Judy Marks Leads Otis Elevator On A Tech-Fueled Quest For Growth

Otis Elevator’s products made the leap from human operators to automation decades ago, now it’s ready for its next lift: A.I. capabilities—and being spun out by United Technologies. Judy Marks shares her plan to lead the 166-year-old company into a technology-forged future.

Tell us a little about Otis’s operations around the world.

We are truly a global business that does business locally, with 1,000 or so branch managers across 200 countries and territories. We deal with a distributed work environment with repeatable processes and autonomy every day. Our largest employment base is in China, 16,000 Chinese locals. That’s the largest single market right now for vertical transportation due to the building going on, especially in the tier three and four cities.

We work around the clock. Most mornings, I start with China and Asia. And on any given day, we do 120,000 service calls. So we are a pure-play in terms of vertical transportation, however, we are doing it more than anyone else anywhere in the world.

You started out as an electrical engineer at IBM. How did your career lead you to Otis?
In IBM’s federal division, I was a systems engineer with a mission focus, serving the U.S. government and government allies with some very complex systems. I had the opportunity to watch technology unfold through the ‘80s,’90s and 2000s there. I learned very early that it’s all about the people and the connection of the people and technology and serving customers.

I went to Siemens in 2011 and eventually rose to be its U.S. CEO. So I had the opportunity to lead about a $25 billion business with about 50,000 colleagues, about 60 manufacturing plants. Then I received a call to see if I’d be interested in leading what is truly an iconic industrial company.

Tell us about your first 100 days coming into a new company in a different industry. How did you go about assessing the business?

In the beginning, you try to understand your strengths, the gaps, where the investments have been made, where you can get better yield. I focused on getting out and visiting our employees to listen, share the vision, to meet customers and to go to installation sites and maintenance sites. I wanted to be visible so that the employees understood, “There’s someone there who’s listening to us, but more importantly who knows where she wants to take the company.” That’s how you get that buy-in.

We’re a $12.5 billion business so there’s no way that daily decisions on 120,000 service calls and thousands of new equipment installations can happen centralized at our headquarters in Farmington, Connecticut. So the challenge is: How do you prioritize? How do you empower all of your employees so they can deliver every day? And how do you put the systems in place that allow you to make sure you’re mitigating risk and yielding for the shareowners?

How did what you heard inform your plan for the company?

That’s the challenge we all face. What questions do you ask? What’s important? What’s not? How do you synthesize that information, and then how do you act quickly? One of the things I did was require that any briefing be given to me the night before. I’ve never really agreed with having meetings where people brief at you. Let me digest the information and then synthesize and allow the people to come up with some of the solutions. If you probe and ask the right questions, it’s amazing what you’ll get out of it.

I also asked to receive all the material our salespeople get on a daily basis so I could get up to speed quickly. I was the first outsider to run Otis who didn’t come from within or from the industry so I needed a rapid acceleration to the learning curve. I did that with a lot of late nights and by asking a lot of questions. And you know what you’ll find in your workforce? People want to share what they know. That’s your strength.

What questions did you ask?

Growing up in retail in a small family business, the value of a customer and the immediate impact of that on your family’s income is something you learn and never forget. So I always focus on customers and value that input. It’s not about sending out a survey. It’s not about a net promoter score. It’s about, are we meeting what you need and want? And then, more importantly, is that what we’re measuring? If our KPIs aren’t attuned to what customers want, then we’re going to think we’re excelling [when that might not be the case].

Otis has operated as a part of a much larger entity, $60 billion UTC since 1976. How will being spun out affect your strategic plan?

We’ve benefited from being part of UTC, and now we need to spend the next 18 to 24 months figuring out how we drive new investments that allow us to play in the in the new world. We’ve been a great cash contributor to the business, but we have not had earnings growth in far too many years so we have to change things, to create some oxygen through additional margins that allows us to invest more in innovation because the digital piece of our business, being able to come up with data usage that we can’t even envision today is what’s exciting and where we’re going. And to do that, you need investment. You need talent. You need partnerships because it will not all happen inside Otis. I’m not going to hire 50 data analytics experts. I’ll look for people with different business models and different ideas.

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