Modern Materials Handling sat down with Michael Romano, CEO at Bastian Solutions to talk about plans after retirement.
Modern: Congratulations on your retirement. Why now?
Romano: Because it’s time. I’ll be 68 this year, and I’ve had a good 40-year run in the industry. I want to retire while I’m still young enough to enjoy some other things.
Modern: Was it a tough decision?
Romano: Absolutely. The industry has never been in a better position in my 40 years. For the first time in my years, we’re no longer viewed as a commodity. Our customers understand they need to automate, and they need someone to help them do that. That’s a good position to be in.
Modern: How did you start in the industry?
Romano: I’m a CPA by trade, and years ago, I left one of the big CPA firms to become the controller of a Raymond dealer in New York. At the time, interest rates were hovering around 20%, which made it difficult to sell capital equipment. I introduced financial merchandising, including ROI calculations and leasing in our proposals. That turned out to be successful, which brought me some recognition within Raymond. In the 1990s, I was asked by the CEO to launch their national accounts program. After about 6 years doing that, I had an opportunity with a partner to buy a dealership in New England, and then in 2005, to acquire a majority share of Associated, a dealership in Chicago, where I spent 12 years.
Modern: You were one of the first lift truck dealers to embrace automated systems. How did that happen?
Romano: After trying to grow our systems business for years, I got tired of customers telling us: You’re just a lift truck company. So, we purchased Peach State and became a systems integrator. As a partner, Toyota quickly saw our reasoning and how labor demographics were changing at the same time as our industry was trending to a labor-intensive, e-commerce model. I became part of a team within Toyota that led to their entry into Automated Materials Handling Integration through the acquisitions of Vanderlande and Bastian Solutions. I knew we were on the right track when I saw an ad on Sunday Night Football late last year for a major sporting goods retailer that featured a warehouse we had done and citing it as a competitive advantage. That recognition of the value our industry provides is a good way to end my career.
Modern: Within the industry, the two leading lift truck providers—Toyota and KION—entered the automation side of the business, as have other new players. How is that changing the industry?
Romano: We’re going to continue to see consolidation, especially among the bigger industry players. That said, the automation market remains segmented: There’s always going to be room for those regional and local integrators to service small and mid-sized companies that aren’t serviced by the biggest players. You’re also going to see consolidation and acquisitions of technology players because it can be easier to buy technology than to build it yourself.
Modern: What will that mean for our readers, the users of automated materials handling systems?
Romano: The customer is going to have a better opportunity to do a one-stop shop, which is a necessity given that they no longer have the engineering staff they once had. The industry is going to be positioned to take care of them in a more comprehensive way. And, with the additional talent coming into the industry because of our increased recognition and visibility, the customer is going to see a better product. We’ve hired a lot of 20-somethings at Bastian Solutions who are light years ahead of where we were at their ages in their ability to provide significant value to our customers. Our industry has worked hard to build a better bridge with the academic community and it is paying off for us and our customers.
Visit MMH.com to view the full article.