Alumni in the News: Herb Henkel, CEO and PolyThinker

Herb Henkel is a true PolyThinker. As chairman, president and chief executive officer of Ingersoll Rand, an 131-year-old Fortune 500 company, he searches the globe for ways to use new technologies to improve efficiency and productivity.

In a recent Charlotte Observer profile, Henkel (’70 BS aerospace engineering and applied mechanics; ’72 MS mechanical engineering) shares examples of how, under his direction, Ingersall is positioning itself as a 21st century global leader in commercial products manufacturing.

One example is a deal that’s in the works to dramatically reduce the 60 percent food spoilage rate impacting the bottom line of farmers in India. Ingersoll has products that can reduce spoilage at the three most critical points of a piece of produce’s journey from field to table:  1. “chiller” boxes for just-picked produce; 2. Thermo King refrigerated tractor trailers to transport produce; 3. refrigerated display cases to keep produce cool as it waits to be purchased . Henkel believes that together, the products will bring down the spoilage rate to 5 percent.

Henkel notes that in today’s global economy, it’s the technology behind Ingersoll’s products that allows it to maintain American factories despite the high cost of American labor. The company’s 20-ton air compressors used for a variety of manufacturing across the globe are a prime example. Bottle makers use the compressors to blow 60,000 bottles an hour, a big boost from the 5,000 other compressors turn out. That productivity jump justifies costs.

In addition to shifting Ingersoll’s focus to technologies with global applications, Henkel has helped the company leave areas such as infrastructure building which once defined the company—Ingersoll products helped build the Hoover Dam and subway tunnels.  Today, Ingersoll‘s portfolio consists of climate control, industrial and security technologies.

Henkel immigrated to America from Austria at the age of nine and currently lives in Lake Norman, North Carolina. He became Ingersoll’s CEO in 1999. Prior to that, he held executive positions at Textron, Southern Fastening Systems and Unifast Industries, Inc. In 2001, Poly honored Henkel with its prestigious Distinguished Service Award for Science and Technology.