MANY EMPLOYEES are admired by their bosses. Less common is the employee whose boss surprises him with a museum built in his honor.
On March 16, Wabash officially opened its new innovation center and announced that it was being named after Rod Ehrlich, who currently serves as the company's chief technology officer. Ehrlich has authored more than 50 patents since he was asked to start the engineering department at Wabash National 27 years ago by founder and brother, Jerry Ehrlich, who was also recognized during the event.
“This venue celebrates the past, present and future of Wabash National,” said Dick Giromini, president and CEO, Wabash National. “It is a place for customers, suppliers, associates and others to come together to share knowledge, create new products, enhance existing offerings, and continue to develop innovation that moves industries forward. And it will evolve as the organization continues to evolve.”
“By 2009, we had freed up the space and began using it for pilot reviews,” Giromini says. “But with the trailer market as bad as it was in 2009, we only spent enough money on it to simply get it clean. As conditions improved in late 2010 and into 2011, we were able to move forward.”
The 20,000-sq-ft facility includes product displays, informational kiosks, and a large timeline that displays some of the milestones in the company's history. While one of the objectives was to give the center a “museum feel,” the space also contains a conference area capable of accommodating 300 people, along with a large conference room named the “Donald J Ehrlich Founder's Conference Room” in honor of Wabash founder Jerry Ehrlich.
The center is equipped with multiple high-definition television monitors that can be controlled remotely through a digital signage system. Content can be tailored to the subject of the meeting — either internal gatherings or events sponsored by local organizations.
Much of the cost of the project came from the money the company did not spend by exhibiting at a large trucking show one year.
“In January 2009, the industry was in freefall, and we were looking at every line item,” Giromini says. “We had had a large exhibit, and we had to ask ourselves how much value we were getting for the money we were spending. Yes, we continue to exhibit at this show to reach the owner operators who buy our Transcraft and Benson products, but we realized that we already had direct access to the major fleet customers who buy Wabash trailers. We decided we could put on our own trailer show, and we now have the facility to do that. We can put on training sessions or just dialog with customers. We also open it up for use by the community. For big events like our shareholders meeting, we no longer have to rent offsite spaces.”
But as its name indicates, it's also a tribute to the man Giromini calls the “Wizard of Wabash.”
“Rod's contributions over the last three decades have helped shape this organization, solved countless problems for customers and truly transformed the industry,” Giromini said as he unveiled a plaque commemorating Rod Ehrlich's innovations and patents. “UCLA had its ‘Wizard of Westfield’ in John Wooden, but we are blessed to have our own ‘Wizard of Wabash’ in Rod Ehrlich.”