One of WERC’s founding fathers continues to serve the organization
Back in the mid-1970s, Ken Ackerman, president of consulting firm The Ackerman Company in Columbus, Ohio, was a man on a mission.
When searching for a professional organization focused exclusively on warehousing, he and a few other professionals came up dry and recognized a gap. Combining efforts with his colleagues, the group of 17 met to figure out a solution. At a second meeting a few months later, they picked a name and hung up a shingle. Forty years later, the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC) has grown beyond what those original members ever have could imagined.
"We modeled it after CSCMP (back then the Council of Logistics Management) and limited the subject matter to warehousing," Ackerman says. "We wanted to create an organization that could provide educational opportunities to industry professionals."
While much has changed in the ensuing four decades, one thing has remained the same: That original mission.
The founding members got things up and running right away. "Within a year, we held our first Conference, which I chaired," says Ackerman. "We were happy to have attendance in the low hundreds that first year."
WERC’s first group of officers included Bruce Abels as president, Lyman Coombs and Jim Robeson as vice presidents, Bob Angel as secretary, and Burr Hupp as treasurer. Hupp’s offices in Chicago served as headquarters.
To join WERC back in 1977, members paid $50. For that money, they got the Conference and not much else. But that was short-lived—before long the founding members established local chapters, a newsletter, seminars and workshops.
Ackerman devoted his entire career to warehousing, serving as a chief executive at Distribution Centers, Inc., now a part of Exel Logistics, and spending some time in the management consulting division of Coopers & Lybrand before starting his own firm.
He is also a published author of both books and numerous articles. They include Warehousing Profitability, Lean Warehousing, Auditing Warehouse Performance, and Warehousing Tips. He publishes his own monthly subscription newsletter, Warehousing Forum, and has written subject-matter pieces for Harvard Business Review and the New York Times. Additionally, he’s conducted training seminars and served as a speaker at many conferences worldwide.
During his long tenure with WERC, Ackerman witnessed rapid evolution within the industry. He points to technology as being one of the biggest game changers. "E-commerce was probably a predictable development," he says, "but I don’t know that we could have expected just how big it would get."
Technology has also led to the expansion of warehousing staffs, says Ackerman. "It used to be that you could staff a large DC with just a few employees," he says. "Now staffs for buildings of 100,000 square feet or more number into the hundreds."
On the topic of employees, Ackerman says that make up has changed some. "When we began, before de-regulation, unions played a big role," he says. "Today, unions are a very small part of DC operations."
All along this path to change, Ackerman says WERC has evolved as well. "We grew to have a few hundred members by about 1980," he says. "By around 1985, that number was over 1,000."
That was when WERC’s core leaders, including Ackerman, knew it was time to establish an official office, moving it from Burr’s home to an office in the Chicago suburbs.
When asked what has been the biggest value and legacy of WERC, Ackerman doesn’t hesitate with his response: "The prosperity of WERC goes back to the value it provides its members," he says. "We have always wanted to give members a chance to share information and the opportunity to learn from one another. That’s something that continues to this day."
Ackerman—who prefers to ride under the radar—has never held an official officer position with WERC, but his contributions are numerous. From helping launch the organization, to overseeing the first Conference, to serving as a regular speaker/educator at multiple Annual Conferences, his mark on WERC is indelible. In 2002, he became a lifetime member. Fifteen years later, he remains an integral part of the organization and an invaluable resource as it continues to grow and evolve.
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