Luke Barnhart began his career at NPC working as a project estimator, assessing the costs of potential projects. He learned how the company builds customer solutions, from start to finish. That initial role gave Luke a “really good understanding of all our internal processes, and how things work,” and helped set the stage for his next big challenge.
Luke’s inaugural role as a builder at NPC began with both an imposing deadline and a largely unfinished warehouse. The project involved unpredictable capacity commitments for producing and mailing notification letters. The customer was legally obligated to disseminate millions of notifications, and failure to deliver by a specified deadline would adversely affect people nationwide. To meet these customer requirements, NPC would have to quickly transform a warehouse, then storing seven million pounds of paper, into a fully functional production facility. And it would have to be done in 60 days.
Serving as project manager on this expansion project, Luke viewed his primary responsibility as the effective coordination of different teams involved in such a large venture. Working with a truncated timeline, it was vitally important to “keep everybody on the same page, and make sure people didn’t get in each other’s way when trying to get things done… there were so many processes that had to be in place.” Those processes included considerable infrastructure updates to the building itself, the purchase and installation of new equipment, and the hiring and training of dozens of new employees.
The net result of this well-coordinated effort was that this facility was fully operational over a week before NPC was contractually obligated to begin production. “We basically started with a warehouse full of paper and, over a two-month period, we converted it into a full-scale, digital print production facility,” Luke recalls with a smile. In describing Luke’s role in the creation of the NPC south facility, Executive Vice President Bob Latoche summarizes his performance succinctly. “He was willing. We suspected he was able, and he proved that he was.”
A large part of Luke’s current role as Vice President of Operations involves building customer solutions. Essentially, when a customer comes to NPC with something that they want done, it is part of Luke’s responsibility to build both the teams and processes that make it happen. Building a customer solution entails not only meticulously mapping out each step required to fulfill that customer’s request, but also building teams that can efficiently execute each component of those required steps. Luke is effusive in his praise for the NPC employees who comprise those teams. “I’m very grateful that we have so many technical resources who are very, very good at what they do.”
Often, customers present unique problems that require unique solutions. As Bob Latoche explains, “Some contracts will fit neatly into our existing processes and workflows, and some require retooling… that’s what Luke does.”
For instance, Luke and his team built a comprehensive, print-on-demand solution for a customer based in a densely populated metropolitan area where warehousing unused inventory is an expensive proposition. NPC’s solution provides the customer numerous benefits.
“If a month from now they have an order for 2,000 books, instead of having a warehouse full of books, we would produce them on the fly, fulfill their orders, and take care of all the tracking of their packages,” Luke said. “The benefits to the customer are reduced inventory levels. They don’t have to coordinate their program, and we’re the front end for their whole process.”
It’s when Luke talks about building these innovative solutions from “scratch” that you can tell how much he values his role at NPC. “I love what I do because I get to start with a blank sheet of paper with a lot of things.”
Although relatively early into his career, Luke quickly demonstrated a track record of successfully building projects from conception to completion. When asked about the characteristics that have made him successful in his roles at NPC, he is quick to deflect attention away from himself to the quality individuals he works with. “What makes this role successful is having the right people… whenever you get the right groups together, and they are clicking, that’s what is exciting to me.” Luke also believes the structure of NPC benefits builders in unique ways. “Within NPC, everybody has access to multiple layers of the company. I have access to anybody I would need help from.”
Paul Lauer, who has worked closely with Luke in recent years, believes Luke’s effectiveness is the result of several factors. For Luke, “title isn’t important” and he constantly demonstrates a willingness to “dive right in” wherever needed. One of Luke’s biggest assets, Paul believes, is the way he both empowers and guides his teams, removing roadblocks and providing support when needed.
Luke also has a good financial mind, when paired with his thorough understanding of cost structures, allows him to gauge the profitability of potential ventures and processes. Luke demonstrates a focused tenacity that doesn’t lose sight of details.
“His drive is off the charts,” Paul said. “He is an extremely hard worker. He doesn’t let it go. He wants to see it to the end. He wants to see the ball go across the goal line.”
Bob Latoche knows that Luke is also “building his own capabilities and talent sets, by focusing not only on technical subject matter expertise, but also leadership skills.” This emerging leadership style includes an even temperament that helps his teams remain focused on solutions in potentially divisive situations.
“He listens, and his temperament allows him to probe in a very disarming fashion,” Bob continues, “you have people around the table, trying to solve a problem and offering opinions. Some of them are very strongly opinionated, and some aren’t. Luke has a way of peeling the onion back, getting to the root of the problem, getting people to see where he’s going, without walls coming up.”
And in moments of impasse, Luke’s most insightful solutions are sometimes prefaced by the phrase “I might be completely wrong about this, but…” and Bob has learned “when Luke says that, what comes next is pretty good stuff. It’s that kind of thing that really earns him a lot of respect with people. He has a quiet confidence about him.”
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