Give Your Workforce the Opportunity to Innovate

Aug. 11, 2016
As CEO of Intelligrated, Chris Cole's most important lesson learned is that a customer-first attitude has to be the number one priority.

In July, it was announced that Intelligrated will be acquired by Honeywell, and will become a part of the industrial conglomerate's Sensing and Productivity Solutions group.

MH&L spoke with Cole about Intelligrated's philosophy, workforce strategy and how it drives innovation. Though he declined to speak about his new leadership role at Honeywell, in a statement Cole said, "Joining Honeywell enables us to break new ground with the most advanced levels of systems integration, intelligent software and controls, and data-driven efficiency."

MH&L: What's the "Intelligrated Way" philosophy?

Chris Cole, CEO, Intelligrated

Cole: Jim McCarthy [co-founder of Intelligrated] and I created this philosophy as a result of our experience over many years working for large manufacturing companies. The most important lesson we learned was that a customer-first attitude had to be the number one priority, and we believe that's been our competitive edge over the years.

We make sure to not only put customers first but do whatever we can to ensure they remain customers. We do this by helping them continue to be successful. This method has borne out since 65% of our revenue comes from our installed base.

MH&L: Finding, and keeping, talent is such a difficult challenge for most companies. How do you manage your talent?

Cole: This is one area that we have spent a lot of time and effort on. We started out working with the University of Cincinnati and then expanded to a large number of engineering schools around the Midwest, as well as Georgia Tech. By hiring from these programs, we have been able to achieve a very high retention rate.

We also have a graduate training program, which is a 10-week engineering program involving either new graduates or young engineers.

We look to a variety of talent, including veterans. Recently we have doubled the number of veterans we employ. This group's training fits well with project management.

MH&L: Looking at omni-channel strategies, what trends do you see emerging over the next few years?

Cole: Amazon has trained the consumer that two-day shipping is standard. But now next-day or even same-day shipping is a requirement.

To compete companies must find ways to maximize the throughput of their inventory investment as well as find more cost-effective ways to turn inventory in order to fulfill customer expectations. Looking forward, expectations will get higher and higher.
The structure of shipping has changed as well, as it was designed to serve B2B but is now more B2C. We are still scratching the surface of those changes, and the industry is looking at how to get products to the urban core.

In addition to distribution center (DC) shipping there are going to be a variety of changes over the next five years. One trend we are seeing more in 2016 than we ever have is the labor challenge. The aging workforce and the number of available workers have caused warehouse wage competition. These wages are going up more than the inflation rate. So I think DCs will take the least attractive jobs and automate them. The DCs will also move to a more flexible arrangement with labor and use more part-time workers to handle seasonal requirements.

Technology will also step in, such as pick-to-light and voice, to increase productivity. And we will see more people continue to work more closely with robots, as they are currently doing in our factories.

MH&L: Intelligrated won an innovation award from MHI at MODEX 2016 earlier this year for your dynamic discharge compensation technology. Can you talk about how you foster innovation at your company?

Cole: Innovation holds special significance for our company and the material handling industry as a whole as traditional retail and e-commerce operations strive to meet evolving consumer demands. As such, innovation is one of our core organizational values and we dedicate significant research and development resources to promote transformative thinking.

Our approach is to give employees the opportunity to innovate, through an in-house innovation portal that works to capture and nurture ideas for new products and service offerings. All associates are encouraged to submit ideas and participate in the assessment and development of concepts to make them valuable. This program has resulted in numerous patents and has advanced both associates' careers and the material handling industry.  

About the Author

Adrienne Selko | Senior Editor

 As Senior Editor for MH&L  Adrienne covers workforce, leadership and technology.


Email [email protected]


Adrienne Selko is also the senior editor at EHS Today and is a former editor of IndustryWeek. 

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