Saturday, August 24, 2013

Being an Old Man in a Technological Golden Age

We live in a truly remarkable age of technological "miracles." As I think about what's happened in my little orbit in just the last month it gives me pause to reflect upon a few of those miracles.

It might be useful to describe my definition of "miracle" in this context, since the word gets tossed around a lot without the needed context. If we were to discuss the miracles of Jesus, like turning water into wine, walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee or raising Lazarus from the dead, we would say they are events without a logical explanation.

What I am talking about here is something akin, so stunning based upon technological advances that they also defy explanation. My finite simple mind likens them to "miracles" as a way to explain them.

In the last six months my vision has deteriorated rapidly due to cataracts that have developed in both eyes. I was warned a year ago by my optometrist that I needed more than an adjustment to my optical prescription for glasses. Now, she said, I needed to schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist to have the cataracts removed surgically. But like most things in life I suppose I tend to let things slide until they reach crisis stage. Especially when they involve someone slicing into my eyeballs with a laser.

Crisis stage was finally reached with advancing double vision and blurred vision, and my glasses rapidly became obsolete. An impending date with the eye exam for a driver's license renewal also started pressing down upon me because I knew I couldn't pass it even with my glasses. Such are the realities of old men.

One of my favorite missionary companions was Phil Hoopes. We were only together for one transfer over Christmas way back in 1967, but we made the most of our time together in West Hartlepool on the northeast coast of England. Today Phil is a renowned eye surgeon practicing here in Salt Lake City. Even though we hadn't seen each other since then, I sought him out. Gratefully, he remembered how I'd shared my Skippy peanut butter (a rare commodity in those days). How old is OLD? I asked his eldest son to perform my eye surgery, since Phil Sr. has "retired" from cataract surgery.

Acrylic MICS-IOL in holder
I'm halfway there at this writing. Phil Jr. performed an intraocular lens implant on the worse of the two cataracts about a week and a half ago. Post-op exams have confirmed my youthful 20-20 vision has now been restored. My glasses are gone. The whole procedure took about seven minutes and I was awake throughout. On Wednesday of next week I'll have the same thing done on my other eye. The contrast today between the two eyes is stunning. I feel to say, like the young man Jesus healed, "One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see." (John 9:25).

So I would call that a modern-day "miracle," defying a logical explanation from one like me who has no knowledge of the scientific explanation.

Another example. Some of our sons have suffered from male infertility. Through means of a grant the University of Utah Medical Center is now conducting a genetic study on our family to see if they can help unravel the mystery of male infertility not only in our family but also in the larger population.

This month one of those sons with the aid of in vitro fertilization has announced he and his wife have been successful with their second pregnancy. Their first was a "miracle" birth defying all the medical odds they would conceive naturally on their own. Certainly, by my definition of having no scientific knowledge of "how" it is done, the ability to replicate the natural sequence of events scientifically outside the womb to produce a viable fertilized egg, then to implant it into the mother's womb to produce another living soul is a "miracle." (In this case they may possibly have TWO living souls - time will tell on that). It's nothing short of "miraculous" to an old man like me who never had a moment's difficulty in fathering thirteen healthy children.

And finally, a third example. I have never considered myself a tree-hugging liberal on social issues, nor do I give much credence to global warming enthusiasts. I think Al Gore is nothing more than a money-grubbing opportunist playing on people's fears. However, that said, I am becoming increasingly more aware of my ability to reduce my personal carbon footprint and this week I made a decision to give up style for practicality. I am no longer in love with those interlocking four rings of silver on the front of my Audis. That alone would qualify as a "miracle," but I am now speaking about reducing my consumption of gas by 50% (at least) with the aid of modern technology.

2012 Toyota Prius
Another son and his wife gave us an old Saturn they had outlived several months ago. It finally gave up the ghost at the top of Parleys Summit on Monday morning at 187,000 miles. As I said, I tend to wait until the engine blows up before seriously considering a car purchase decision. In a rapid chain of events, working through our good friend and "adopted son" Clint Page at Western Fleet Sales, we found a more "politically correct" vehicle, a 2012 Toyota Prius. Give Clint a call whenever you're looking for a used car solution. Why would anyone ever buy a new car if they know Clint? He's the best.

What led to that decision was the shining example of Packsize's CEO, Hanko Kiessner, who perhaps owns the largest private fleet of Prius cars in the US. The Packsize portfolio of cars has been growing over the years, but now totals around 70 on any given day. Hal Johnson, who runs the fleet internally, told me all they've done in the way of major repairs is to replace a fuel valve at around 200,000 miles on average. Other than oil changes and tires, they are essentially maintenance-free and Packsize consumes as little gas as possible. The fleet policy was to drive them until they hit 200,000 miles, then trade them in, and now they've extended that to 250,000 based upon their favorable performance. Anytime you can benefit from a sample size that large, it's hard to ignore. At least it was for me. I find it amazing! We just turned over 300,000 miles on our Audi A-6 wagon, but I replaced the engine and the transmission on it. Because I'm not "on the road," I don't qualify for a company-owned Prius, but this was an e-mail I sent to Hanko yesterday summarizing my first week's experience in driving one:

"So, here are some interesting data points you asked for. I bought this 2012 Toyota Hybrid Prius (non-electric) for $19,900 through a friend who buys direct from the auto auction here in SLC. That price includes the leather and heated seats kit he is adding for $1295. It had 27,852 miles on it, and now it has 28,360. When he delivered it to me on Tuesday this week, it didn't have a full tank of gas in it. I’ve driven 508 miles, used 8.5 gallons, and that translates into 59.76 miles per gallon! [Hanko cautioned it will likely be reduced in winter conditions to about 46-50 mpg]. I drive about 100 miles per day up and down Parleys Canyon. There is no loss of power going uphill. I’m stunned at the early returns. Now I’m wondering why everyone on planet Earth isn’t buying the Prius."

Hanko's been buying new cars with a fleet discount through the Larry H. Miller Group, but when I told him about Clint my guess is he's going to rethink spending significantly more than he needs to on new ones. I still haven't bought gas this week, and the range indicator says I've still got 63 miles left to go on this partial tank. And by the way, it's not "cute." The Prius has to be one of the ugliest vehicles on the road. But you've got to love the efficiencies in the hybrid technology. I have become a true believer, and I've swallowed Hanko's Kool-Aid.

In case you missed it, here's his explanation of his sustainable business model.

So, once again, this old man is still learning lessons about modern-day miracles. My knowledge of cars and what makes them tick is limited. I know how to put gas in them, change the oil and buy new tires. That's about it. How that hybrid engine works to produce twice the mileage on a gallon of gas, effectively reducing my consumption by 50% or more is nothing short of miraculous.

I'm an old man in awe of what technology hath wrought.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Hanko Kiessner Defines What a "Sustainable" Business Model Looks Like

It has become very fashionable in recent years to use the words "sustainable," and "green," and "lean" as marketing buzz. Like most things in business, however, one must sift the chaff from the wheat to discern the difference between business leaders who are sincere about it and others who merely want to jump on the marketing bandwagon.

There is an ongoing robust national debate about man's impact on this planet over whether we are good stewards of our environment or merely consumers gone wild with little or no accountability. No matter which side of that debate you land on, it makes perfect sense to become more aware of how much we consume as individuals and how much we conserve. We can all do better, and in the aggregate we can make a difference with even modest changes in our own individual behavior.

In the domain of politics, often legitimate efforts toward global change for the better get diminished because the politicians tend to cheapen everything to a point where words lose their meaning. The words "global warming" spring to mind. Without any government mandate to do so, there are some business leaders who simply "get it" because of the way they conduct themselves in private and in public by the way they live their lives and set an example for others to follow.

I've been able to observe a good corporate citizen up close and personal in recent years. Hanko Kiessner is the genuine article, an inspiration to those of us fortunate enough to know him personally as well as professionally. I am posting an interview conducted in-house recently by our Packsize blogmeister, Jacob Low, who asked Hanko to spell out his philosophy and more importantly his commitment to sustainability. He defines it more precisely than anyone else in my world. Perhaps his words will inspire others as he does all of us.

The Rainmaker 

Hanko Kiessner
In its July 2013 issue, DC Velocity named Packsize’s founder and CEO Hanko Kiessner one of their 2013 Rainmakers for his contribution to logistics and for advancing the industry. I had the chance to catch up with Hanko and ask him a few questions. Our conversation touched on sustainability, public policy, and good business practices.

Jake: You’ve just been named one of DC Velocity’s 2013 Rainmakers. Could you briefly explain the significance of this and why you’re being awarded with this achievement? 

Hanko: The Rainmaker Award is for high-impact and high-transformational change projects, individuals, or organizations. So I see this as receiving it on behalf of Packsize and all the team members and employees here for having a tremendous impact when it comes to sustainability, efficiencies within the fulfillment industry, and particularly the shipping supply chains. At Packsize, we are helping customers reduce their shipping volume by 40 percent or more — depending on their previous packaging situation — and that has a tremendous impact when it comes to the fossil-fuel consumption of trucks, freight planes, delivery vans, etc. This is an industry changing project that we at Packsize have undertaken. Given that, it has been very humbling to receive this nomination.

Jake: One thing I love about you personally and the way you run this company is the way you practice what you preach. “Green” and “sustainability” aren’t just marketing buzzwords here, but they are one of our core competencies and a huge part of the way you personally live your life. Why are you so invested in these causes? 

Hanko: When we started Packsize, it was always my goal to create a company that does not wreck the planet as it serves its customers and creates a profit for its investors and other stakeholders. It’s an unsustainable practice to run a business while over-utilizing all sorts of resources along the way just for the sake of creating a profit for the business. I just saw this being practiced too frequently in too many companies, and I concluded that if everyone acted that way, it would be completely unsustainable. We would not be leaving a livable, habitable world for our kids and their kids to come. So I wanted to prove that it is possible to do the right thing and at the same time run a profitable business. That’s always been on my mind. It’s been a lot of fun, and we’ve proven that running a sustainable business that is also profitable is possible. From today’s perspective, I would even go one step further and say that sustainable practices actually drive more profitability as well. In fact, if it’s not sustainable, one might as well not do it all, because you cannot do it forever, you can only do it for a brief period of time, and usually at the expense of others. Someone always pays the price of the lack of sustainability. Let’s look at pollution for instance: Someone inhales those particles that are being emitted. Someone pays for their healthcare. There is a cost for every unsustainable practice. It’s just not tracked in todays’ economic system.

Jake: Oh, that’s a good point I hadn’t thought of. How would you deal with this issue?

Hanko: My vision for a completely sustainable economy which I’ve started to contemplate is fully-burdened supply chain accountability. That means that every step along the supply chain — every emission, waste stream, everything that exits as a result of conducting the business, and all the negative impact as a result of running the business — all of these costs ought to be burdened into the very product that was created from these emissions. At that point, you would have to include the total, fully burdened costs of the cleanups, healthcare, and social expenses that come from that pollution. You would then have a really have a fair — and actually quite sustainable and exciting — economy that actually rewards the leanest and most sustainable product. At that point, you would have a self-regulating system where you don’t need a government anymore to regulate this or that because you would have every waste stream, every emission, the cost thereof would be factored into the cost of producing the product or service. So once again, I call this “fully-burdened supply chain accountability.” And I think we have no choice but to go there, as a society, in the long-term future. For instance, if you take a look at the copper mine over there [Packsize's headquarters is located across the valley from a copper mine], the entire health impact from all their operations — from all the dust particles, the emissions, the red air alert days — that cost should be factored into every ounce of copper they’re mining over there. At that point, you would have fully burdened supply chain accountability where the cost of the product already covers what is already spread across the rest of society. I mean, you’re really not adding anything to the costs anyway, because the costs are already there today. Today, the people who are not accountable for the infringement are the ones paying for it. It’s you, me, all of us, paying in the form of sick days and healthcare. But the price should be paid through the product. Only then you’d have really fair, sustainable, market equilibrium I know that’s pretty far-reaching, but at that point, the government would only have to make this one rule. Then you wouldn’t need to regulate much else, because the market takes care of it. So that’s my vision of how the entire economy should be working. You know, today, emissions are free. It’s free to emit. But there’s a high cost to those emissions. So that’s like socialism, right? You take wealth from someone and spread it across the rest of the country. Here, you’re taking the emissions of a few and you’re spreading it across the population. So in a way, it’s not a free market economy, like you’d have in a fully-burdened system.

Jake: That is something that I always did think was so cool about this company: It was a profitable company that is also green, and it’s a win-win-win situation. We’re making money, but the people who are using our solution are also saving money, and the customer who is on the receiving end of that solution gets an added benefit as well. 

Hanko: That’s really true. And they should also save money because they can purchase a more competitive product in the market, and spend less money having it shipped to them. I think in the future we’ll see one of the biggest drivers of profit is sustainable behavior. But it only works if everyone participates in that system. If we have a few polluters who are not participating, then they can take a short term advantage of the market. That’s where the regulators need to set the rules of the game, and then we’ll all play by the same rules. In my mind, the only rule we need in this context is that every product or service carries the fully-burdened cost of all of its operations.

Jake: That’s a tall order. 

Hanko: And I fully realize that with Packsize, we aren’t 100 percent compliant with that ourselves. For instance, our trucks that we use to ship corrugated are burning diesel, and we are not paying a premium on the fossil fuel consumption there. But we are holding ourselves accountable wherever we can control it. All of the power we use here at our headquarters, for example, comes exclusively from renewable sources. So where we can control our emissions, we will do that. And we will also choose a sustainable transportation method as soon as battery, natural gas, or bio-fuels become available. We have not achieved that goal completely, but with every decision, we are taking that into consideration and choosing the best available solution.

Jake: Other than using Packsize’s machines and solutions [wink, wink, readers], what advice would you give to someone who would like to increase the sustainability of their business? Where are some easy places to start? 

Hanko: I would say to question the status quo. There is always a more sustainable way of doing it. Sometimes, the choices are very easy to implement. In many cases, they’re also cheaper to implement than to go conventional way. The high-impact, low cost, or obvious ones include transportation, power generation, and shipping of supply chain. There are carbon neutral choices now available through many carriers. There’s the EPA sponsored program called the Smartway Transport Partnership, and we are members of that. And also to live the example. That’s always good leadership — to not just talk about ideas, but to actually do them yourself.

Jake: Without giving too much away, what are you most excited about in regards to the future of Packsize LLC? 

Hanko: What I’m most excited about is that we can scale up the impact that we’re having. We’ve proven our systems now for many years. We have some incredibly exciting new developments that have begun to hit the market and will continue to hit the market. These developments will provide incremental improvements for our customers, as well as quantum leap improvements. We consider ourselves founders of the On Demand Packaging® industry, and this industry is now in full gear. So what we started eleven years ago as a startup is now moving at light speed with hundreds of fulfillment buildings that want to be lean and have a lower cost structure. That inflection point that we are seeing right now is what I’m most excited about.

Jake: It is super exciting! Thank you for your time Hanko. 

Hanko: Thank you, This was fun.