Posted by: nedpelger | November 21, 2009

The Tale of St. Onge: or Don’t Bet Against America

I love logistics. Back in 1990 Harvey Miller of Quill Corp hired me to design and build a 173,000 sf high-tech warehouse operation in Lebanon, PA. Harvey cared about every detail of efficiency. He and his two brothers revolutionized the office products delivery system by offering next day delivery of almost everything. They helped pioneer the efficient mail order concept that we all use today.

When a customer called Quill Corp, they measured and tracked how many rings till it was answered. Customers are happier if they don’t have to hear a few rings. They eventually got to about 95% answered on or before the first ring. When we walked their distribution facility in IL, Harvey knew everyone, but also stopped to pick up a piece of litter.

As we labored over every detail of the design, they taught me that the building was just a shell for the really important material handling system. I learned more from Harvey than he’ll ever know. His constant integrity also made an indelible impression on me. Integrity works, not just because it’s morally right, it’s simply the most effective way to deal with people. Integrity requires us to sometimes look past apparent short-term losses and understand the long-term gains of a consistent life. Harvey lived that life and reaped those benefits.

So what does Harvey Miller and Quill Corp have to do with the tale of St. Onge? I had the priviledge yesterday of getting a tour of the world class logistics consulting company, St. Onge Company. Located in York, PA, they help businesses manage the details of their operations, whether warehousing, manufacturing or operating room efficiency. This less than 100 person firm consistently ranks among the best in the world at optimizing solutions.

Mike Jones, the president of St. Onge and who recently hired me to help renovate his church, gave me the tour and showed me some of their amazing optimizations. For example, they completed a project with an online pharmacy that ships 1,000,000 orders per day with only 1 mistake per year. That’s a Sigma 7 level of efficiency, which is almost unheard of.

Mike talked about the founders of the firm and how they operated with such high integrity, selling the next generation of owners the firm at a price much lower than they could have gotten on the open market. The founders respected the contributions of the upcoming team and showed it. When you experience that kind of integrity, you never forget it. You want more of it and you want to act that way yourself. It’s a marvelously upbeat cycle.

No place on Earth better combines the love of efficiency and integrity than America. Frankly, I’m excited to see China and India push forward with their economies. Their populations are every bit as human as I am and I celebrate in the moving from poverty to wealth. They will do some things better, cheaper and faster than we do in America. Good.

The handwringers, though, seem to think that China and India and other Asian countries will do everything better than America. That’s where they are wrong. This American combination of efficiency and integrity will continue to produce more innovation and more stable social institutions (courts, legislature, places to worship, etc) than anyplace else in the world.

The world game is changing, no doubt. After my tour of St. Onge yesterday, though, I’m feeling pretty good about America.


  1. Ned,

    Thank you for the kind words. I remember well the great experience of building this facility with you. Quill ended up with nine such centers and the one in Penn. was by far the most well constructed and with the least problems. I thank you for listening, for contributing, and, most of all, for being concerned that the building you were constructing was more than just brick and mortor. It was one of the main reasons that employees, suppliers, and customers felt confident in dealing with Quill. We sold Quill to Staples in 1998, and the quality, integrity, and concern for service is still very evident.

    Best regards to you and my wishes for continued sucess and enjoyment in your life.

    Harvey L. Miller

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