Hiten Shah used international connections and technological advances to build a fast-growing Columbus global supply chain business.
Hiten Shah is one of the most under-the-radar entrepreneurial success stories in Columbus. In less than 15 years, he has quietly turned an upstart venture operating out of his home in the north suburbs of Columbus into a global supply chain business likely to turn $75-80 million this year.
Shah's company, MES Inc., provides total supply chain management for major manufacturers. Using a bevy of technologies—from 3-D printing and scanning to IT innovations—MES monitors factories, provides competitive pricing, offers just-in-time delivery and manages a myriad of details.
MES specializes in the lighting, automotive, agricultural, heavy equipment and electronics industries, sourcing those parts internationally. Through the MES information portal, MESH, Shah can post custom-engineered drawings and solicit sourcing proposals from 480 manufacturing factories worldwide, monitoring bids, specifications, quality-control requirements and costs.
The competitive advantage for MES comes from “boots on the ground,” Shah says. No supplier is more than eight hours away from an engineer, and no customer is more than eight hours away from an MES warehouse.
In the U.S., Europe and Mexico, his major customers are a who's who of American and European manufacturers, including Eaton, Phillips, Bridgestone and Worthington Industries.
They are a demanding lot, Shah acknowledges, but so is MES when it works with suppliers in Asia and Mexico. “We want to see a lot of training, as well as good auditing and quality procedures in place. If they don't pass the standards and audits, they won't work with us.”
MES innovates with the help of students recruited from the supply chain, engineering and operations classes of Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue, Miami of Ohio and others, who take a fresh look. In turn, MES sees how they operate, hiring quite a few interns along the way, Shah says, including at least one student advised by Amy David, assistant professor of management at Purdue University's Krannert School of Management.
“They're really willing to let us work on big problems and willing to admit there are things they haven't solved, never giving us busy work,” David says. “They're even receptive to feedback from students about how the organization is structured and how processes should work.”
Shah and his wife, Heena, who works as MES' chief people officer, believe that a classic triad of happy customers, strong suppliers and engaged MES employees is key to success—along with a sense of community and charitable work. But success wasn't inevitable. “Back in 2006, when we started, I was too naive to know how hard things are and too stupid to try it anyway,” he says with a laugh.
Shah originally came to Ohio for a job in Akron after graduating with an M.S. in plastics engineering from the University of Massachusetts Lowell. But the business went sideways, launching Shah into work that eventually brought him to Acoust-A-Fiber in Delaware. The spark that led to MES began on a trip back home to India that year. “One of the companies I was working with wanted me to audit about seven factories in order to buy their metal castings,” Shah recalls. “Then I ran into customers when I came back home who needed castings. The stars aligned. I said, ‘I don't know much about castings, but I know about good factories.'
“In 90 days we were providing 40-50 percent parts savings for the customers. Six months into it, one of the customers asked, ‘Can you manage the logistics?' I said to myself, ‘How hard could that be?' One friend had some warehouses in Mount Vernon, and I took out a home equity line of credit to start up. All of a sudden I'm in the supply chain business. ”
Mike Mahoney is a freelance writer.