Otis Elevator’s Judy Marks Talks Leadership, The Future Of Manufacturing

Otis Elevator's Judy Marks
Otis Elevator’s Judy Marks

As president of the world’s largest elevator company, Otis Elevator Co.’s Judy Marks knows that standing pat isn’t an option in a world where technology shaping the future in all sectors of business—especially for an industry leader. In the year ahead, Marks told Chief Executive that Otis will continue to drive change through new technologies, including IoT and artificial intelligence solutions such as Otis ONE, the company’s connected elevator platform that personalizes the service experience through real-time, transparent information sharing, proactive communication tools and predictive maintenance insights.

“We will be transforming ourselves and disrupting ourselves,” Marks says. “That’s part of the culture of reinvention in a company that happens to be number one in our market now, but we can’t rest.”

Marks was named president of Otis, a United Technologies Corp. (UTC) company, last October after serving as CEO of Siemens USA and as CEO of Dresser-Rand, a Siemens business. She has also held leadership positions at Lockheed Martin and IBM over the course of her career.

Chief Executive caught up with Marks to talk about why establishing a people-first workplace is so important, how humans and machines are working together in manufacturing and how Otis is leveraging emerging technologies, among other topics.

Here’s what she had to say:

The importance of creating a people-first workplace

I truly believe culture makes a difference in any enterprise. But when you look at Otis, where we’ve got 68,000 colleagues distributed across the world and almost half of those every day are not being supervised—they’re out at our customer locations doing over 100,000 service calls every day, let alone installations—it’s critical that we have a culture that people can relate to, support, and feel proud of, because that enables outstanding customer service. It enables us to be responsive.

People try to be innovative in technology, but I think culture needs to be just as innovative. We are one of the pre-eminent field service companies in the world. And to do that, it starts with empowerment and respect, and then what you find is tremendous loyalty and tremendous focus on delivery of our products and service, so that our customers can really move passengers around the globe safely and quickly.

Conducting the symphony between automation, robotics, and human workers in manufacturing

Symphony is a great term for it. And I sincerely believe there’s a role for automation and robotics, especially for high-volume repetitive tasks, or tasks that would put a human at risk of an accident or worse. And there are absolutely just as important roles for humans in terms of the analysis they bring, the passion they bring, and the ability to continue flow all the way through the process.

We do use robotics extensively in many of our factories, especially on those with high-volume tasks, and even in low-cost environments. There are places where robots are absolutely the right business case where labor is low-cost. But it’s really reinventing the flow of what you want to accomplish, because just applying a robot to replace a human task isn’t optimal. So we’ve really tried to step back and say, “What’s the right flow? Where and when do we get our just-in-time parts? How do we automate the lines? How do we do process improvements?”

And then, most importantly for us, which is a little different than most manufacturers, we do not generate a final product. We generate an assembly of parts and elements that all have their final assembly at our customer location at installation. So, we don’t have exactly the same thing rolling off the line, a final inspection and ship. We go through those steps, but final inspection happens long after we’re at a job site doing the installation, doing the adjustments, and making sure that it’s a perfect fit and it’s working up to the specifications we’ve signed up to.

“I try to build teams by sharing a vision, eliminating obstacles and by creating an environment where people really resonate with their mission.”

Leveraging technology and the new Otis ONE IoT service platform

It’s fascinating when you think that we were the original innovator of the safety elevator, and now 165 years later, in a business that’s continued to have evolutionary change for that first 165 years, I think we are now seeing significant exponential change because of not just the mechanical approach—and there’s continuing mechanical advances in safety, and in speeds, and elevator movement—but it’s the underlying data that tells us all about people movement.

People movement in the building, vertical people movement, the times around that, the surges of that, and then just as importantly, the destinations they’re interested in, and then you can tie buildings together in terms of smart buildings. Because if you understand when someone’s entering, you can get them to their destination as quickly as possible, you can connect it with other building activities like energy efficiency, edge back lighting, all of that.

But the core is that every elevator is data-rich. We’ve manufactured over 3.5 million elevators and escalators in the history of Otis. And so, you think about all the sensors out there in a building, and because they’re all data-rich, the challenge is how do you turn that data into action? How do you capture the data, encapsulate it, and use tools so that people can visualize it and turn it into action?

That’s really where Otis ONE takes us with transparency in the data for our customers. It lets us be preventive, and it lets us be predictive so that we can actually notify a customer before there is a failure. We can replace a part just on the brink or before it fails so that there’s no shutdown, there are no entrapments, and really guarantee higher quality of service, which is really what our customers tell us they want.

The evolution of her leadership style

I think I’ve really honed my collaboration muscle. And embracing diversity of thought, so that recognizing that everyone comes to a problem with a different approach, and if you can optimize the approach and drive collaboration, the end result actually is exponentially better than anything any individual could have done.

I try to build teams by sharing a vision, eliminating obstacles and by creating an environment where people really resonate with their mission. At Otis, our mission is all about moving people, and we have over 2 billion people a day touch our product. So, while that’s a tremendous responsibility, it’s also a tremendous mission and tremendous opportunity.

And I think if you stop any of our 68,000 colleagues on any given day in a shopping mall, at a metro, in an office building, and just ask them what Otis stands for, they’ll tell you about our culture, they’ll tell you about how proud they are of our legacy, and they’ll tell you how proud they are of their building, and of keeping that building running.

The key attributes of outstanding leaders at Otis

I think they share a few attributes. One would be reasoned, but rapid decision making. We live in a world where analysis is critical, but decision making is even more important. And the only caveat I’ll put on that is we will never—especially being in the life safety business—we will never rush a decision that has implications to the safety of our employees or our passengers.

I think that’s a key attribute. I require people to be collaborative and to recognize that the sum of all the voices is far more impactful than anything else we could do. And so, I will tell you that I look for leaders who are not only comfortable but focused on empowering and developing the people around them.

And the reason it’s so important to us is with over 1,000 branch offices, we can’t make decisions on a daily basis, sitting here in headquarters, nor can any of our regional headquarters. We have to empower our local leaders. We have to make sure they understand our fundamentals, and our foundations, and our values and our ethics. But we then have to give them the tools and the ability to make decisions.

And they may not always make the right ones, but as long as they don’t cross an ethical line we will absolutely work with them and use it as a learning moment. We want them to make the decisions every day, and actually run these branches like they’re their own company.

Read more: Five Fortune 500 CEOs on Strategy During Uncertain Times

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