Whatcom County is home to a number of highly successful entrepreneurs who are quietly and methodically doing massive transactions with national and international partners every day. One of them is Paul Akers, the dynamic man behind FastCap, which operates from a 50,000-square-foot facility on Ferndale’s Pacific Highway.
“Our main customer is cabinet makers who need supplies like hinges, braces and screws,” Akers said of his 900 skus that include workwear, specialty tools, peel and stick accessories, fastcaps, tool bags and adhesive and filler systems. FastCap’s 50 employees manufacture the products, store them, package them and ship them, with half destined for American suppliers and the other half shipped internationally.
Akers’ start in the business was serendipitous. In his pre-1997 career he built guitars with Bob Taylor at Taylor Musical Instruments in California. He graduated with a degree in Christian education, worked as a pastor for two years and taught in a school in Los Angeles, where he met his future wife, Bellingham native Leanne Kolbe. But building was in his blood, so Akers opened Genauer European Cabinets and started making high end custom furniture for wealthy clients in the San Diego area.
“When we moved to Whatcom County in 1993 no-one could afford to have me build a $5,000 chair,” he said. Akers had spent a six-week summer in the county that convinced him to move and pursue the quality of life this corner of the Pacific Northwest offers. One night, while working on a client’s gigantic closet job in his garage, Akers found himself frustrated with plastic screw cap covers on the market. “If the screw wasn’t exactly flush with the surface, the cap covers wouldn’t stick,” he recalled. “I thought, why hasn’t someone made a cap for an imperfect screw? I made one right then, out of a Christmas tree stamp!” To hear Paul tell this pivotal story in his own words, click here.
A privately owned company, FastCap does “tens of millions of dollars in business every year,” Akers said. But its products aren’t its claim to fame. Rather, it’s Kaizan, which means to improve. Akers learned Kaizan from Toyota and implemented its principles at FastCap. Lean is a culture of continuous improvement through which he and his team strive to do things better on a daily basis. Check out Akers’ hundreds of videos on Lean here.
“We now teach Lean to some of the biggest companies in the world,” said Akers, who was scheduled to leave for Tasmania to do Lean talks and consulting at the time of our interview. “I’ve never made my life about money – it’s always been about impacting peoples’ lives,” he added. “My company is ridiculously successful, but my goal is not to make it more successful. My goal is for it to make a magnificent impact on the world by teaching people Lean principles, teaching them how to constructively solve their problems on a daily basis.”
Akers has a weekly podcast he produces called The American Innovator, in which he combines his love of history, culture and learning. “It celebrates the American innovators who innovated this country into greatness, and I interview a lot of interesting people,” he explained.
His ardent passion for history is also reflected in the brief history lesson he and his employees at FastCap learn every day. The day of my visit they were studying the founder of Toyota.
“The world we live in today is the most amazing place ever. Compared to 100 years ago, opportunity abounds and the greatest education is online, at your fingertips. If we don’t realize how lucky we are, we are the most clueless group of people on the face of the planet,” Akers reflected. “I educate my employees on how lucky we are.”
Akers has been “pretty lucky” himself, he says. “When I look at my life, I’m blown away by what I’ve accomplished, in the context that I’m so lucky it all worked out. But I’ve also underachieved pitifully. I could do a thousand times more than I’m doing, and all that separates me from achieving more is my fear.” The fear he’s currently wrestling with is whether he’s tough enough to complete an Iron Man competition. “I know I am,” he added with a smile, “but am I willing to subject myself to the pain required to get there?”