Q&A: Loretta Barter, Michael Mikitka

Inside MHI
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The people who work at MHI and its WERC division are the gears that keep the association rolling. They ensure MHI continues to be a valuable association and resource for people involved in the industry, and do so with wit, competence and a smile on their face. The goal of this column in MHI Solutions magazine is to give readers a glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes at MHI and “meet” the people who make it a successful hub for everyone involved in the material handling industry.

For this issue, Michael Mikitka and Loretta Barter give us a peek into what they do, how they do it, what drives them and what makes them happy after a long, productive day at work.

loretta barter

Loretta Barter, Human Resources Manager, MHI

What was your first impression of this industry, and has it changed since then?

I started working at MHI in 2008, 14 years ago. One of my first impressions of the industry was my visit to ProMat in 2009. What I saw amazed me—here were all the things that an outsider doesn’t even know exist but are essential for commerce and the daily life of almost everyone on the planet. I thought it was very industrial, motorized and engineering-based with a lot of machinery. Frankly, it was a little intimidating. Since then, the exhibits have become even smarter, slicker and more innovative, especially with automated technology. I can say it’s more exciting.

At my first show, I also noticed there was a lack of diversity present in the industry. Over the years, however, I have seen our members become more diversified and inclusive. For example, there are more women and young professionals in essential positions and leadership roles in our industry. I am optimistic that our industry is realizing the value of inclusiveness and will build on it.

What do you think are the best skills that you bring to your position at MHI?

Some of the best skills I bring to my position are ideation, creativity and adaptability. I have always been a people-oriented person. I look at things for improvement and whether they make business sense for the organization and the people working here. Learning and applying the knowledge is a core value at MHI and one I share.

What’s a goal you have for yourself that you want to accomplish in your role at MHI in the next year?

One of the things I want to work on is enhancing the employee experience. We are hoping to create an HR community where MHI members companies can network and talk about some of their challenges, particularly when it comes to workforce issues such as retaining staff and transitioning to a mixed hybrid workforce that is appropriate and fair.

What aspect of the industry is most intriguing to you?

The material handling industry is ever evolving. Finding solutions to workforce challenges is interesting. Many of our member companies participate in local organizations of STEM students’ competitions. They are building robots and introducing automation to a new generation.

Do you have any unique skills or talents that most people don’t know about?

At home, I am an amateur florist. I am constantly arranging something! I find beautiful and unique ways to combine flowers arrangements. At work, I arrange teams similarly in that I look for a unique combination of skills and bring them to the organization.

If you could transport back in time, what would you tell your 15-year-old self?

Being different isn’t wrong. Many 15-year-olds are a little insecure and feel they have to conform. I would tell myself that it’s not necessary to be like everyone else. I was diagnosed with mild dyslexia and I learned differently than others. But I usually brought a spark of creativity. Diversity comes in many ways. It is not just gender and race; it is also abilities.

What is the last book you read?

I love stories about people. I just finished two books. I read a biography on the Vanderbilts by Anderson Cooper. It is a fascinating book about the descendants of one of the wealthiest families in America and revealed the tarnish after a gilded age. Another book I just finished is The Art of Storytelling. It gave helpful tips for presenting and communicating.

What are you happiest doing, when you’re not working?

I love to cook and have small dinner parties. Eight people are perfect, as that is the size of my table, and with eight people, you can have a deeper conversation. I love to entertain a diverse and interesting group of friends.

michael mikitka

Michael Mikitka, EVP MHI Knowledge Center and WERC

Why were you attracted to this industry as a career choice and WERC, in particular?

I have always seen myself serving in a supportive role. The very essence of associations like WERC and MHI is to serve and to support an industry. WERC offered me the opportunity to manage its annual conference, an event which brings together its membership and provides practical education and engaging networking opportunities.

While I no longer manage WERC’s Conference, my team and I have greater opportunities to support the industry in the various products and service we manage and those we create.

What was your first impression of this industry, and has it changed since then?

I clearly recall my first impression as one of amazement. Like many, I took the supply chain for granted. I drove past warehouses never understanding the role they serve in the supply chain. I assumed the items on a store shelf just came out of the backroom. While the complexity amazed me, it was the people that impressed me! Distribution professionals make sense of things so that people get their products and services, companies deliver on their commitments, economies grow and communities thrive.

What aspect of the industry is most intriguing to you?

The HR aspect of our industry has always intrigued me the most. Time and time again, as I have toured distribution centers and met with leaders in manufacturing and retail, it is by far the people who have the most significant impact on these operations. I am proud of the fact that our teams at WERC and MHI support initiatives to develop leaders, to provide tools to assess the skills and abilities of our members’ workforces and to provide industry metrics and standards that our members use in their operations and businesses.

What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment (professionally) at the end of the day?

I experience a sense of accomplishment when I see members engaging in the MHI and WERC programs and using the products we produce.

Do you have any unique skills or talents that most people don’t know about?

Does wiggling my ears count? It has always impressed my kids—at least it did until they turned five.

What are you happiest doing, when you’re not working?

Traveling with my family gives me great joy. When my children were young, I had been known to plan vacations that they claimed were more like school field trips—focused on history or geography. As they have become older, my wife and I most appreciate it when we can experience a place that is new to all of us and we are learning and trying new things together.

What is your favorite sports team?

I am a Cubs fan. There is nothing that beats an afternoon game at Wrigley Field. Wrigley offers an experience unlike any other ball park. Also, generally speaking, Cubs fans are eternal optimists and “there is always next year” is our mantra.

What is the last book you read?

“Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know” by Adam Grant. What caught my attention about this particular publication, besides the title, was a line in the marketing copy, “…unlearning and relearning requires much more—it requires choosing courage over comfort.”

I appreciate opportunities that remind us to challenge “what we know” but just as important, to think about what we don’t know. I feel we need to learn to break down the patterns and routines in our brains to better adapt to and to conquer the challenges we face. The books is an examination on the critical art of rethinking

My takeaway from the book is a guiding principle Adam Grant shares, which is to argue like you are right but to listen like you are wrong.

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