Joe Gruelich

Session III: “Keep it Moving”

When Fast Company first encountered Joe Gruelich, the dynamic chief logistics officer at was working with Roberts Express – a 50-year-old shipping and logistics company that runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


Beating logistical obstacles and tight deadlines everyday, Roberts thrived and survived on great ideas and quick implementation. During RealTime Orlando, the former manager of management information systems shared advice for pushing risky ideas at large companies and for maintaining humanity without sacrificing speed:

Why are you here at RealTime Orlando?

At other conferences I’ve attended and spoken at, you speak at people. Here, you actually do a group development of an idea or set of concepts, and you do it very quickly. You notice that people form things quickly at an event like this. Why? Because RealTime specifically set out to teach you that skill of fast implementation. The 90-minute sessions teach you to work fast so that you can get across your message.

Where do great ideas come from?

Innovation and Implementation. All the conference participants have creativity, and that has led me to believe that everyone has an innovative side that must be tapped into. Great ideas come from everywhere and you have to be careful not to turn off the great ideas that come from the places you would least expect.

Implementation can be a little more scientific. I have the geek slant on implementation because I used to be the chief geek at FedEx custom critical. In my session, we look at creating innovation and then taking that to the fast track of implementation when you are dealing with geeks. I have found that it is very easy for management to say no, and very hard for them to say yes. If you are at a big company like Sears or Kmart, you have an established track record for getting things done. If somebody comes in with a great idea, you have to change how things are done. There is a lot of risk involved in change in a big company with a lot of momentum.


The key is for big companies to make innovation repeatable by coming up with a dedicated process to do it and you have to be open to saying yes, which is very hard for big companies to do. In smaller companies it can be easier, but efficiency and innovation kind of run counter to one another, so you have to be efficient, yet keep you eyes for innovation at all times. That is a difficult balancing act.

What message do you hope to convey to the RealTime participants?

Everything is oriented to speed. Don’t sacrifice humanity for speed. It’s very easy to do that. I’ve been there, done that. In the haste for speed (which is good), don’t lose your humanity. You can build up a lot of technical barriers that don’t necessarily help humans communicate and collaborate. Instead of being able to talk to someone about your 401(k) program, maybe all you have is a Web site or an email address. That is not necessarily a good thing. Speed is good. Self-service is good. But you have to allow for the human factor.

Return to RealTime Orlando