On January 1, John Cosgrove president of Atlantic Handling Systems in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, became the 53rd president of the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association. He will serve for one year as leader of our association.
What was your first job ever?
When I was 15 years old, I got a job cleaning in a liquor store. After graduating from William Patterson College with a degree in Business Administration, I was hired by Keebler, the cookie company, as a district sales manager and was promoted to zone manager.
How did you get into material handling?
One of my responsibilities as Keebler’s zone manager was the warehouse. The owner of the storage & handling company servicing Keebler offered me a job in sales, and I took it. My second day on the job I sold a large amount of drawer units to Casio. I had no clue what I was doing, but I really enjoyed it. I was at this company for 12 years until the owner retired and closed it. I then joined Progressive Handling Systems, where I worked for 13 years as VP of sales.
Two years ago, you started your own company, at a time when the economy was a bit shaky. Why’d you take such a risk?
I always had a vision of what a distributorship that provided great value could look like. This opportunity presented itself to me. And I jumped at it.
What have the first two years been like?
Developing a customer base is a lot of hard work. Many hours. It’s also been a lot of fun, because it’s like lacing up your spikes and putting on your helmet and going out and playing. Of course, there are challenges. The biggest one when you start a business is selecting the right people to work for you. I’ve been very fortunate that the people here are focused and have a lot of vision. They see an opportunity and really work hard to sustain our growth and give us the foundation we need to take our business to the next level.
What traits do you look for when hiring?
I look for someone who is highly motivated, and wants to provide solutions to customers’ problems and is a can-do kind of person of high integrity. I’ve been involved in a lot of civic organizations in my community and I like people who are caring and show they want to help the community.
The industry seems to be approaching a crossroads with the addition, or lack, of younger people entering it. What’s ahead?
The average MHEDA member is between the ages of 40 and 60. Edgers coming into the industry are very bright and talented. But they don’t want to grow up to be like us. They want to achieve, but we have to give them the space, and we have to empower them with the right tools. I think we’ll see a shift from traditional management in the industry to more empowering of employees and goal achievement.
How old were you when you took your first job in material handling?
23 years old.
Looking back, what do you wish you had at that age to help you grow in the industry?
Like most salespeople, I was thrown to the wolves “Good luck, go out there and try to find some customers.” Training was limited, which is one of the reasons I became involved with MHEDA. Today, there is a training track through MHEDA U. The programs MHEDA put together to get Edgers to network with each other, things like MHEDA-NET and MHEDA Edge, are really going to be beneficial five years down the road. These programs also give smaller dealers a venue to train their employees.
What’s the most important thing you learned throughout your career?
Always maintain your integrity. If you say it, you have to do it. Also, managing employees is critical to success. People make things happen. They are the answer to problems. We are in a service business, and you really have to gear your company toward providing excellent service.
What industry trends will MHEDA be facing in 2007?
On the industrial truck side, we’re watching how the mergers shake out and how the IT side will look after the mergers. We also have to realize that the majority of our dealers are smaller companies. They’re not involved in these mergers, but they are being impacted by them in the marketplace.
What’s down the road for material handling?
Technology will be the key to the material handling industry in this country staying productive. There will be more of a push toward automation in distribution, especially as it becomes increasingly difficult for businesses to keep people costs down.
If you weren’t in the material handling business, what would you be doing?
I’ve never thought about that question. I get up every morning and I’m still enthused about going to work. I really love what I do.