Making a Difference in People’s Lives

with Wilson Jones, President and CEO, Oshkosh Corporation

Patrick and Wilson discuss the history of Oshkosh Corporation, the company’s commitment to continuously improving culture, and how to deliver an integrated and aligned customer experience. Oshkosh Corporation is a leading manufacturer and marketer of access equipment, specialty vehicles and truck bodies for the primary markets of defense, concrete placement, refuse hauling, access equipment and fire & emergency. Oshkosh was founded in 1917 and currently employs 13,000 people in the United States and several countries throughout the world.


Pat: Wilson Jones, welcome to Coffee & CEOs.
Wilson: I think a big part of leadership is disarming a lot of that anxiety in an organization. We need to be a forgiving group and again, enjoy what we do.
Pat: So this year you guys are celebrating 100 years. You have a really rich history and it’s changed a lot over 100 years. And I know that’s very important to you.
Wilson: I feel like I’m the, one of the luckiest people in the world to be able to be here and be part of the 100th celebration. Not many people can say they’re part of a company with a 100 years of rich history.  When we talk about making a difference in people’s lives, that didn’t just start the last few years. It goes all the way back to about 100 years ago today. Our founders had a great, two great products that they patented. A transfer case and a front wheel drive axle. And their goal was to make a difference in people’s lives, allowing them to go places that they probably couldn’t go; no paved roads. So we’ve got over 50 rejection letters that these gentlemen received from Ford, Packard, Studebaker. People didn’t want use those components. And thankfully, that perseverance DNA started right there in, in May of 1917. They started Wisconsin Duplex Auto and we’ve been building trucks ever since.

Again, it’s that perseverance DNA with that purpose of making a difference in people’s lives started in 1917 and we’re really going to celebrate it this year in Oshkosh.

Pat: Things have changed since, since you got there. So how long have you been there?
Wilson: Since 2005.
Pat: 2005. So you, you encountered one type of company and you guys have gone through quite a transformation in the last 12 years. Can you tell me a little bit about what you found, and what you started doing about it?
Wilson: Sure. You know first I would say, we had a good culture, but we’ve really adopted this DNA of continuous improvement. And that equates to potential improvement in every area, including your culture. So we need to have one of the best places to work, to attract and retain top talent. So we first started with leadership and understanding you have to have genuine caring leadership if we’re going to have a people first culture.

So we started with some basic leadership behaviors that we felt like the leadership team should model. And as a group, we came up with those. It’s trust and respect, it’s be collaborative, gain alignment and fourth, and I think what my team would tell you is the most important, is have fun. And that’s what we’re trying to model today, Pat, as we build the culture. And then listen to our team members on what is the culture that they want? We’re understanding the current state of our culture, but what do they want the future state of that culture to be?

Pat: Obviously, you guys are delivering some sort of great customer experience or you wouldn’t have the growth that you’ve been having. Can you describe what customers can expect from Oshkosh?
Wilson: Sure. We have a great team at Oshkosh. I think that’s one thing that we’ve been blessed with and people that really relate to our purpose of making a difference in peoples’ lives; and that’s not a slogan in our company. That’s something that our team not only understands but they believe. And so when you see an issue with a customer, I think the feedback you would hear from our customers is our teams are all over those issues. If it’s a negative issue, they’re on it. If it’s a positive issue, they’re supporting it. Our teams from a customer experience standpoint, and I know you’re big in this lane of customer experience, they try to become customer, what I would call sustaining resources to our customers.

A good example is one of our big customers for JLG Access Equipment, a big rental customer, they’re wanting to get more involved in the area of sustainability. We’re a “Green Master” recognized by the state of Wisconsin for our sustainability efforts, so we’re benchmarking with them on sustainability. We do with the same with our Global and Ethics program. We do it with our Safety Management System.

Pat: Didn’t you get World’s Most Ethical Company award?
Wilson: Yes we did, two years in row.
Pat: Congratulations on that.
Wilson: Yeah, thanks. We have to credit our team and how they’re connected. You mentioned earlier working across 70 countries around the world and all the foreign corrupt practices are going on without that good connected people strategy. Only 124 companies in the world receive that designation. So, we’re very honored and again a credit to our team.
Pat: Yeah, fantastic. So you and I just talked a couple times on the phone and then earlier about our model for delivering customer experience and how important it is to integrate not only the external messaging that you’re saying out to your customers, but the internal messaging to get your people understand their role in delivering that. So many organizations tend to silo those. You guys seem to be doing a good job of integrating those together. How do you go about integrating that?
Wilson: Well, it’s, you’re exactly right Pat. How many times have we heard people in different companies go I don’t know what our strategy is? We do not want that in our company. And so we go through that framework that I mentioned earlier starting with what they’re focused on, what they’re responsible and accountable to, and how it fits into all levels, starting with the top as far as our strategic objectives, getting into the specific strategies and the elements of the people, purpose and performance. It just aligns and again our goal is if it someone’s not seeing the strategy, we pull out our strategic framework, one page, simple form, out and help them walk through that. And, our experience has been once you do that, maybe you have to do it a second time, they get it. And it’s connected and we’re hearing less and less of that “I’m not sure what our strategy is or how I equate or relate to it.”
Pat: Sure.
Wilson: But you have to take the time. You know when you say trust and respect, collaborate, gain alignment, if you’re not having all those conversations throughout the whole organization, you’re going to have a little bit of dysfunction when people understand what their role is.
Pat: And your customers are going to see it eventually too.
Wilson: Exactly, exactly.

See more videos with Wilson Jones, President and CEO, Oshkosh Corporation

Wilson Jones on Celebrating 100 Years
Wilson Jones on Communicating Your Purpose
Wilson Jones on Consistency of Messaging
Wilson Jones on Culture
Wilson Jones on Customer Experience
Wilson Jones on Employee Engagement
Wilson Jones on Internal Communication
Wilson Jones on Servant Leadership
Wilson Jones on When Times Get Tough

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Imaginasium helps manufacturing leaders drive profitable growth and change through inside-out marketing—building communication programs that drive culture, draw customers, and deliver a superior customer experience.