MENOMONIE, Wisc. – Ashley Furniture is gearing up on the technology front, with plans for adding 500 robots to supplement the workforce on its production lines.
Todd Wanek, president and CEO of Ashley Furniture Industries Inc., presented the high-tech profile of the world’s largest consumer furniture manufacturer as he delivered “Leadership and Innovation in Changing Times,” on October 26 – the 2017 Cabot Exxecutive in Residence Lecture at his alma mater, the Universty of Wisconsin, Stout.
With sales over $4 billion, Ashley numbers 700 IT professionals on staff, and is aggressively moving into e-commerce it prepares to protect its markets from inroads by online sellers, like Wayfair, and especially Amazon. Ashley is headquartered in the central-Wisconsin town of its founding – Arcadia – but now has massive plants in Mississippi and South Carolina, and internationally as well.
Wanek joined his family’s business shortly after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Stout with a degree in Industrial Technologies. He moved to Asia to serve as the general manager of Ashley Furniture Industries Taiwan. He continued to live and work in Asia from 1989- 1993, establishing and managing Ashley Furniture Industries business development in China, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, and Indonesia.
Wanek returned to the U.S.in 1994, spearheading the purchase of an upholstered furniture manufacturing operation in Ecru, Missippi, as he assumed responsibility for Ashley Furniture Industries upholstery production as well as the company’s growing international operations. Two years later, Wanek was promoted to President and Chief Operations Officer, assuming responsibility for worldwide operations.
In a wide-ranging talk followed by questions, spanning nearly 90 minutes, Wanek described Ashley’s growth internationally, how it has kept pace with technology, and the demands of leadership, while looking at the future of manufacturing. As part of the daylong program, Wanek met with students, faculty, and staff and toured several campus industry and technology labs. Ashley recently donated six robots and financed faculty training at Western Tech College in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
Todd Wanek, left, tours the University of Wisconsin, Stout Industrial Lab.