Vice President of Technology & Innovation
Parker Hannifin Corp.
Being a mere supplier to your customers is a path to possible replacement at any time. But being an innovator is a way to create continuing value, and to drive closer relationships with customers. "But how do you go from being a supplier to being an innovator?" Parker Hannifin vice president of technology and innovation Peter Buca asked attendees at the October luncheon. "That's a very difficult process."
Parker has become well known for its innovation process, which it calls The Idea Factory. In fact, this was the second time Buca has presented to OVA. He also spoke to the group in May 2010. The Idea Factory process was introduced by a Parker board member who had learned about it while serving on the board of Rubbermaid, which in turn got it from the Disney Company.
One of the key rules at Parker for driving innovation is having an "engineering ladder," which allows the most creative and innovative engineers to climb the internal career ladder without having to become managers. Why? Because, Buca explained, "What's the easiest way to stifle a creative person? Making them clean up their own mess."
Another key principal is that each initiative has to have an individual owner, so that it doesn't become lost in group accountability. "When we decide that we need to change, that we need to have something new in the organization, once we agree on what that new thing is, at Parker we give someone what is called 'the black dot.' What that means is only one person in the organization owns that change, and they are committed to making that happen in addition to their regular job."
While Parker is often thought of only in the industrial arena, it's actually a large supplier in the life sciences market. "Innovation is dependent on what you know about what's missing in the life sciences area. What is not present? What are people unhappy with?" He said the company took part in the recent Cleveland Clinic innovation summit, to study how it could apply some of its technology to the medical arena. After all, he noted, "operating on the human body is no different than getting oil and gas from the bottom of the ocean. It's really all done through tubes and hoses."
He said the innovation group operates under a mandate from Parker's CEO, that it must find new innovations that will drive 10 percent annual growth in the company, which amounts to about $1.2 billion a year. "Can you imagine having to create a new billion-dollar company every year? But that's what really drove us to break the mold" on continuous innovation.
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