60 seconds with Howard Bernstein, Atlas Companies
Howard Bernstein, Atlas Companies
Title: Founder and former chairman, Atlas Companies (including Atlas International Lift Trucks, Atlas Material Handling, Atlas Bobcat)
Location: Schiller Park, Ill.
Experience: More than 75 years in the materials handling industry
Primary Focus: Promoting materials handling education through the Howard Bernstein Material Handling Distribution Scholarship; http://www.mhia.org/about/mhefi/howardbernsteinfund.aspx
Modern: After a long career, you’ve sold your companies and are focusing on educating the next generation of materials handlers and distributors.
Tell us about that.
Bernstein: It’s payback for the wonderful opportunities I’ve had in this great country of ours and in this industry. I want to do my best to encourage other young people in the field of materials handling. I was president of MHEDA 45 years ago. Back then, there were about five universities in the country that had courses in distribution. When I visited Texas A&M, I discovered that students in industrial distribution didn’t know anything about the materials handling field or where we fit. We wanted to change that. Today, there are about 27 universities with industrial distribution and engineering courses. They recognize the materials handling opportunities.
Modern: You’ve contributed $150,000 to launch a scholarship program. We understand that it has led to a number of other contributions.
Bernstein: Yes, and I can tell you that I had no thoughts whatsoever of receiving any other contributions in this fund. My target was to provide $30,000 a year for five years. The program will cover five $5,000 scholarships a year. The other $5,000 is for promotion and advertising. The fund received some very nice publicity and other people began sending in money. So far, something in the neighborhood of $25,000 has come in, and I’m confident we will receive more. That means instead of having five scholarships, we’ll have a minimum of seven scholarships and have seed money going into next year. We’ve exceeded my original plan already.
Modern: What level of student are you focused on?
Bernstein: The program is earmarked for college-level students. There are other groups supporting vocational and technical school programs, and over the years we did that at my company. The gentleman who is now president of the Atlas Companies came to work for us at the age of 17. He started as a trainee mechanic and has been president of the company for 12 years. So, I recognize the value of those programs. But this scholarship fund is geared toward starting-level professionals.
Modern: Why is materials handling education so important?
Bernstein: I think it’s important that we educate and have a way to measure the impact of our programs. When I took that first visit to Texas A&M years ago, there were just 35 students enrolled in the program. Today, they have more than 500 students. Materials handling is necessary for this country and its leadership. For instance, we need advanced materials handling and technology systems to bring more manufacturing to this country. Its what allows us to compete with low labor costs. Remember, materials handling touches everything.