George Prest is the chief executive officer of MHI, the nation's largest material handling, logistics, and supply chain association. In addition to promoting the industry, MHI also organizes the ProMat and Modex trade shows.
Prest has more than 30 years of experience in the material handling industry, including managing material handling companies and even running his own company. Before joining MHI, he was the CEO of Prest Rack Inc.
He has also served as president of both the Rack Manufacturers Institute Inc. (RMI) and the Material Handling Education Foundation Inc. (MHEFI), as executive chairman of MHI, and as a member of the Manufacturers Board of Advisors (MBOA) of the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association (MHEDA).
Prest is a graduate of the University of Arizona with a B.A. in public administration. He also participated in post-graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and the University of Notre Dame.
He recently spoke with DC Velocity Editorial Director David Maloney.
Q: This is an exciting time to be in the material handling industry. What changes have you seen in the industry since you took over the reins of MHI?
A: The pace of material handling and supply chain innovation has been truly astounding, and it's creating real and measurable competitive advantage. E-commerce retail is a big driver of this innovation as it fuels the need for speed, accuracy, and efficiency in supply chain operations. What we are seeing as a result is more interest in robotics, automation, and other digital supply chain solutions as a means to reduce operational and logistical costs and to cut delivery times.
Q: You just completed a successful ProMat show in Chicago and are planning for an even bigger show in 2021, with the addition of the Robotics and Automation Solution Center. To what do you attribute the success of this event?
A: The continued success of ProMat, and of Modex, is a testament not only to the strength of our industry but also to the MHI team's commitment to offering a best-in-class supply chain solution experience. MHI is committed to creating the best environment for exhibitors to showcase their cutting-edge solutions and to constantly improving the educational and networking opportunities these expos offer. This strategy has paid off in the quality and quantity of the expo attendees, which keeps exhibitors and attendees coming back year after year.
Q: In your recent MHI annual industry report, you cited a growing labor shortage as a major challenge for the industry. How big is the problem?
A: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 7 million jobs available and only 6 million people looking for work. The talent gap has been the common thread in the last six MHI annual industry reports, and the rise of digital supply chains only exacerbates this issue. Technologies like AI (artificial intelligence), automation, robotics, IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), and software are supplementing and augmenting human roles in areas like data analytics, supply chain planning, and order and inventory management. A highly skilled and increasingly "digital" supply chain work force is needed to implement these technologies. In addition to shining a light on this issue via the report, MHI has been focusing on programs for young professionals, women, and other constituencies to educate the next-generation work force on the great job opportunities this industry offers.
Q: What are you seeing as the most interesting emerging technologies affecting manufacturing and distribution?
A: It is clear that data and technology will empower supply chains in the future, but it's not a single technology—it will be a combination of the 11 highlighted in the MHI annual industry report: artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, inventory and network optimization, robotics and automation, wearable and mobile technology, driverless vehicles and drones, 3-D printing, the Internet of Things, cloud computing and storage, sensors and automatic identification, and blockchain.
This combination of these technologies is what interests me most and where I see the most potential. The report defines a pyramid of digital adoption that has four technology stages, starting with the collection of data through digital connectivity, and then moving up the pyramid to generate increasing supply chain value and insights from that base data through automation, advanced analytics, and ultimately, artificial intelligence. The key challenge in all of this is connectivity of all the disparate data.
Q: What does the industry need to do to attract more women to the profession?
A: I am pleased to report that we are seeing more and more women join the industry, but companies need to have programs in place to promote more women overall so we can begin to bridge the supply chain gender gap. This includes getting more girls involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs and more young women involved in career and technical education and university-level programs.
However, I think it starts at the top and leaders need to make a conscious effort to promote more women to executive- and board-level positions so women can see themselves in our industry. And we need to continue to shine a light on this issue with specific programming for women in our industry.
Q: How do you see the future of industry organizations like MHI?
A: MHI's mission is to deliver member value every day. Organizations like MHI are only as strong as our member base, and we have to deliver tangible value to them. As long as we continue to do that, I believe that the future of trade organizations like MHI is very bright.
Q: You will be retiring at the end of 2020. What do you want your legacy to be from your time at MHI?
A: Honestly, I have not thought much about that topic, but when thoughts like that have passed through my mind, it always comes down to what the members and staff think: Do the members feel that I set the table for a brighter future for the next generation? Does the staff feel that we have developed a culture that allowed them to grow and be proud of their accomplishments? In my opinion, that is the fabric of any legacy.