Operating in Memphis, Tenn., for 40 years, AZO Inc. will recognize four decades of bridging the gap between Osterburken and the Bluff and helping to automate ingredient handling across North America.
In order to be more in tune with customers overseas, Adolf Zimmermann originally entrusted Memphis businessman Hunt Moore and his son Robert Moore to run the American subsidiary of AZO in 1978. This partnership was “unique for the time,” according to Chuck Kerwin, general manager of AZO Inc.
“This idea of taking a German company and mixing it with an American company that’s neither truly German nor American is quite a unique and successful business model,” Kerwin said. “You take the best of both worlds and you put them into an organization that is better than either of their parts.”
AZO Inc. has played a key role in sharing AZO GmbH’s innovations with American markets throughout its time in Memphis. The company has accomplished everything from bringing robust cyclone screeners to American shores to installing the first computer graphics system in a major North American food manufacturer. AZO Inc. has set itself apart by linking bulk inventories to accounting through MES software in 1996 and by placing a top-of-the-line Componenter (the ShuttleDos) into a global food manufacturer in 2015.
In recent years, AZO Inc. has also received local recognition as one of The Commercial Appeal’s “Memphis Top Workplaces.” The annual list is based on employee surveys from hundreds of companies and organizations in the city. The award was given to AZO Inc. in 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017 and in 2018. A special award in recognition for “Work/Life Flexibility” was given to AZO Inc. in 2018.
“I think that survey is validation that yes, people think that they are comfortable and making progress, and they feel like they are progressing,” Kerwin said. “We’re never going to retain quality people if people don’t feel confident in the future and the direction of the company — that management has clearly articulated a plan, and they can see concrete steps in that plan being implemented.”
Beyond recognition by libraries and local news sources, AZO Inc. reaches out to the Memphis community in other unique and meaningful ways. Another award was presented to the company in 2018 by Memphis Public Libraries as their “Corporate Volunteer Partner of the Year.” AZO Inc. has both contributed financially and mentored the members of “MechWarriors,” one of four First Robotics Competition (FRC) teams in Shelby County where high school-aged students learn real-world engineering through building and programming robots. These bots perform specific tasks in alliance-based competitions while students can qualify for college scholarships and a place in the FRC World Championship.
In addition, the top floor of AZO Inc. headquarters is shared with a collective of model train enthusiasts who utilize the space during evenings and weekend hours. Kerwin said that a symbiotic relationship exists between the company and these groups using unused space for community outreach.
“What goes around comes around,” Kerwin said. “If you treat people well, then they will do the same.”
Kerwin said that focus on trust extends to how AZO approaches business in general. The long-term success of AZO Inc. can be attributed to both high-quality German engineering and American customer service.
“We are very honest with our customers,” Kerwin said. “We tell them exactly what’s going on. We always have meaningful give and take with our customers. We are always willing to help them out.”
AZO Inc. also aims to help out its own future by taking a page from Germany’s apprenticeship program to develop a unique engineering training program.
“We are bringing people in and training them,” Kerwin said. “There’s a three-year formal training program to go through — we’re developing our future leaders internally. We’re coming up with some cross-training and some cross-pollination of ideas.”
From Hunt Moore, Robert Moore and the entrepreneurial first generation of AZO Inc., to the engineering training program and new horizons for the company, Kerwin said AZO Inc. has successfully transitioned through the challenges of the past four decades as it looks toward time ahead.
“Forty years is more than a single generation,” he said “We have many young people working here today — we’re grooming the third generation. We’re preparing for our future by building on our past.”
If you’d like more information on the original partnership between a German company and its Memphian representatives 5,000 miles away, contact us at any time.