In the late 1970s warehousing emerged as a professional discipline. This was due partly to the massive investment in warehouse facilities, but principally because the warehouse had become—and continues to be—a key element in marketing and distribution strategy. With that evolution came the growth of a unique class of managers and technical specialists. Warehousing has become a major economic resource in the U.S., just as its people have become more professional in managing the orderly distribution of the nation’s resources: the goods of commerce.
From Whence We Came – A Brief History of WERC
Background: How WERC was Established
Source: From an Editorial Note: “An Association Whose Time Has Come,” the WERC Street Journal, a publication honoring WERC’s 10th Anniversary
Warehousing in the late 1970s emerged as a professional discipline. This was due partly to the massive investment in warehouse facilities, but more because the warehouse has developed as a key element in marketing and distribution strategy – and with it the growth of a special class of managers and technical specialists. Warehousing has become a major economic resource in the nation, just as its people have become more professional in managing the orderly distribution of the nation’s resources: the goods of commerce.
Yet, for all of that, there was no organization that cut across the lines between public, private and government-owned and operated facilities…no forum for professionals in this important discipline to meet solely and exclusively for the purposes of advancing the art.
The opportunity to remedy this arose from a combination of circumstances. Management’s recognition of the increased importance of the warehousing function was accompanied by a realization that professionals in warehousing, as in other disciplines, must be exposed to this specific area of business thinking and innovation. Positions were upgraded, and with the prerogatives of management came opportunities for additional professional education and activity. In public warehousing, similar recognition took place. Although the public warehousing industry had its own trade associations, by their very nature, these associations were not open to private warehouse operators. It was realized that without a common meeting ground for exchange of technological and management interests, the profession itself would suffer.
In September of 1977, a small group of individuals reached the decision to form a non-profit organization to fill the needs described above. The professional society, to be known as the Warehousing Education and Research Council, defined its goals as follows: The purpose of the council is to develop educational programs and conduct research concerning the warehousing process and to refine the art and science of managing warehouses. The council will foster professionalism in warehouse management. It will operate exclusively without profit and in cooperation with other organizations and institutions.
From the very first meeting it was understood that the Warehousing Education and Research Council (which quickly became the acronym WERC – pronounced work!) would represent no special interest and would have members from both private warehousing operations and public warehouses as well as from academe, the consulting profession and other areas with an interest in warehousing. The founders were quite explicit: the organization should not be dominated by any one group, nor would it seek to “compete” with such excellent organizations as NCPDM (now called CLM) and AWA (now called IWLA). Each of these organizations performs a very important function in the broad spectrum of logistics, physical distribution, materials management and resource management. Indeed, it seems highly likely that, if anything, the educational activities of those organizations would strengthen WERC, as indeed WERC would strengthen them.
The Evolution of WERC
- The first organizational meeting was held June 22, 1977 in Columbus, Ohio at the Holiday Inn Airport to discuss the feasibility of organizing a new professional society for warehousing management. A survey questionnaire was mailed on July 6, 1977 to 200 distribution professionals from Jim Robeson. The survey generated 68 responses, more than 90% of which indicated a need for educational programs and research specific to warehousing.
- A second planning meeting was held in Chicago, IL on Aug. 24, 1977 at the O’Hare Marriott. According to the minutes, 17 people attended. The purposes of the organization were defined and the WERC name was selected.
- WERC was incorporated on September 19, 1977 in Illinois: Paul Solomon, Burr Hupp, Bob Delaney, Lyman Coombs, and Ken Ackerman signed the articles of incorporation.
Organizational Names Considered
- Council for Research and Education in Warehousing
- Warehousing Education and Research Council
- Warehousing Research and Education Council
- Council for Warehouse Education
- Warehousing Institute for Research and Education
- Warehousing Council
- Warehousing Institute
Steering Committee – formed to represent the different publics of membership:
Ken Ackerman – Public Warehouseman; Burr Hupp – Management Consultant; Lyman Coombs – Manufacturer; Paul Solomon – Public Warehouseman; and Bob Delaney – Manufacturer
First Executive Committee
- Bruce Abels (of American Can Company) was elected WERC’s first president in 1977 and held the post for three years until 1980. To date, he is WERC’s only multiple-term president.
- Lyman Coombs, Gillette Company; and Jim Robeson, The Ohio State University, served as vice presidents.
- Bob Angel, Shell Chemical Company, served as secretary.
- Burr Hupp, Drake Sheahan/Stewart Dougall, Inc., served as treasurer.
Other board members included Paul Solomon, Warren Blanding and Ken Ackerman. Ackerman was appointed chair of the first annual conference.
Burr Hupp was named acting executive director, and WERC was first headquartered in Hupp’s business office at 208 S. LaSalle Street in Chicago.
Initially, there was concern from a few NCPDM members that WERC duplicated services already provided by NCPDM and was competing for the same members. George Gecowets, NCPDM Executive Director, believed any conflict to be non-existent, and expressed his full support of WERC. From its beginnings, WERC followed the NCPDM model of having individual members, and no commercialism.
WERC in Transition
In 1979, the WERC Executive Committee retained Association Management, Ltd., of DesMoines, Iowa, to manage WERC on a part-time basis. Duane DeKock, president of the firm, represented WERC. The relationship was short-lived. In April 1980, Hupp, who had retired and moved to Sarasota, FL, agreed to once again manage WERC, this time from his home. Jan Hupp agreed to assist. WERC grew steadily and by the mid-1980s was beginning to be too much work for Burr and Jan to handle.
In the October 1984 WERCSheet, Hupp said:
“When I started in April 1980, WERC had around 300 to 400 members. Having the WERC office in our home, and having Jan work with me, was an appropriate arrangement. Now, however, WERC has well over 1,000 members and is growing rapidly. It needs a strong, experienced executive director, supported by a highly qualified, full-time staff, with a well-equipped office that provides plenty of work area and storage facilities. In short, to serve an organization that may soon have 2,000 members, WERC needs a whole new management setup. At my age, I’d rather have someone else undertake that responsibility.”
Hupp requested that a search committee be formed to find a full-time executive director. Thomas E. Sharpe joined WERC as executive director on March 4, 1985 as WERC’s first “official” full-time employee. The decision was to move the association back to Chicago. Sharpe ran the Chicago office out of his house for six weeks until office space was secured at its current location in Oak Brook.
Sharpe cited two immediate priorities:
- Organize the 1985 Annual Conference in Cincinnati.
- Establish the headquarters office. There were 1,205 members.
Tom Sharpe represented WERC as its executive director until July 2000 when he retired. Under Tom’s leadership, WERC grew from a small group of loyal members to a dynamic, world-class association known throughout the industry for its integrity, professionalism, and quality products and services, including the annual conference, regional seminars and industry research.
Steven P. Bova, CAE, succeeded Tom Sharpe in July 2000 and has worked to broaden WERC’s educational and research offerings, as well as advance the ability of the organization to communicate electronically with members and the industry at large.
WERC has a rich and storied history, and its major milestones are outlined in the timeline below.
||WERC begins as a grassroots effort in 1977, when a number of individuals from the distribution field came together in search of education, research and networking opportunities in the field of warehousing.
WERC is born on August 24, 1977. Membership dues were $50 and WERC had 221 Charter Members its first year.
WERC is officially incorporated on September 19, 1977 in Illinois: Paul Soloman, Burr Hupp, Bob Delaney, Lyn Coombs, and Ken Ackerman serve as the first Executive Committee. Burr Hupp becomes the first Executive Director and Bruce Abels the first President. Ken Ackerman is the first annual conference chair. (Click here for a list of Lifetime Members.)
||The first Annual Conference is held at Ohio University in March 1978 with 160 participants.
||New Executive Director Duane de Kock is retained and WERC’s headquarters is moved to Des Moines, Iowa.
||Bob Angel is the Conference Chair and theme of the Conference is "The Warehouse: The Vital Link," held April 29-May 1 in Houston, Texas. Tom Speh chairs the first Research Committee for WERC.
Burr Hupp reprises his role as Executive Director and headquarters is moved to his home in Sarasota, Florida.
WERC membership is computerized for the first time.
||WERC holds its first seminars in Atlanta and Dallas, titled: "WPM: Warehousing Productivity Management."
||The first three WERCouncils form: The New York Area WERCouncil (today the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut WERCouncil led by James Mazurek; The Delaware Valley WERCouncil (today the Eastern Pennsylvania/Delaware WERCouncil led by John E. Dropp; and the Chicagoland WERCouncil led by Stephen G. Cook and Ed Lonvick.
The Board institutes its first long-range strategic plan for the Association.
||Atlanta, Boston (today the New England WERCouncil), Northern California and Southern California WERCouncils form.
||WERC catalogs computer software offerings for warehouse planning and operations. This is the first vision of what is today called the Vendor Locator.
||Thomas Sharpe becomes WERC’s first "official" full-time employee when he became Executive Director on March 4, 1985. Headquarters moves back to Illinois.
||WERC celebrates 10 years.
||Leslie Hansen Harps becomes the first female President of WERC.
||WERC releases The Pallet Storage System Selection Process.
||WERC celebrates 20 years.
WERC amends its Purpose Statement, noting it is "to provide education and research concerning the warehousing process, to work to refine the art and science of managing warehouses, and to foster professionalism in warehouse management."
Hot topics at the Annual Conference include: Employee Satisfaction, Employee Turnover, Outsourcing, and Cost and Quality.
||Steve Bova becomes the next Executive Director of WERC in July 2000. His goal for WERC in the new decade is to broaden WERC’s educational and research offerings, as well as to bring the association into the electronic age.
WERC conducts its first biennial Salary and Wages Survey.
||WERC reaches its highest membership numbers at 2,000 active members.
||Founding member Ken Ackerman receives WERC’s Lifetime Membership Award.
||Bob Shaunnessey is named the next Executive Director of WERC.
||DC Measures begins. WERC’s annual benchmarking study, done in partnership with DC Velocity and Supply Chain Visions captures data on the 50 key operational metrics of primary concern for distribution center professionals.
Founding member and WERC’s first President Bruce Abels receives WERC’s Lifetime Membership Award.
||WERC’s adopts its first Statement of Value and Code of Ethics. Keywords include: Integrity, Honesty, Respect And Dignity, Fairness, Responsibility, Transparency and Openness, Accountability and Excellence.
||WERC joins the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) as an industry partner.
The Tennessee WERCouncil forms. Chris Slover is the first chair.
||Hot topics at the Annual Conference include: Change Management, Labor Management Systems, Job Descriptions, and Designing and Implementing DC Improvements.
||WERC introduces online learning courses to its mix of education tools and partners with Jobs in Logistics to provide an online job board.
Tom Speh receives WERC’s Lifetime Membership Award. During his tenure he oversaw more than 14 WERC-published research studies, management guides and models.
Hot topics at the Annual Conference include: Applying Lean to Labor, Picking Dilemmas, Bridging the Generational Chasm, and Achieving Warehouse Success.
||Michael Mikitka assumes role as Executive Director of WERC.
WERCWatch (today the WERC Weekly) newsletter debuts.
Hot topics at the Annual Conference include: Multi-Generational Workforce, Problematic Processes and Situations and Ideal Solutions, Software Selection, and Slotting.
||WERC introduces its Warehouse Assessment and Certification Program to help fulfill the Council’s stated mission "to advance the art and science of warehousing management."
The first recipients of WERC Warehouse Certification are Gopher Sport, Starbucks Coffee Company and Invacare Corporation.
WERC changes its logo to the one used today, adding the tagline "The Association for Logistics Professionals."
WERC launches a new and improved website and online Vendor Locator tool.
Hot topics at the Annual Conference include: Debating WMS Options, Labor Management Metrics, Outsourcing, Operating a Smaller Warehouse, Warehousing 101, Preventing Theft in the Warehouse, and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
WERC amends and restates its Bylaws.
WERC publishes Warehousing & Fulfillment: Process Benchmark and Best Practices Guide.
||Hot topics at the Annual Conference include: Security Issues, Reverse Logistics, Multichannel Retailing, and Green Issues.
||Hot topics at the Annual Conference include: Security Issues, Retail Fulfillment, Dealing with Slow Movers, and the Employee Opinion Survey.
||WERC’s updates its Core Values to reflect W = Welcoming, E = Excellence, R = Respect and C = Commitment.
||Hot topics at the Annual Conference include: Security Issues, Slotting, Diverse Workforce, Supply Chain Optimization, Workplace Violence and Security, and Lean for Less.
||Hot topics at the Annual Conference include: Outsourcing, Transportation, 3PL Relationships, Sustainability, and Omni-Channel Supply Chain.
||WERC updates and publishes the Warehousing & Fulfillment Process Benchmarking and Best Practices Guide.
Hot topics at the Annual Conference include: Hiring Military Veterans, Lean Warehousing, Supply Chain Security, Labor Management, Ergonomics, Metrics, and 3PL Relationships.
||WERC celebrates 40 years.
Hot topics at the Annual Conference include: Metrics, Employee Opinion Survey, Workplace Safety, Key Behavior Indicators, 3PL Relationships, Multichannel Distribution, and Supply Chain Innovation.