Innovation: The Challenge and the Opportunity

Dean Hansen, Nexus Founder and CEOIn his book INNOVATION NATION, author John Kao recounts  A.E. van Vogt’s  Voyage of the Space Beagle,at the age of ten.   The crew encounters the galaxy-spanning consciousness called “ixtl” that pulls crew members into a deep space struggle. Only a “nexialst” named Dr. Elliott can command the affinity of the crew necessary for escape.  In order for the team to survive, they had to achieve a deep sense of kinship and connection with one another.  From that time on, Kao wanted to be a “nexalist” when he grew up.

When we came up with Nexus as the name for our newly formed company back in 1979, we received a lot of raised eyebrows.  I had encountered a gentleman by the name of Geoffrey Clark who wheeled around a little box that he called a computer.  The device featured a wand attached to a key board that he said could scan barcode.  “Barcode,” I asked, “what’s that?” 

“It’s the future,” he replied.  Mr. Clark maintained that this was the new direction in accuracy for inventory control and receiving and shipping.  Intrigued, I discussed this concept with the CFO of the manufacturing company I was working for.  He accompanied me into the IT room where a big mainframe IBM was processing data cards, punching holes and whirling around.  The CFO explained, “This is the only computer this company has and this is the only one we need.”

After developing a business plan comparing all of the 3PLs (referred to as public warehouses back then) in the Chicagoland area, I was determined to open business with Clark serving as our in-house technology provider, sensing that his application of barcode scanning would serve as our differentiator.

Essentially, Nexus was start-up with another start-up embedded in it.  We offered Clark a business space to develop his software and exhibit his technology to demonstrate the merit of his theories.  In return, Nexus was able to offer a level of inventory control and visibility that most manufacturers did not have in the public warehousing link in the distribution chain.  Within the first years we were working on applications within the retail sector and paper industry (shipping newsprint into the SunTimes).

When you look at the incredible technological progress our industry has made over the last thirty-plus years, the challenge of innovation is still any company’s main source of sustainability.  I hope that our culture and environment of professionalism will foster new ideas to complement the spirit and tradition of “getting it right” each and every day.  After all, delivering the product on time is what we are all about.