December 25th, 1998. Christmas Day was the exact day I became a veteran of the United States Navy. I received the very unique “gift” of looking for a new start in a civilian career. Like many before in my situation, I struggled with how to make my specific skills match up with a civilian job. I had a friend I had worked alongside in the Navy that had retired from the Armed Forces a year before and had become a salesman for a Material Handling Company called Associated. He told me that it was a great place to work and my technical skills would be put to good use. It sounded like a good place to get my bearings until something better came along so I interviewed and was hired as a Field Service Technician. I never expected it to become a career.
The first thing I noticed early on was the freedom I was given to not only fix the equipment, but manage my own schedule and customers. It was this freedom that allowed me to understand the full extent of the link that our equipment provided and where the customer’s pain points were. Before long, I was making suggestions to the customers about what equipment was ready for replacement and even gave a few informal classes for operators at my primary customer about how to avoid the common damage I would see day in and day out. While I enjoyed the satisfaction I got from troubleshooting equipment, I wanted to take on bigger challenges and make a bigger impact within the company.
When a position opened up for a Parts Manager, I jumped at the opportunity and moved into Management. As a parts customer to our parent company I learned firsthand the importance of a good supply chain by getting our Service Department and customers the right parts the first time. Not shortly thereafter I was promoted to Field Service Manager. From here I was able to impart the lessons learned in service and parts to ensure all our technicians understood the impact they could have as a front line customer advocate for our company.
During this time, our company was fully engaged in rebranding Associated to be recognized as more than just a company that sold forklifts. In 2011 I was presented with a unique opportunity to work with the Fleet Management Department. This department was still new and a difficult sell for our Sales Staff. Many customers at that time did not see the full potential of hiring a team to tell them how to manage their forklift fleet. I have found that a Fleet Analyst is an essential part of managing equipment for our customers, more specifically for customers that have multiple locations with hundreds of assets nationwide. By providing reports and, more importantly, a Fleet Analyst’s recommendations to make sense of all the reports available, it makes transparent to the customer all sorts of areas of opportunity for cost savings.
In 2013, I was asked if I would also start looking into controlling costs for our Rental Fleet. Corporate was already in full swing for updating our Rental Fleet and were using limited metrics to determine which trucks to replace. This endeavor led to me developing more easily identified metrics to determine not only which trucks needed immediate replacement, but paved the way to identify trucks that were more suited to Renewed Sales opportunities. As a result, Associated now has a more modern fleet while reducing the capital losses normally associated with an equipment changeover of that magnitude. This led to a new role of Fleet Analyst being posted to analyze all Associated owned and customer service contracted equipment.
I was encouraged by management to build the role from the ground up, and it has led to analyzing areas of opportunity that I had only thought about wanting to influence as a technician all those years ago. Being able to provide a viewpoint to the decision makers for not only high cost equipment, but also utilization, customer damage reduction, contracted vendor support, technician review and contract agreement recommendations have made my role with Associated more fulfilling than I could have hoped for.
The material handling industry is always changing, and companies not willing to acknowledge and change with our customer’s growing expectations will eventually fall by the wayside. I am very proud to be a part of a company within this industry that recognizes we have to be at the forefront of this change, even if some of our customers don’t realize they need what we offer yet. When they do, Associated will be there to provide it.
Many people come into the material handling industry by accident. Much like an unwrapped present on Christmas morning, they do not know what it is until they “open” it. When I applied for this job back in 1998 I fell into this group as well. Looking back over what I have learned and where this career has taken me so far, I could not have asked for a better Christmas present.