Wilson Jones on Oshkosh Corp.’s big year

Posted on Feb 1, 2017 :: Face Time
Margaret LeBrun
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Oshkosh Corp. has survived downturns about a half-dozen times in the company’s history, says CEO Wilson Jones. This year, as the company gears up to celebrate its 100th anniversary, Oshkosh is in a good place, thanks to its diverse product divisions. Jones sat down with Insight Editor Margaret LeBrun to reflect on what contributes to its success.

In 2017 we’re 100 years strong. We’re very proud, and our history is one of perseverance.

We’re in a really positive long-term position. It’s been a while since all four of our business segments were poised to really have a good run. We have a positive outlook in municipal spending, which is favorable to our Fire & Emergency segment, and our Commercial segment, because of refuse collection vehicles. We have a positive long-term outlook in our Defense segment.

With the big win with the JLTV — the Humvee replacement program — that’s going to be foundational for a long time for our company. Our JLG, or what we call our Access Equipment segment, is in a nice position in that construction spending is forecasted to improve.

The JLTV program has a $17 billion contract, but there are 240,000 Humvees around the world in 70 different countries. The opportunity we’ve looked at so far is really just for our U.S. customer, and there is a lot of interest from international customers.

We’ve hired a little over 500 people for our Oshkosh production facilities in recent months as JLTV ramps up production. We’re still looking for more. Access to skilled labor is a real concern in this area. The challenge around that is to figure out different things to do: working with the technical schools, doing training on our own, taking team members who maybe don’t have that welding or electrical skill set and helping them learn that, and kind of taking charge of our own destiny with internal training programs. Access to labor is probably one of the biggest challenges in this area.

The other challenge is we’re always just working through the approvals of funding through the defense authorization budgets. We look to be in good shape there. They just approved the continuing resolution (for defense spending) through the end of April, so that bodes well for our programs in 2017. That’s an opportunity — and also a challenge — that we manage on a daily basis, spending time in Washington, D.C. We’ve had great support from both Senator Johnson and Senator Baldwin on keeping our funding in place.

We want to be a good corporate citizen and take care of the community where our team lives and works. Our foundation averages about $1.4 million a year into the community for basic needs. We also focus on supporting the local supply chain; about 65 to 70 percent of our cost of goods sold comes from the local supply chain in a 110-mile radius.

I’ve been a big believer in servant leadership over the years — people first. Our greatest asset in our company is our people. Trusting, empowering them, enabling them to have a voice — we all have a part of this company.

Our focus is three areas: engage, develop and connect. Our purpose is to make a difference in people’s lives, and that means our team members, too.

It’s things like that — you can put a metric on them, but when you have more and more people wanting to do things like that for your community, it flows into your company. By enabling people and letting them get in and have a voice and make some of the changes we need to make, it’s showing in our performance.

To celebrate our 100th anniversary we’ll kick off with a big local town hall. We’ve secured a date in May where we’re going to ring the bell at the stock exchange. We’ve got a big party planned for July 14 with our team members. And on July 15 we’ll have a community parade and open house featuring our trucks, starting with Old Betsy, a 1917 panel truck.

Margaret LeBrun

About Margaret LeBrun

Co-Publisher, Executive Editor View all posts by Margaret LeBrun →