, you have to get comfortable not being an expert in all aspects of the business.
Steve says his success came, in part, from being able to take punches to the heart with straight talk that could easily have laid him out. But he takes it all in stride. “I have always been a stubborn ass,” admits Steve. “But I really do appreciate that other people have had experiences that I haven’t had. I believe that if I can go to school on another person’s mistakes, I will get where I want to go faster.”
Truth is the straight talk goes both ways. His colleagues have been known to quote him with well known “Steve-isms” that cut to the chase but manage to make people smile at the same time. Naysayers hear things like, “thanks for throwing a turd in my punchbowl” and long-winded presenters are reminded of Far Side cartoons like the one showing what a dog hears when his owner is speaking to him: “Blah, blah, blah Rex, blah, blah.”
When I asked him if the adjustment is difficult when losing a captive office audience, he shrugs: “I’m really insignificant in the world and that’s actually empowering. In my career, I didn’t save any lives and I didn’t take any. I don’t mean to be flippant—I just don’t take myself seriously.”
The perk in this thinking is that it frees his mind up to focus on the people, instead of the work. The work may be gone but the people are not. He meets friends for coffee, plays tennis, and races cars.
The car racing is a compromise he made with his younger self who had a near obsession with motorcycle racing. The thrill of the physicality, the quick thinking, and the open air around him created just the adrenaline rush he was looking for. He found tremendous satisfaction in doing what he knew he could do if only he had the guts to do it.
One of his favorite books, The Alchemist, speaks to his passion for going all in in the face of fear. As he has gotten older, though, he admits that his skills have diminished enough to make him weigh the possibility for injuries and slower recoveries. This makes racing cars a great substitute.
As a member of the Northern California Shelby Club, Steve races his classic Mustang on the tracks of Laguna Seca, Sears Point, and Thunderhill. There are often 40 cars on the track getting up to speeds of 129 MPH on the straightaways and 83 MPH while taking the turns.
In his quieter moments, Steve’s Bay Area entrepreneurial spirit is formulating a business plan to bring a bike rack he invented to market. “I feel like I want to prove to myself that I know what I think I know well enough to design, manufacture, and distribute a product to market on a really small scale.”
As you can see, there’s still plenty of buck in this Bronco, which is precisely why Steve Randazzo is a neighbor and friend who helps give the Bay Area its buzz.