MHEDA Members nominate their peers as industry rock stars
By Steve Guglielmo
“Our Rock Stars aren’t like your rock stars.” That was the core message of the Intel – Sponsors of Tomorrow Commercial that saw Ajay Bhatt, the co-inventor of the USB, strutting through the office as adoring fans threw themselves at him.
That commercial (http://bit.ly/1EHJquw) and idea is the basis for this feature. Material handling, and MHEDA specifically, has hundreds of rock stars. You don’t have to look much further than the Dealer Recognition lists on pages 34-36 to recognize that. And while our rock stars may not play guitar or have platinum records, they are just as impressive as the rock stars that do.
What makes the nominees in this article even more impressive is that each one was nominated by a company peer. There is no single characteristic that makes somebody a rock star in our industry. But you know them when you see them. Each of this year’s nominees has “it” and their companies and MHEDA are lucky to have them!
Prior to working at Design Storage, John Morfit was a semi-professional motocross racer. The day before he was set to interview with the company for a parts packaging position, John tore some ligaments in his knee.
“20 years ago, a very humble young man knocked on the door of our facility in Fredericksburg, VA. His arm was in a sling and he had an immobilizer strapped around his leg. Evidently his start at his last motocross race hadn’t gone as planned and he was run over a time or two. He was there to ask about a job packing parts in our fledgling parts operation. I told him to try back when he could use both hands and I had a good laugh,” says Design Storage President Rob Alling.
Luckily for John and for Design Storage, when the ligaments healed, the position still hadn’t been filled. John returned to the facility eight weeks later completely mobile and able to start work. Now, nearly 21 years later, John not only oversees the service department and its 14 technicians, he also provides technical support for the company’s dealers and customers.
For John, the key to success is patience and the ability to provide a calm, measured response in all situations.
“You don’t always deal with happy people every day,” he says. “You have to have patience and understand their position when they have a piece of equipment down that we sold them. They’ve invested a lot of money in it and they depend on it. Not every call is a happy call, but you still have to put on a happy face and do your best to help them get it back up into production.”
In addition to that reservoir of patience, John brought a mechanical engineering and drafting background to the job.
“About three months after John started, he finally spoke up and showed me how I could save time doing AutoCAD drawings,” says Alling. “Three years later he was drawing gearbox modifications to solve warranty problems for one of Europe’s largest drive unit suppliers and then rebuilding the gearboxes with the parts derived from his design.”
Ever the team player, John attributes his success in large part to the team that Design Storage has built.
“We’ve got a very dedicated group of technicians in the office,” says Morfit. “I’ve got my guys out in the field. A lot of those guys have anywhere from 8 to 15 years of tenure with the company themselves. We have a good, well-rounded team to support both myself and the equipment and our customers. It’s a small company, we all work as a team together and do what is needed to make customers happy and to make our product look good. Whether it’s working on the weekend, or working after hours. I’ve got guys working at Boeing two weeks straight. Nobody complains and everybody is part of the team.”
And while Morfit is loathe to brag about himself, Alling is more than happy to do it for him.
“I hear it from our own guys and I hear it from dealers all across the continent,” says Alling. “John Morfit might be the best support guy they have ever had the pleasure to work with. And unlike most rock stars, John is always a pleasure to work with. No prima donna here – just getting the job done with humor and talent. My kind of rock star.”
“If you want to be a leader in this industry or you want to be a leader personally, you need to be outgoing. You need to be willing to look at every opportunity and be optimistic about every person you meet and look at everything as an opportunity to either gain or learn from. That’s the thing that’s going to drive others,” says AK Material Handling Systems’ Josh Smith.
Outgoing is the perfect word to describe Josh Smith. He’s one of the most friendly, affable, upbeat and optimistic people you’ll ever meet. He and the WPRP and AK Material Handling Systems team are always up to something and it’s always fun. Whether it’s the “Would You Like Fries With That?” video series, charitable bets with fellow MHEDA members, educational clubs within the organization, or anything else, it’s not hard to see that both companies have fostered an easygoing, familial culture.
“When you walk into a room and you’re in a good mood, it rubs off on people,” he says. “I’m always looking to meet new people and learn everything I can about them and their organization. Always looking to push to find the next big thing.”
Josh started at AK Material Handling working in the warehouse. He quickly worked his way up through the organization, eventually becoming the Director of Sales and Operations where he was tasked with putting together a rock star team, a challenge he relished.
“I think the biggest thing for people who want to excel and go above and beyond is to understand that you can’t do it alone,” says Smith. “You need a great team. It’s like a great band: everybody has their talents and it wouldn’t be a great band if everybody didn’t contribute. That’s what we’ve built at WPRP is a great band. It’s not just the guitarist or the lead singer; everybody here is a rock star.”
And both teams share Josh’s intellectual curiosity and upbeat personality. Every Wednesday, the teams meet for “Triple Espresso Wednesdays.”
“Every Wednesday we meet and we read books on personal improvements and training and we talk about personal accountability and the stuff that really drives us,” Josh says. “We hear everybody’s perspective and you get to learn more about everybody that way. Learn their strengths and weaknesses and really build off of that.”
In sports terms, Sunbelt’s Industrial Trucks’ Jeremy Breed is a gym rat. He’s the guy who would be the first person in the ballpark, the last to leave, taking extra batting practice in between the hours spent in the film room.
Essentially, he’s the Dustin Pedroia of Sunbelt Industrial Trucks. Everything that Jeremy does is geared toward being the most efficient outside salesperson that he can possibly be.
“Putting in the hours outside of work is very important,” says Breed. “I try to do all of my prospecting, purchase orders and thank you notes outside of the typical business day. That way, I can spend all of those hours speaking with clients. I try to be as efficient as possible in that way.”
That drive for efficiency can border on obsessive compulsive, as Breed has every minute of every day, including his time off, scheduled in Microsoft Office.
“I use that calendar for everything. I keep all my schedules and all my calls, everything. I even use it for my personal life,” he says. “Everything is organized and in the calendar. It just shows up on my phone. I get instructions from there. I’m pretty much living my life through my Microsoft Outlook Calendar.”
That organization, combined with a natural curiosity, has made Breed consistently one of Sunbelt’s top salespeople.
“Jeremy joined Sunbelt in 2009 during one of the worst times in the history of the forklift industry,” says President Bill Rowan. “But Jeremy persevered and became a disciplined prospector in a down market and has become of our top producers. We consistently receive compliments on Jeremy’s professionalism and attention to detail. He understands the need to deliver superior customer service and is certainly a leading reason why we are a MHEDA MVP year after year.”
Jeremy’s attention to detail extends beyond his manic organization. He has a thirst for knowledge and data and strives to be an expert not only on Sunbelt’s products but also their competitors and his customers.
“It’s probably as important to know about the customer’s industry as it is ours because you can then ask them questions about how they utilize the equipment and why it’s important to them,” says Breed. “That’s as important as knowing our products. It’s important to know our products and also our competitor’s product as well. So then I can demonstrate why our product is better for their application.”
And the preparation doesn’t end there. Breed prepares for and practices each possible scenario he might encounter on a sales call.
“As much as possible, I try to never get caught off guard,” he says. “I try to anticipate any objections or questions a customer might have and have the answer ahead of time. How can I keep a situation positive?”
Breed came to Sunbelt six years ago with a tireless work ethic. Now, as he has learned the industry, the sky is the limit for him and for Sunbelt.
Lori Bachel is the consummate team player. Having only spent 3.5 years at SJF, she already has experience in the company’s equipment yard, on the shipping dock, handling customer complaints, acting as a go-between between the sales department and equipment yard and now in the accounting department. It’s no wonder that Stafford called Lori the silent hero!
“Lori spearheads the daily operations and her work is instrumental to our sales, procurement and accounting departments,” says Sterner. “She oversees everything from purchasing and POs, credit, order entry and inventory management as well as some software training to top it off. She makes everybody look good and is the very definition of a ROCK STAR!”
Lori came to the company as a temp worker in the yard, helping to sort material. Eventually she was made a full-time employee, operating a forklift. Within six months, though, the position of accounting clerk opened up and Lori was asked to take on that responsibility.
“Accounting Clerk is what’s on my business card, but I wear quite a few hats,” she says. “Anything that needs to get done, I do my best to make it happen.” Lori’s wealth of diverse experience and willingness to pitch in at every level of the company has made her an invaluable asset at SJF. When asked how she is able to juggle her responsibilities in the accounting department with all of the other tasks that she is able to take on, she responded, with a laugh, “Coffee. Coffee and stubbornness. When I decide something needs to get done, it’s going to happen. I have no issue dealing with whoever I need to deal with to make sure that what has to get done gets done.”
Lori attributes much of her success at the company to the team at SJF and to her husband, who worked at SJF before Lori arrived at the company.
“I have great sounding boards everywhere I turn,” she says. “I have the most wonderful supervisor who gives me the flexibility to get my work done without being over my shoulder all the time. I have my husband at home who has so much experience with the product and work and can answer any questions that I might come across during the day. And we have a wonderful team here. It’s like a family and we are all devoted 100-percent to our customers and each other.”
Between those sounding boards and her intimate experience working with the products in the yard, Lori is able effectively communicate sales orders between the sales department and the equipment yard. And when something doesn’t look right, she has the background knowledge to question the salesperson that made the order to make sure that a mistake hasn’t been made.
“It all boils down to communication. Without strong communication up and down the ladder, I think it would all fall apart.”
The ability to identify the needs of a market and build a strategic plan to capitalize on them is what makes Arcangelo Capozzolo a rock star. Fourteen years ago, despite having no prior material handling industry experience, Arcangelo decided to open a material handling dealership called Buffalo Forklift LLC.
“I started the company from nothing,” says Capozzolo. “But I’m a good marketer. And I was able to align myself with vendors and manufacturers who had the same mindset that I do. And when you can do that, everyone can grow together.”
Finding the right fit is a core tenet of Capozzolo’s management philosophy. It is the reason he has been so successful at Buffalo Forklift and why he is now finding success with Cobra Lift Truck, a forklift brand that he created 2.5 years ago to compete with the major brands and has been on the market for almost a year.
“When I opened my company, I handled everything myself. It’s very important to be an expert in every area of the business,” he says. “That includes billing the customer, purchasing, setting up vendors that I work with, sales, materials, marketing. I did it all myself. I perfected it. And then I brought people on that I trained to do things my way. Not only do I align myself with good vendors but I align myself with good employees who are of the same mindset and the same path. We don’t clock in, we don’t clock out, we’re always available 7 days per week. That’s what sets us apart.”
He continues, “I look for people who are enthusiastic, have a great personality and have a willingness to learn and a hard work ethic. Obviously you have to go through a lot of interviews before you find the right ones. I have very little turnover in my company. It’s because I find the good ones and they stay with me. They’re well compensated and hard working.”
With the right staff in place, Capozzolo went to work filling what he perceived to be an important gap in the forklift market.
“I’m constantly monitoring the industry and the overall trends in both the U.S. and Canadian economies,” he says. “Looking for opportunities in this industry that people are not taking advantage of. We found that the market needed a lower-priced machine that would give dealers better margins and that’s why we developed the Cobra Product Line.”
After a year on the market, response to the line has been fantastic. And as Capozzolo continues to monitor the market, he has identified new areas that Cobra can satisfy with new products set to debut next year that he is very excited about.
Kevin O’Neill joined Steele Solutions in 1997, just months after the organization was founded. He bought ownership equity in the company and over time has been able to buy in more. In 2014, O’Neill was named President of the company.
For O’Neill, that ascent to ownership was built on the back of honesty and integrity.
“You need to be able to be open and honest with your customers, your co-workers, everyone,” O’Neill says. “You need to realize that nobody is perfect. Mistakes happen. And when they do, you have to own up to them. That’s what is most important is being a good communicator.”
And O’Neill is an excellent communicator. It is a skill that he derives, in part, from one of his earliest jobs waiting tables.
“Anybody can communicate good news,” he says. “But when there’s a mistake, whether it’s our mistake, the dealer’s mistake or even the end-user’s mistake, the most important thing is to get the mistake rectified, not assign blame. When you wait tables and a customer’s steak isn’t right, the first thing you are taught is that you remove the offending item. Once that is done, then you can go about figuring out a fair way to fix the problem.”
That accountability has been a driving force in Kevin’s rise to President.
“Before there were cell phones, I used to have my home phone number on my business card,” he says. “People know that I can be reached 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.“ Another characteristic that has carried O’Neill is his steel trap memory for details.
“I’m known for having a ridiculous memory. It’s mostly for useless sports information but I do have some useful information stored up there too,” he says. “I am able to recall what we’ve done on past projects and I know, without the customer having to tell me. Many times, our distributors have a new person that is not familiar with the details from past projects and I can help them out with some information. We do things on the front end so that there aren’t any gotcha’s on the back end.”
Part of O’Neill’s strong leadership skills comes from his coaching background. He has 4 kids and coaches their sports whenever there is an opportunity.
“Managing the relationships between the players and the assistant coaches and the parents and trying to figure out how to do the best for everybody involved while still knowing that at the end of the day, I have to make the decisions. There are great parallels between that and the work that we do.”
Says Garland Bridgewater, ”In addition to being an intricate part of the organization’s growth and development, Kevin shows strong mentoring skills in many areas of the company.”
Like many employees in small organizations, Jason Oliver’s business card may say one thing, but the reality is that he wears many different hats, depending on the day.
“Jason has many talents,” says USDI President and CEO Dan Sansevieri. “He has successfully developed our outstanding website, manages our accounting and pricing and has great marketing talents. He has developed corporate relationships and contracts with major industrial supply companies through the U.S.”
Though this is Jason’s first job in the industry, and he has been with the company less than three years, his determination and persistence have made him an immediate star at USDI.
“I started off working in the warehouse in packaging,” says Oliver. “When our General Manager needed some IT work done, I volunteered because I have a background with computers. And from there, I kind of expressed a desire to answer phones and do more within the company.”
Jason’s versatility, coupled with his strong drive, has helped making him an outstanding sales person.
“I consider myself a marketer first,” he says. “And when it comes to marketing, my philosophy is that everything you do, you’re marketing yourself and the company to the customer. So when I approach my day, I think about how I can help USDI become a better company. And to do that, I try to provide the best service possible so that we can earn your business.”
And Jason takes the job of earning business very seriously.
“I had a company executive call me and say, ‘I usually would not consider a new supplier because we are trying to reduce our vendor base,’” says Sansevieri. “’But that persistent, yet extremely polite young man was so nice and accommodating, I felt compelled to consider your company.’ Jason is an integral part of our organization and we are not only pleased to have him, but proud as well.”
Though Oliver has achieved so much success so quickly, he is not content to sit on his laurels. He is constantly striving to improve.
“I want to be the best that I can be in everything that I do,” he says. “Whether that’s at work or at home when I’m fishing, I want to be the best. And I’m not afraid to challenge the status quo. Being able to do that, to challenge the way things are done, sometimes allows a company and myself to continue to grow.”
Helpful. If Susan Poole could be summed up in one word, it would be helpful. Coming to Cisco-Eagle five years ago as an inside salesperson after spending her career to that point in HVAC, there was no shortcut or trick that Poole used to get ahead. She just did her job with integrity and was willing to help everyone and anyone who needed it.
“If a customer needs anything, I want to be the person that they call,” says Poole. “Even if it’s not something that I can help them with from a material handling perspective, we have plenty of other industries that we work with that I might be able to introduce them to. I always tell my customers to please call me and if I don’t have the answer, I will find the answer for you or I will find somebody who can. I want to be the first stop for all of my customers.”
During the nomination process, Stacy Thompson said, “Susan Poole is one of our most enthusiastic employees. She is a talented salesperson who also works hard in the company, chairing our ESOP Advisory Team. She’s very busy but always finds time to help and encourage others.”
Part of that drive to help others is Poole paying it forward.
“Most of what I have learned, personally, was through a project engineer in our office, Joel Pason. He was a fantastic mentor,” says Poole. “He started helping me get through the process and understanding and learning very basic terms that I had to know. All of that was new to me.”
Poole began in inside sales and eventually was promoted to outside sales. But at the time of her promotion, the company hadn’t found an inside salesperson to replace her. So for a year, Poole actually did both jobs. She did so without complaint and with the aplomb that the company has come to expect. It’s just another reason why she is a true material handling rock star.