Oshkosh Corp. was riding high when Insight first featured the company in 2010.
It was flush with huge military contracts to build the M-ATV (mine-resistant, all-terrain vehicles designed to protect troops in Afghanistan from explosive devices) as well as vehicles and trailers in the Army’s Family of Medium Tactical Vehicle program.
I recall some business people asking, “What will happen to Oshkosh when that contract dries up? Then what?”
The answer came in 2014, when Oshkosh Corp. announced 760 layoffs. It was a tough time, recalls CEO and President Wilson Jones, who was president and chief operating officer at the time.
What allowed the company to survive was the fact that its eggs were no longer all in the basket of U.S. Defense. Company leaders had made strategic acquisitions between 1996 and 2006. With its Fire & Emergency, Commercial and Access segments, its work was now spread among municipal and construction clients as well.
Jones credits his predecessors (former CEOs Robert Bohn, then Charles Szews, who he succeeded in 2016) for shaping the company’s diversification. “Those guys did a great job of putting together a foundation for us to grow,” he says.
Perhaps even more importantly, Oshkosh leaders had taken steps to align their diverse business segments. They found ways to share production when one segment was overtaxed and another, under capacity. They paved the way for technology and innovation to be shared company-wide. They developed a unifying vision to unite employees globally — quite a feat, considering Oshkosh Corp. now employs some 15,000 people.
In its 100th year, Oshkosh is riding high again, with a $6.7 billion contract for its new joint light tactical vehicle.
But ask anyone at Oshkosh, and they’ll tell you a “people first” culture led by Jones is what’s driving the company into the future.
It all starts with caring leadership, Jones says, and that means leaders who model the behavior they expect from their employees. Jones explains how he sat down with members of the leadership team at Oshkosh and they identified four behaviors they had to model to foster a people-first culture:
Trust and respect. “That’s the foundational behavior. Not only where we trust our people but they can trust us.”
Collaboration. “In the past, there was probably some competition among segments and functions. We decided we want to compete outside the walls, not inside the walls.”
Alignment. “If you’ve got trust and respect and you’re collaborating, then you’ve got to get everyone in line. That doesn’t mean we agree on everything; there’s creative tension. But when we do make decisions, we are aligned, and we stay together on those decisions.”
Have fun. “We do serious work here, but there’s nothing wrong with our team seeing that it’s OK to have a sense of humor and enjoy what they do.”
With more than 6,600 employees in Northeast Wisconsin, and some 540 suppliers in the region, Oshkosh Corp. makes an enormous impact on our region’s economy. Check out this month’s cover story to see why the company has a lot to celebrate as it marks its centennial year.
Fostering a strong regional economy is the No. 1 goal of New North Inc., and Vicki Updike, the new co-chair for the organization, is rolling up her sleeves to advance the work led since the beginning by Bob De Koch and Kathi Seifert, whom she is succeeding. Check out our Face Time interview on page 15 to find out what drives Updike, as well as her interest in mentoring women in business with New Sage Strategies.
Also: Look for the New North Mid-Year Report in this issue. You’ll learn about initiatives in entrepreneurship, education, and talent attraction and retention that could help you and your own business as you strive for success.
If you’re doing well, as many companies are in this robust economy (Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is at a 17-year low), be sure to take time to celebrate!