Hiten Shah, president and CEO of MES Inc., is a 2018 Columbus Smart 50 honoree and Innovation award winner
Hiten Shah’s supply chain logistics company, MES Inc., started on a fluke.
In 2007, he had a sales representation business, but visited some casting foundries in India as a favor to a friend. When clients asked if he knew a good casting shop, Shah mentioned the foundries.
He built on the opportunity, bringing in product from those factories. After a few months, his customers liked the pricing, but wanted the supply chain managed.
“I was too dumb to know otherwise, so I said, ‘How hard can it be?’” Shah says.
Shah lost three of his four customers in the first 18 months. He hired the wrong engineer, got the wrong suppliers, borrowed against his home equity loan, focused on poor customer opportunities and didn’t invest in quality processes — all while phasing out his representation business. His steady income stopped in 2008 and ’09, and Shah finds it hard to imagine going through it again.
“Succeeding in business, it’s so much about having this fortitude to live through the downtime,” he says.
But having read about 50 business biographies, Shah could see supply chain logistics was a scalable opportunity. He also defined three metrics needed for a solvent business.
“Even though we only did $100,000 in sales a month back then, we used to measure our metrics like we were a billion-dollar company,” he says.
After two years, MES stabilized. In 2011, Shah added a quality engineer, so he could focus on sales. Soon after, MES started creating systems and investing in itself.
The necessity of innovation
Today, MES, which expects about $75 million in revenue, provides total supply chain management for manufacturers using technology and its international connections. The president and CEO says MES’ reliance on technology partly comes from him.
“I hate it when I have to do the same thing over and over again,” he says. “We have driven to a point where everything that we’re repeating can be automated.”
He also knows long-term customers expect cost reductions and improvements.
“It’s a combination of these things — personal qualities as well as our business mandates — that forces us to use technology because that’s the only way to share information and be efficient,” Shah says.
A few years back, MES developed a quality control application. Another tool adjusts raw material pricing with a supplier’s exchange rates.
While customer-centric issues take priority, patience is key. Shah doesn’t expect immediate results and his team tries many ideas at their own pace.