In March 1917, people in Cleveland, Ohio were applauding all things American. The city's baseball team was a top contender among the major leagues, and the United States was preparing for its role in the First World War.
While U.S. involvement in the war would span only 19 months, the ways in which it would create opportunity for the country's industries throughout the future was not lost on Cleveland engineer Art Parker. Sensing opportunity, Art began the Parker Appliance Company in 1917 with an ambition to develop an emerging technology called "fluid power" – which would enable workers the ability to generate and control the tremendous forces necessary to build the infrastructure and machines of the 20th century.
Art's ability to anticipate future needs and develop innovative solutions is what led to Parker's century of success, according to Corporate Vice President, Technology and Innovation Craig Maxwell.
"Art saw both the challenge and the opportunity. For a company to grow and thrive during a century that experienced massive change – it has to be resilient, open to new ideas and nimble. Art's ability to think outside the box and to reduce his ideas to practice is illustrated in the 160 patents that were awarded to him."
Art Parker's ability to develop deep empathy for the customer, to understand their challenges and to offer innovative solutions became a cornerstone of Parker's culture, one that his son Pat personified in his enthusiastic leadership during his 52-year career at the company. As a result, the company's culture has always been driven by a passion to develop new ways of serving customers. To help further guide Parker's growth and financial performance, Parker's former CEO Don Washkewicz created the Win Strategy in 2001.
This single page document became the compass that would guide the company in its journey to achieve top quartile financial performance. A cornerstone of the strategy is centered on profitable organic growth in its many forms, with a specific focus on product innovation. In an effort to gain leverage from Parkers broad portfolio of products and global footprint – a standardized web based process for product development called Winovation was launched in 2005. For the first time in Parker's history, its decentralized operating divisions would have the ability to work more collaboratively and across great distances, developing "global" products and avoiding the duplication of effort that can occur in the absence of visibility. An additional benefit was the ability to align Parker's organic growth targets with the anticipated sales from the projects currently in development or being considered. This last piece was seen as the key in creating a sustainable business that was in alignment with our stated top quartile financial objectives.
"In the context of product innovation, Parker's greatest challenge has become one of focus. Someone once said that ‘with a wealth of opportunity comes a poverty of focus.' We needed a more rigorous process to screen potential projects relative to customer value and market scale. This would allow us to focus our finite engineering resources on problems worth solving and not to become distracted by activities that would never return shareholder value over the long run.
"The actual engineering – that's not what Winovation is about. It has more to do with the process of identifying potential winners and then de-risking those projects – both technical and business risks – during the various stages of development. A big piece of the process involves the deep engagement of the customer from beginning to end. Our goal is to never be surprised or disappointed post launch. It sounds like guess work but it is actually a repeatable process - one that Arthur Parker mastered early in his career."
One of the prominent pieces produced by Parker's innovative growth is its revolutionary Indego® exoskeleton technology to give mobility to paralyzed and disabled patients. Indego is a powered lower limb exoskeleton enabling people with spinal cord injuries to walk and participate in over-ground gait training. Based on the premise of an entrepreneurial venture startup company, Indego is the first piece of technology to come from Parker Corporate Technology Ventures (CTV) – a hybrid program designed by Maxwell and his team to bridge the gap between big business and startup culture.
"We asked, could we apply motion and control technology to improve health? Much like we automated factories in the 1980s to improve the quality of cars, could we improve the outcome for patients by automating the process of rehabilitation or even surgery?
"I've worked on a lot of amazing things, but I've never been moved to tears by any of them like the Indego. It's only been three years since beginning Parker's exoskeleton technology, and it's only the beginning of our human motion control technology efforts."
This post is the thirteenth in a series of leadership interviews to commemorate Parker's centennial anniversary. To learn more about Parker's history, visit www.parker.com/centennial.
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Leveraging Global IT Solutions
Listening to Anticipate Customer Needs
Spotting Parker's Unlimited Opportunities
Leveraging Company Expertise Across Industries
Growing Leaders and Profits
A Legacy Fueled by Fostering Talent
Making Safety Our Top Priority
Decentralization with Global Unity
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Nurturing a Competitive and Compassionate Culture