Cummins Inc. Reflects on 100 Years of Innovation

Fortune 150 Company Looks Forward to Next Century

 

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Picture the year 1919. In Boston, the American Meteorological Society was formed, organizing the methods for forecasts that help us plan our days today. The United States Congress established most of the Grand Canyon as a national park, preserving our country’s natural beauty. And, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was confirmed ahead of Prohibition, ushering in the speakeasies and bootleggers of the 1920s and early 1930s.

In the long line of America’s rich history, a commercial trucking dynasty was born — and it demands its own story. Cummins Inc., a Columbus, Indiana-based Fortune 150 company that designs, manufactures and distributes engines, filtration and power generation products, celebrates the 100-year anniversary of its founding from humble beginnings — and the celebration lasts all year. “Throughout the year across North America and globally, we’ll have events for employees and customers around the world,” said Amy Boerger, vice president, sales, engine business.

Cummins was officially founded by Clessie Cummins in February 1919, and decades of industry-leading breakthroughs would soon follow. Boerger described Cummins as an innovative man who had convinced a banker to fund the company despite not turning a profit until nearly 20 years after its establishment. Leap forward to today after Cummins effectively hurdled the obstacles. Today, “we’re in 190 countries and have employees across the world,” Boerger said, “from the very humble beginning of a chauffeur with a banker in town.”

Cummins went straight to work developing the country’s early improvements on motor vehicles. “In 1932, we installed our first engine into an actual truck and began our operation in this market in North America,” Boerger reported. “In that same time frame, we ran our first diesel racecar in the Indianapolis 500.” In 1931 and 1934, one, then two cars ran, and another two diesel cars ran the Indy 500 in the early ’50s. In total, five cars ran in the Indy 500 — “the only five diesel cars to run in the Indianapolis 500 — which was a significant accomplishment and demonstrated our ability to innovate and excel,” Boerger said.

Some may consider that spectacle a genius marketing strategy that commanded respect for its time, but Boerger insisted the innovation came first, and the marketing followed gracefully. Clessie Cummins continued proving the durability of his products by putting a diesel engine in a car and running it from New York to Los Angeles, and by parking it at big auto shows. “So, he spent a long time innovating and certainly on developing the technologies, but there was also a great deal of focus on determining how to market and stay successful,” Boerger said.

Curious minds might wonder how a company — albeit one with a tech-savvy group of engineers and products that walk the walk — survived in a time of fiscal uncertainty during the economic pitfalls of the Great Depression without turning a profit. Boerger described the solution simply: “I think it was an innovative spirit and continuing to turn challenges into opportunities, and staying focused on bringing innovative products to market.”

It appears Cummins does just that — by handling challenges and environmental changes with seamless adaptability. Boerger and the rest of Cummins’ nearly 60,000 employees are already preparing for the next century. “In the future, we have to continue to innovate and continue to develop solutions for tomorrow,” Boerger said. “A great example of that is looking at electrified powertrains and bringing our first electrified powertrains to the bus market this next year, and develop a full range of hybrid solutions along those same lines.” Boerger noted that remaining relevant in an engine and powertrain world, and remaining independent with a variety of clean diesel, natural power solutions, will help propel them to success in the years to come. “We certainly know that everything will continue to change, whether that’s the environment, the wants and needs of our employees, so thinking about it from both internally and externally, it’s certainly not going to be much different than the last hundred years,” Boerger said. “We have to continue to turn challenges into opportunities — create challenging work experiences for our employees, allowing them to reach their potential and to continue to embrace the challenge of meeting the changes and diversity, the customers and what’s going on in the environment around us with a broad portfolio of power solutions.”

Cummins’ achievements include its focus on emission changes, reducing emissions by 99 percent, and developments beyond the engine such as telematics, connectivity and data analysis to develop services for customers to increase efficiency.

With so much history, there are many moments that led to such immense success and influence. “When you think about this market, you could point out a number of things that have led to our success: remaining an independent engine manufacturer with wide mobility and availability is a big deal to us and pretty cool that we’re still in that place.”

But Boerger would be remiss if she didn’t acknowledge those who help make it all happen. In September, the company published an op-ed for Truck Driver Appreciation Week. The importance truck drivers and other employees have on the success of the company is insurmountable. Boerger stressed how important it is to “make sure we highlight every way we can what a great crew it’s continued to be,” she said.

Yes, employees worldwide may pause to reflect on their tenure with Cummins Inc. — whether months or decades have passed — and take a moment to appreciate the tenacity and engineering milestones that brought them where they are today, but Cummins has more plans in store. The company will host a celebration in downtown Columbus in June for its current and retired employees. “It’ll be the opportunity to take a brief look back and a good glimpse forward to the next 100 years as well,” Boerger said.

Who knows what challenges Cummins will hurdle in the next century, but if history has taught anything, the company has proved it’s a force to be reckoned with.

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