Faces of Innovation

JOHN DAVIES: Innovation is happening all around NWI

2013-10-13T00:00:00Z JOHN DAVIES: Innovation is happening all around NWIBy John Davies nwitimes.com
October 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Is innovation an everyday occurrence in Northwest Indiana?

Now I can hear a chorus of voices suggesting innovation is the province of the chosen few. Remember the “Think Different” commercials from Steve Jobs in which he described Edison, Callas, Ali and others as exemplars of “genius?"

For those who still hold this view, my response is “Oh my!” Had you been with me during just some of my 200 interviews with innovators over the past nine years, I believe you would think differently! From teachers to the most complex principles of engineering, people are solving problems in new ways.

This refreshing perspective about innovation came at the very end of one of these conversations. It came from Gus Olympidis, CEO and president of Family Express. He is a 2012-13 Fellow in The Society of Innovators.

The interview focused on innovation, which Gus describes as “an incredible human gift.” How appropriate given that The Society of Innovators holds that “Anyone Can Be an Innovator.” The interview itself was wide-ranging, on such topics as Putin’s editorial in The New York Times to the Arab spring.

Our conversation turned on just how important innovation is to service industries that account for 80 percent of the economy. Some believe service lags manufacturing. Clearly, that is a myth ignoring the ongoing innovation taking place today.

“We are wired,” Gus emphasized in referring to the technology that is delivering new value to customers. This includes devices that automatically order items for the shelves, technology that measures the obsolescence of equipment, and a level of connectivity that delivers state-of-the art training to personnel in off-site locations.

Gus shared an example that by equal measures focuses on globalization, technology and energy reduction. Family Express has launched a major initiative to reduce its energy footprint by embracing “intelligent” technology that will impact the energy used in each of the 60 Family Express stores.

As part of this initiative, he described a recent conference call between Family Express, an installation company in Minnesota, and a supplier in Ireland of innovative LED lighting fixtures. “The call was seamless as if we were having a conversation between Crown Point, Valparaiso and Kouts!”

The savings will come from reduced energy costs, improved lighting and sensor-driven monitoring of all matter of electrical devices. The payback: An annualized savings of more than $1 million to Family Express.

I asked Gus if we are entering a new era. He said “No.” He explained, “We are in the same human era of discovery.” He added, “It’s just different.” He said, “Those of us who are older remember ‘the way it used to be.’” He added, “Today’s young consumers accept change and embrace technology.”

His most profound point spoke for all of us: “Innovation is not an elective!”

John Davies is managing director of the Society of Innovators of Northwest Indiana, which is part of the Gerald I. Lamkin Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center of Ivy Tech Northwest. The opinions are the writer's.

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