Brett Wood is president and CEO of Toyota Material Handling North America (TMHNA), which is composed of three main companies: Toyota Material Handling U.S.A. Inc. (TMHU), Toyota Industrial Equipment Mfg. Inc., and The Raymond Corp. Wood also serves on the board of these three companies. He has worked in the material handling industry since 1989, previously serving in positions at Toyota that included TMHU president; vice president of marketing, product, strategic planning, and training operations; and dealer development. Prior to joining Toyota, Wood held engineering positions with IBM Corp. and Northrop Aerospace, where he earned the recognition of "Engineer of the Year." He has a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University. He recently spoke with DC Velocity Editorial Director David Maloney.
Q: How do you view the current state of the material handling industry?
A: Simply stated, it's a great time to be in the material handling industry. During the last few years, manufacturers have enjoyed record volumes. Dealers have experienced record sales. New suppliers and partnerships are being forged continuously. Exciting technology is being introduced into our industry every day. Material handling products and services are now extremely innovative and becoming more sophisticated. As a result, our customers are more productive than ever before.
I've worked in this industry for 30 years now, and it is changing faster than ever. I predict that in the next five years, the rate of innovation will be more than the changes we've seen in the last 10 years. As a former engineer, I can't wait to see how efficient North America's material handling industry will be by the year 2025. But even with significant advancements in our products, our industry will still be driven by the ever-changing demands of customers. Companies like Toyota and Raymond are having success by evolving quickly with changing customer expectations and a focus on keeping the customer at the center of their strategies.
Q: The Industrial Truck Association recently announced that forklift truck sales in North America recorded their fourth consecutive year of solid growth. To what do you attribute the ongoing strength of the forklift market?
A: The U.S. economy is currently fairly strong, and forklift sales are a reflection of a strong economy. Our industry is mixed, with an entirely different set of customer expectations and buying habits, resulting in diverse applications. For example, e-commerce and the expectation of next-day delivery for virtually everything has changed the way material is handled. This trend has increased the speed at which we need to pick, palletize, and move materials. Meanwhile, macroeconomic trends have brought some manufacturing back into North America from places like Asia and Europe. Bottom line, business is booming across many industries, and everyone is seeing a growing demand to handle material efficiently, and forklifts play an important role in that process. Remember that everything we own, touch, eat, or drink was probably moved by a forklift at some point in the supply chain process.
Q: You have an engineering background. It's rather unusual for an engineer to rise to be president and CEO of a large corporation. How do the skills you developed as an engineer benefit you as a leader?
A: In some companies, an engineering path is not a normal rise to the highest levels of leadership. But at Toyota, a process-driven and customer-focused company, an engineering mindset is very beneficial. Engineers are curious and creative problem-solvers. They see the big picture as well as the details. Engineers are tenacious and not inclined to pass the buck. Engineers value input from customers. These traits have all benefited me in my career, whether I was focused on engineering a product or managing the company's growth or setting our future strategic direction.
Also, Toyota is a very product-driven company, and I tell new hires to learn about our product lineup as quickly as possible. I find it very beneficial to be able to talk confidently about our products whether I'm at a press conference, in a hallway conversation, in a boardroom, in a staff meeting, or with a customer. Additionally, I've worked for some great leaders, both in the U.S. and from Japan, who have helped me develop my own leadership skills—which they don't teach you in engineering classes. And more than anything, I work for a company that values leadership, culture, and people, no matter what educational background they possess.
Q: Both Toyota and Raymond are very involved in National Forklift Safety Day. Why is this important to your organizations and the industry?
A: There is nothing more important to our companies than safety. We discuss it every day in our meetings, and it's at the core of what drives our team at all levels. So it's no surprise that Toyota was instrumental in creating and supporting National Forklift Safety Day, which will be held for the 6th consecutive year on June 11, 2019. It's a great opportunity to align the industry around something we all care about passionately and that is vitally important to all of our customers. Raising awareness of the importance of appropriate training is one of the main themes of National Forklift Safety Day. For example, effective forklift operator safety training may reduce accident rates by 25 percent, according to OSHA. Creating safe working environments is important to everyone in our industry.
Q: In January, Toyota announced a reorganization of its business units to form a single company to be known as Toyota Material Handling. How does this better position you in the marketplace?
A: The company is in the process of reorganizing throughout this year and will officially become Toyota Material Handling Inc. on Jan. 1, 2020. By bringing the manufacturing and engineering group (Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing) together with the sales, marketing, and distribution group (Toyota Material Handling USA), we are simply better able to serve the needs of our dealers and customers. We will be able to streamline work processes throughout our organization. For example, our manufacturing and engineering teams will become even closer to our customers' unique needs. We're also able to align goals and priorities under one leadership team. And we're able to eliminate wasted time and energy in certain areas to move faster. It's a more efficient organization that will thrive even more together as one company, bringing one strong voice to our customers and our community.
Q: Toyota has been busy the past couple of years adding material handling companies outside of its core forklift business, like Vanderlande and Bastian Solutions. What are some of the reasons behind this strategy?
A: Customers require a wider variety of material handling solutions than they have in the past. Changing dynamics in the North American material handling market have created demand for new forms of logistics solutions beyond forklifts. We intend to build a stronger presence in the area of advanced logistics technology and to share that expertise with both our Toyota and Raymond brand forklift dealers. For the Toyota Advanced Logistics companies, there is a real need to find technicians to handle maintenance on conveyors, robotics, and other automation-related equipment. Toyota and Raymond employ thousands of technicians through our dealer networks, so that's also complementary for our businesses.
Finally, we're all developing new products, and many of them will be automated in the future. There is a benefit for all of us to accelerate and work together to develop some of these products. We are confident these acquisitions will result in greater customer support by working together than we could have accomplished individually.