Edward Dunlap Finds Business Inspiration Everywhere

Trojan Battery Company’s CFO explains how taking a break can lead to unexpected breakthroughs

Edward Dunlap, Trojan Battery

Many people get epiphanies in the shower. For Edward Dunlap—senior vice president and chief financial officer of Trojan Battery Company—mountain biking, body surfing, working out in the gym, and reading provide him with unexpected benefits and sudden moments of inspiration.

“An idea will just spring to mind, and for me, those breaks from work give you a chance to relax your mind,” Dunlap says. “By relaxing your mind, invariably it comes back to work, and you do come up with some ideas you then share with work. That does happen with some frequency.”

Those epiphanies are crucial for Dunlap as he enters his fifth year with Trojan Battery, which is based in Santa Fe Springs, California. In his current role, he handles all the responsibilities of a CFO in addition to setting global prices and procuring commodities, such as new and recycled lead that the company uses in its deep-cycle flooded, absorbent glass mat, and gel batteries. The batteries are used in everything from aerial work platforms and marine vessels to golf carts and other recreational vehicles.

His work with pricing involves researching the value of Trojan Battery’s brand so that prices can be set without over- or undervaluing the product. “You have to find that right balance,” he says.

Dunlap also supervises roughly forty employees across the financial accounting, tax and treasury, financial planning and analysis, IT, and commodities-buying departments. Outside of ensuring that the company remains competitive and financially successful, Dunlap is also passionate about mentoring employees and moving them into additional responsibilities.

His mentoring efforts have been fruitful at Trojan Battery, which has been family-managed for more than ninety years and family-owned until 2013. “I’ve seen people that worked for me progress not only in the organization that we both work for, but also progress onto greater levels of responsibility,” Dunlap says. “We do a lot of promoting from within and moving people around, whether those are people we feel we can stretch into new assignments or who may be struggling in an assignment.”

Dunlap cites a recent example of an employee who was shifted into another area. “He’s really exceeded our expectations once we go him in the right job,” Dunlap says. “On any team, it’s putting people in the right spots. Whoever fields the best team wins.”

Earlier in his career, Dunlap says he had mentors guide him on the path to leadership. “I’ve had a few mentors that have helped me broaden my perspective and taught me some of the essentials with regard to leadership,” he says. “They just gave me a broader perspective on what is important to success in business.”

With his mentors’ help, Dunlap progressed in his career from his start as an intern at BFGoodrich. He chose to work at the company because he wanted to pursue finance and operations in the manufacturing industry. From there, he moved on to a successful career at PepsiCo, where his work responsibilities spanned more than sixty countries in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Specifically, he worked to build up PepsiCo’s China business and helped the company re-enter the Indian market. The experience was invaluable. “They do a very good job building future leaders,” he says.

During his time at PepsiCo, Dunlap learned a variety of leadership skills. He learned to set a clear direction for employees, the importance of employee buy-in work, and getting out of his team members’ way. Dunlap also honed his skills in making tough decisions, challenging people’s abilities in a constructive way, setting goals for them, pushing their thinking, and integrating new ideas into the process. Leadership also includes what Dunlap calls “teachership,” which he takes to mean providing the training and background employees need to achieve their goals.

Making employees accountable for their performance, having them take ownership of the goal, and keeping them aligned on it are crucial to leadership success, according to Dunlap. “The process is one where you constantly communicate what you are trying to achieve, the direction that you are heading in, and your progress against that strategic goal,” Dunlap explains. “It’s a crew of rowers. If everyone is not aligned and sequenced in the right way, then you can still move along but not as effectively or as fast.”

Today, Dunlap’s career has come full circle with his return to manufacturing, and the international experience he gained at PepsiCo is coming in handy. That international experience taught him how to enter new markets, grow the business at high rates, and develop the infrastructure to support those efforts. Today, Dunlap is applying his international experience to Trojan Battery’s efforts to expand about 37 percent of its international sales to markets in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

Dunlap also is involved in Trojan Battery’s efforts to implement lean process initiatives, such as continuous improvement. “The idea is to maximize customer value with fewer resources while minimizing waste,” Dunlap says. “We’re in the very early stages of implementing lean initiatives, and we’ve already identified millions of opportunities for us to improve and return more to our customers and shareholders. We can seek more market share without having to spend capital to get it, and you can wring a lot of savings out of your direct and indirect materials cost.”

Achieving that impact is one of the reasons why Dunlap returned to manufacturing. “It creates more opportunities for someone like myself who is more of an operating CFO to add value in a variety of different ways,” he says. “One of the things that you want to look for anytime you get involved in a business is where you can add value—where you can move the business forward.”

Based on his own experience, Dunlap advises against overplanning a career. “It is a journey, and that journey is more enjoyable if you’re inquisitive,” he says.

He also stresses that having intellectual curiosity is key to success along with asking the right questions, achieving informed points of view, and developing the ability to express them. “If you can do that as well as some of the other things and just focus on doing your current job, then your career will follow, in my view,” he says.

Photo: Michael Mittelstaedt

Houlihan Lokey values our longstanding relationship with Ed Dunlap and Trojan Battery, and we look forward to continuing to provide premier advisory services. Houlihan Lokey (NYSE:HLI) is a global investment bank with expertise in mergers and acquisitions, capital markets, financial restructuring, valuation, and strategic consulting.