Kevin Tubbs is the Vice President, Chief Ethics, Compliance & Sustainability Officer for Oshkosh Corporation. He is responsible for the development and implementation of ethics & compliance and environmental & sustainability processes and programs for Oshkosh Corporation’s worldwide operations.
John Shegerian: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy. And, is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com. Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian and I’m so honored and excited to have with us today, Kevin Tubbs, he’s the vice president and chief ethics compliance and sustainability officer at Oshkosh. Welcome to the Impact Podcast, Kevin.
Kevin Tubbs: John, thanks so very much, really happy to be with you here today.
John: I’m super excited about this show because you have such a great history and a success story that our listeners and viewers need to hear and the important work you’re doing at Oshkosh. But before we get to that Kevin, share a little bit of your bio and how you even evolved to this place to start with. I want our listeners to really hear about your interesting background.
Kevin: John, thanks for asking. I grew up in a small town in New York state and really enjoyed the environment, enjoyed the outer doors but was also very interested in technology and things that today would be called STEM, Science, and Technology, and Mathematics, and was looking for a way that you could put those two things together. Put the technology together with the love of the outdoors. So I went and got an education in engineering school before a lot of environmental engineering was really a thing at the time. So got a chemical engineering bachelor’s degree and started to work for Exxon Corporation, that’s where my career started. Did some environmental work for Exxon and then went on to several other Fortune 500 companies because I thought that you could really make a difference in the corporate world, make a difference working with industry to be able to address some of the environmental issues that were important to me and important in the world today. I did most of that, most of my career was in New Jersey. I also, at that time, found out or discovered myself that it was important to give back to the community. While I was doing that, I also got very involved in the community that I lived in, I was the mayor of the town that I lived in for 3 years back in New Jersey, I really enjoyed that. Then I was very fortunate, John, that about 10 years ago, I came here to Oshkosh, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin to head up their environmental program, and to lead to sustainability effort, as we embarked on a sustainability journey here at Oshkosh. I have met some really great people along the way, had some great experiences and I think done some good work. That’s kind of how I got to be here, talking to you, this afternoon.
John: You’re a very humble human being, and I really appreciate that. But, that’s also one of the reasons you were chosen to take this important role and be such an important leader at Oshkosh. But when you were a mayor, as I learned about you prepping for today’s show, Chatham Township was actually named one of the best places to live in New Jersey and that’s really important. I’m a native New Jersey, New York boy myself and I know Chatham well, I know New Jersey well and that’s no easy feat. I’m going to get back to that later because I really want you to share some of your wisdom. You and I got a chance to talk offline before we take today’s show and I really would love for you to share some of that important wisdom and how you made that happen later on.
Kevin: Sure, John.
John: But now, let’s get to the important work that you’re doing over at Oshkosh. For our listeners and viewers out there, to find Kevin and his colleagues at Oshkosh, you could go to www.oshkoshcorp.com. I’m going to spell it. O-S-H-K-O-S-H-C-O-R-P.com. Kevin, I’m on your website right now and I love your website and I didn’t know much about Oshkosh until I had to get ready for today’s show. I love the tagline, “Innovation with intent.” Talk a little bit about what’s the general work that you do at Oshkosh and what do you and your colleagues believe in innovation with intent really means?
Kevin: Well, John, thanks for asking that question. I think I’d consider Oshkosh in some ways a well-kept secret. Because we are primarily a business-to-business company. We are a innovative industrial technology company. We make some of the coolest specialty vehicles that are made on this planet.
Kevin: We make vehicles that really support who we would refer to as the everyday hero that are here. Who are the everyday heroes? The everyday heroes are our servicemen and women. From a defense standpoint, a military standpoint. So we make military vehicles that return our troops home safely from the work that they do. We’re the largest firetruck manufacturing company in the country with Pierce Manufacturing. So we service the firefighters that put it on the line for us every day, America’s bravest. People who work in the environmental services industry, collecting our trash, and our refuse, and our recyclables. People who are out there working construction, whether it’s working with mixers or working high as 185 feet in the air and need to work safely with what we do. Our tow truck drivers who also have one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. We are an innovative company that puts that kind of technology to use for those everyday heroes. We try to do it so they come home safe, so we can have their safety in mind. We do it so that they can do it efficiently and more and more, we’re doing it with a sustainability mindset so that we’re reducing the environmental footprint of all of our customers that are out there using our vehicles. So that’s what the 15,000 men and women at Oshkosh are doing every day.
John: That’s really like you said, it’s important work even though it’s not a household brand name, like a Pepsi, or Coke, or an Apple or a Samsung, it’s still the critical infrastructure work that makes the world go round and protects the great people and the heroes of society, the military, the firefighters. That’s just great work. When you were made Vice President Chief Ethics Compliance and sustainability officer, was that the first time Oshkosh had created that kind of role covering those topics?
Kevin: It was, John. It’s an interesting story how we started on the sustainability journey.
John: Yeah, please
Kevin: Little over 10 years ago, probably 11 years ago or so, we had an all employee meeting. We had 2 vice presidents get up in front of our team members, they got a question from the audience and one of the audience members said, “Well, what is Oshkosh Corporation doing around sustainability?” The one vice president looked at the other and said, “We’ll get back to you on that one.” We started to think about it and the company was looking and knew that a lot of the other competitors and people in this area, we’re doing more around sustainability. So that’s when we really started in earnest our sustainability journey. There were things that had been done in the company kind of as a one-off before that, but we really then started to put the meat on the bones of the sustainability program and I came on board in 2012 and we’ve started that journey and we’ve made good progress in the 10 years since. This is the first time we had a sustainability officer or somebody in their title. But as you know, it takes a village, right? It takes a lot more than just one person and it’s getting those 15,000 team members that we have, as we call them here at Oshkosh, engaged around sustainability. So, it’s working together as we try to make progress in that area.
John: Talk a little bit about, and I’m sure some of your experience as your great success story as the mayor in New Jersey, probably some of those skills came into play here. How did you create Champions within Oshkosh to help you get out the message of impact and sustainability and the importance of that?
Kevin: Well, yeah. I think a lot of the skills are transferable, that you have in those different types of situations. So one is to make sure you’re finding those advocates and those folks that you can really work with to help you drive that message, to find the people with passion. You can’t teach passion. Those people within the organization that have passion for that innovation around sustainability are important to get involved in what you have going on. So you identify those type of folks and you learn to build bridges and to influence without authority necessarily. We’re not in this to force somebody into a position that they don’t believe in, but convince them, help them understand the why. Why do we care about sustainability? Why is it important for the world that we’re in? Why is it important for our company? It’s convincing those people the same as I guess, you convince voters or people about why your policies and procedures are ones that they need to move forward with. It’s building those teams, it’s building the bridges, it’s explaining the why and identifying with those passionate people to get them on board and work with you to deliver the message.
John: For our listeners and viewers out there to find Oshkosh Corp’s sustainability and impact report please go to oshkoshcorp.com/impact/sustainability. Let’s talk about that word, sustainability. What is Oshkosh’s approach and your approach to sustainability? What does that mean to you? How do you drive that forward, Kevin?
Kevin: We talk about sustainability here at Oshkosh, John. We take a broad approach looking at sustainability. We tend to put it in 4 pillars, as we would call it around sustainability. The 1st one relates to our people and I think that’s the kind of company that we’re trying to build here. We believe that we have a people-first culture here at Oshkosh Corporation and that’s really a core value of Oshkosh. Empowering our people is the 1st pillar around sustainability and we talk about that, we mean things like we now have 7 employee business resource groups within the company to help our people succeed and, that’s a group that may work with young professionals or work with people that are military veterans or work with people that are women in our workforce, to make sure that we are building a diverse and inclusive culture and we’re setting them up for success and we’re helping them develop as team members as they move forward. Empowering our people is an important part around sustainability. The 2nd is innovation around our products. As I mentioned before, we’re making some really great cool products that we have. So when we innovate around our products, what does that mean? Well, we just last year, you may be aware, received the contract for the next-generation delivery vehicle. Oshkosh vehicles are going to be coming to every house around the country, starting next year for the combination of battery electric vehicles, and also higher efficiency internal combustion engine vehicles. But, looking to really reduce the footprint of the US Postal Service, as well as giving our letter carriers, a real safe and effective way to deliver the mail.
John: That’s awesome
Kevin: Our fire and emergency group, we have the first electric firetruck. Think about this, 1st electric firetruck, that now is in commercial service here in Madison, Wisconsin and it’s doing just great out there responding to fire calls out in the city of Madison. Soon we believe you’re going to see those again rolled out throughout the country, and throughout the world with our fire departments. Then, also for our airport rescue people at all of our different various airports. Last September, I believe it was, for the first time we started rolling out refuse vehicles. Boise, Idaho, now using electric refuse vehicles, to pick up trash and recyclables. Then not to be left out, our access group, we have the first all-electric scissor lift that we can put into operation so people at height can operate effectively. Those kind of innovative products, especially around electrification autonomy using data to drive maintenance and that type of thing really reduce that environmental footprint through innovation here in the company as an innovative industrial. So that’s the second one, that we’re an innovator. The 3rd is around the communities that we operate. I mean, Oshkosh has a long history of being a good community servant in the communities that we live and work. For example, last year, we had over 900 people here in Northeast Wisconsin pack up, tens of thousands of pounds of food for the hungry here in Wisconsin.
Kevin: Our people who work in STEM programs for youth have engaged with over 5,000 young people last year, talking to them about the importance of STEM and STEM careers. So we really do a lot of work trying to better the communities that we live and work in. The last one of our pillars, and certainly not the least, is trying to make sure we operate sustainably as we manufacture our products. So what are we doing there? From 2014 to 2021, we’ve reduced our normalized energy used at our facilities by over 37%. We’re really looking to reduce the amount of energy that we use to produce our vehicles. We are looking to go as close to zero waste of landfill as we can. Our Dodge Center, Minnesota Facility where make these refuse vehicles was the 1st Midwestern facility here in the United States that was a platinum level 0 waste to landfill facility. We’re doing a lot of work to reduce our environmental footprint. Very broad from the people, through to the products, and then through to the way we manufacture to make ourselves a more sustainable company.
John: That’s beyond impressive, what you’re doing and what you’ve accomplished in those 10 years. But, 20 years ago, Kevin as you know, there was no such thing as Chief Sustainability Officers, sustainability wasn’t taught in our universities or Vice Presidents of Ethics and Compliance just didn’t exist. When I would talk to people along the way, this is back in ’05, ’06, ’07 and I’d ask them about these questions, why don’t you have someone handling this or leading this? I was always told, oh, it’s too difficult or it’s too expensive. Why don’t you turn that it’s on its head with regards to your great experiences and stories that Oshkosh and explain why there’s a great business imperative in Oshkosh and other corporations to actually lean into sustainability and create all those great opportunities like you just laid out for us a couple minutes ago?
Kevin: Well, John, I think there are a couple ways to look at that. I think one of the ways is that I don’t agree with the premise that it’s an either/or that you either can be sustainable or you can be profitable.
Kevin: I think what we’re looking at here is and that’s part of sustainability. A lot of people would refer to sustainability as a triple bottom line, where you’re looking at people planning profits or that you need to be a profitable company and an environmentally sound company. A lot of the things that we’re talking about, if it’s waste reduction, if its energy reduction, it’s also good for our business. It’s a good business thing to do in addition to being a good environmental thing to do. Also, we know that it’s a good way to attract talent. We’re in a war for talent these days. We’re all aware that we’re trying to find good talent and people want to work for companies that have a good purpose and Oshkosh certainly has a strong purpose, but is also caring about things like that. So it helps when we’re looking to go out and recruit talent to come and work for us. The other thing is that our customers more and more they’re demanding. They want products that can help them meet their sustainability goals. So they’re looking for somebody to partner with that speaks a language that can provide them with the technology that they’re looking for and can do it in a sustainable fashion. So it’s good for business because it helps create business with those companies that really are looking for this kind of a partner. As we position ourselves and we believe strongly that we are an innovative industrial company, part of that innovation deals with sustainability and embedding sustainability into every product that we produce. It really is not an either/or, it’s an and/but, and we’re going to be continuing to produce those kind of products for our customers now and to the future.
John: That’s so smart. Like you said, it’s a great attraction for new employees, recruiting. Which like you said, there’s a total war out there for good employees and obviously, to retain employees, they want to stay where there’s a great purpose. Talk about the products because you talked about them a little while ago, germs of the mail carriers, the scissor lifts and things of that such. Talk about little deeper into the products you’re helping to make customers meet their sustainability goals and how that’s going to drive new business through the doors of Oshkosh?
Kevin: Sure. First, we’re not a johnny-come-lately to this kind of work.
Kevin: We’ve been working on electrification and electrified products for over 20 years now as a company, that if we look back when the first electric products were made at our JLG business on through till now, it’s over 20 years ago. So we have a lot of innovation that has taken place that helped bring us to where we are today. When we mentioned about the postal service in the last mile delivery business, a lot of that technology are things that we think first will drive business with them and obviously, helped us with the postal service contract and will help us move further in this area. We talked about my work in a municipal setting earlier. When we look at fire departments municipalities, there are a lot of municipalities that want to go green, that want to be more environmentally sound, but also need to do it as economically as they can. So, saving themselves fuel money, being an efficient vehicle, so things that we look at in terms of the electrification of the product and then data analytics to help them with what their maintenance intervals and those type of things need to be really helps those municipalities meet their goals, both their environmental goals and their economic goals. We can look at the same thing all across our portfolio, that’s a great thing about Oshkosh also, is that the technology that’s developed in one application can be brought to bear in our other applications across. We’re learning from each other as we move forward in our various parts of the business.
John: I love it. How about in your facilities? You talked earlier about making your facilities and just the process of how you produce these important and great products and vehicles more green. How are your facilities and operations gotten green during the last 10 years of your tenure?
Kevin: Well, one thing that we started with back 10 years ago, and we continuously look and make sure we’re establishing aggressive goals and targets toward what we want to accomplish, whether it’s through energy efficiency, whether it’s through waste minimization then we’ll develop plans. One of our goals as a company is or excuse me, one of our values is that we persevere, and we do. When we set a goal, we go about trying to meet that goal and we’ll not be satisfied until we meet or exceed that goal. We set strong goals around our energy reduction, we set strong goals around our waste minimization and we learn from each other and we collaborate together because we also believe as a company that we’re better together. So we work cross-functional, work across the businesses to make sure that we’re establishing and achieving our goals around energy whether it’s changing out our lighting from all the old fluorescence and incandescence to LEDs or whether it’s upgrading our compressed air and HVAC systems in our operations. We’ve got to change management process that every time we make a major change in our operations, we do an environmental assessment to make sure that we’re making good decisions about how we’re doing our operations going forward. Are we as energy efficient as we need to be? Are we minimizing the waste in our operation? We take a hard look at that as we move forward and trying the operators environmentally sound as we can.
John: Speaking about moving forward, Kevin. Obviously, you’ve done so much in the last 10 years and created such a great environment, and sustainability, and compliance and ethics and in making an impact at Oshkosh. Talk about, what’s your vision for the future? What’s next for Oshkosh?
Kevin: That’s a good question, John. As you know from your experience, sustainability is a journey.
John: It’s a journey.
Kevin: Yeah, we’re never done.
John: It’s true.
Kevin: So you know, we believe that we’ve made good progress, so what does it look like? Well, we’re looking more and more today, John. Moving more renewables into our portfolio, when we look at our energy moving forward so whether that be solar or whether that be wind, but what we’re evaluating now is what makes sense for us in our various operations to incorporate some more of that so that, when we’re designing those next-generation electric vehicles, were also looking at, where is our electricity going to come from and, how are we going to manufacture those products moving forward? Telematics, and information, and digital manufacturing also is very important to us. We’re getting real-time data to help us drive decisions, whether its decisions in how our products are manufactured or decisions in how we manufacture our products. A lot more data into what we’re doing in our operation. It’s those kind of things that we’re looking at, I think in the future.
John: Does that data management and interpretation involve AI?
Kevin: There are AI certainly involved and we look at it from a vehicle standpoint, autonomy is another big thing that we’re working on and have worked for a long time. There are certain applications whether they’re defense applications or even applications with our refuse and mixer group where autonomy is also very important and that has a big AI component to it. So yeah, certainly, AI is a part of our future.
John: I’m going to go back to what you and I discussed off the air, Kevin. It’s no secret that you have made a mess of impact and success out of Oshkosh sustainability program. Like you said, we all get transferable skills in our journey, in our path in life. When you were the mayor of Chatham Township New Jersey, it was rated one of the best places to live in New Jersey. Share with our potential new young leaders across the world that listen and watch his show, why you were able to accomplish that and how you were able to bring people together instead of having things so polarized as they are today?
Kevin: Well, John when I was in Chatham, New Jersey, in Chatham Township raising my family, there were some things in the community that I thought could be done better and that I could potentially help with. When you look at that, there are a couple of things you can do. One, is you can sit back on the couch and you can complain about what’s happened or you can take an active role and try to change things. I chose the latter path which, I think is a more productive path and got involved in Township government at local level and eventually was the mayor of the town for 3 years. We were voted the best place to live in New Jersey out of over 300 municipalities.
Kevin: We were the best place. We also were one of the first communities to receive Sustainable Jersey Certification so, we also are a sustainable community…
John: Municipality, right.
Kevin:… in New Jersey. We did it on a bipartisan basis, we did it because the things we were working on, whether it’s recreation for our children, whether it’s public safety and police department, whether it’s keeping the streets, clean and repaired, those should be bipartisan issues, those aren’t Republican issues or Democrat issues, those are people issues. You try to bring the best people together to try to work regardless of whether somebody’s a Republican or Democrat. You look to get things done and get things accomplished and, move things forward, that’s what I did. That’s what we did with the people that I worked with there to make it a great community as it was. I think, that lesson and those skills are transferable and I certainly would encourage people to get involved with. Today, we need more people that are bringing folks together to accomplish what we need to accomplish rather than driving wages and figure out because deep down, we are more similar than we are different and we have more in common than we don’t and it’s that working together and that bipartisanship that we so much need today, John.
John: We so much need more Kevin Tubbs in this planet, that’s what we really need, Kevin. I’m really grateful for your time today. For our listeners and viewers to find Kevin and his great colleagues at Oshkosh, please go to oshkoshcorp.com, and to find their sustainability report, please go to oshkoshcorp.com/impact/sustainability. Kevin Tubbs, you’re not only a delight, you’re making a huge impact on this planet with the great people from Oshkosh. I wish you continued success in your journey. Thank you and Oshkosh for making the world a better and greener place.
Kevin: John, thanks for inviting me today. I really enjoyed it. Thanks for what you’re doing.
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