On a Mission to Improve People’s Lives

Executive Viewpoint


As the second-generation leader of a business with solid values and entrepreneurial spirit, I know I’ve been blessed. Since 1977, Gorbel Inc. has been known for great culture and great products.

But we also abide by a great mission: to build a business that improves people’s lives.

About 10 years ago, our team was concerned about our ability to scale from both a product and culture standpoint. I’d been inspired by motivational speaker Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. I knew that we needed to nail some things down, to clearly identify our own big-picture “why,” and it came to me one night. I scribbled it on a napkin and brought it to the team to flesh out.

We improve people’s lives. At the end of the day, that’s why we’re here. It’s not a one-track mind about a bottom line or a return on investment. It is something that really resonates, something that gets me—and the rest of the Gorbel team—out of bed each morning.

Adjacent to that mission is our vision, or what we actually do: We defy gravity, literally and in spirit.

In a literal sense, that links to material handling as a whole. We unweight product to allow people to work more productively. We enable lifting and conveying, helping people do their jobs safer and faster.

In spirit, we position ourselves on the leading edge of discovery and innovation. We push to drive this internal restlessness, and to maintain perpetual curiosity to do things in new, creative ways. We formalize all this with product development processes and human-centered design. Defying gravity means not resting on our laurels, and not expecting that what we did yesterday will prolong our health or ability to achieve our mission tomorrow.

At Gorbel, we have more than 700 employees spread across five countries. That includes operations in China, with this being our 17th year there. That venture started in an undeveloped field and has grown to be an extension of everything Gorbel. We have a strategy map for our company, and it’s a comprehensive visual. While it is elegant and very easy to follow, the most intriguing thing about it is that the same graphic exists in Mandarin. The exact same one. You could walk into our operations in China, and the culture would feel the same. When you sit in a customer training class in both the U.S. and China, it is eerie how similar they are. They are just in different languages. In short, we do not compromise when it comes to who we are or how we identify ourselves, regardless of where you sit on the planet. Here, there, everywhere, it’s still about improving people’s lives.

This mission is both internal and external. When you’re with a customer—or even on that proverbial airplane, when someone asks, ‘What do you do?’—the simple, literal answer is “we build cranes and conveyors.” But when we speak about improving people’s lives, they want to hear more.

I give credit to our president, David Pritchard, for coming up with a method of personifying that mission. He says we do it one pound at a time or one package at a time. As a numbers guy, he has put some figures together. Based on conservative estimates, over the last six years, we’ve taken 4.3 trillion pounds off the backs of people who would normally need to move them by hand. We’ve also conveyed about 7.6 billion items through our newer conveyor technology that someone would otherwise have carried to a pallet. This yields life-improving benefits for our customers, who can now go home at the end of the workday without having to pop a Tylenol or crash from exhaustion. Anyone trying to do some of these jobs today knows it can be beyond difficult, and often unsafe.

As for what all of this means internally, it’s about wanting to improve the lives of our employees and their families, and how that shows up in things like benefits and company events. One of our core values is “positive people in a positive and inclusive environment,” and that comes ahead of taking care of the customer. An essential ingredient to a world-class team is the right culture, and it doesn’t come from just happenstance. Every six months, each employee is measured on both results and behaviors. Those things are weighed equally.

When we first rolled all of this out, there were deep roots of good and bad habits in various pockets of the organization. We presented the expectations of the mission and vision as the new norms and as a healthy approach to growth. I’ll be honest: The change management related to all of it was hard for many.

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