You could say that engineering runs in Juan Perez’s blood. His grandfather was a civil engineer in Cuba and his father was a textiles engineer in Mexico. Growing up in Mexico, his father always encouraged him to be an engineer to solve problems.
Today he is coupling advanced technology and engineering principles to solve problems for the largest shipment and logistics company in the world, UPS, and the 9.4 million customers who rely on its services every day.
Making the switch from his industrial engineering position to work in the company’s technology department wasn’t the safest decision Juan Perez, 48, has ever made. But today he is UPS’s Chief Information Officer, leading a department that has a staggering $1 billion budget. And his teams put that money to good use.
Perez has been the driving force behind a number of incredible innovations at UPS. In 2010 he oversaw the implementation of the Orion project, an advanced system that uses analytics drawn from millions of historical UPS driving records and a 1,000 page algorithm to determine the optimal route that a driver should take each day.
Once fully implemented in 2017, Orion will save $50 million for every mile it shaves off each driver’s route per year. The system is also good news for the environment, cutting emissions by 14 thousand metric tons last year and saving 3 million gallons of fuel since 2010.
And Perez isn’t just managing these innovations. He’s figuring out solutions of his own. Last year he submitted three patents for review and this year he plans to turn in a few more.
“One patent I’m working on right now looks to simplify finding packages when customers miss their deliveries in the morning. Sometimes we have to search for that package, but this would allow drivers to put an ID tag on the package that we could triangulate and immediately locate at any point,” he explains.
“That’s a part of taking the capabilities that new technologies afford us and applying them to solve today’s problems.”
Dedicated to Improvement
Whether it was his family’s history in the profession, his natural aptitude for math, or his passion for solving problems, by the time Perez was attending the University of Southern California (USC) he was dedicated to Industrial Engineering.
“I saw the value that industrial engineering brought to business. It brings an interesting take to engineering as a discipline because you need an understanding of how things function from a business perspective before you can consider the engineering principles,” he says.
At USC, his peers switched majors many times over, but Perez was resolute in his choice. He attributes this to a combination of his own interest in improving business processes and his father’s years of encouragement.
“My father always considered engineering to be a noble profession. He taught me to recognize that everything we see around us involves some level of engineering work. We need engineering to get things done,” the third-generation engineer reminisces.
Perez’s father was a constant inspiration in his life. The owner of a large manufacturing plant in Cuba, when he and his wife left their home during the Cuban Revolution he lost everything including his company. They came to the U.S., but Perez’s father was eager to restore his business and saw opportunity in Mexico. There he rebuilt his industrial uniform manufacturing company from scratch, and the company grew to be one of the largest and most well respected manufacturing plants in Mexico.
His dedication and perseverance have made him an excellent role model for the younger Perez, who has obviously taken the example to heart.
On the Job
During his 25 years at UPS, Perez has seen firsthand what talented engineers implementing sophisticated technology can accomplish. He also knows that groundbreaking innovations don’t come from sitting at headquarters.
“At UPS, we have this view that engineers need to be connected to the business,” he adds.
Perez knows the value of getting on the job and getting his hands dirty. He spent eight months driving the familiar brown truck around Beverly Hills when he first got started, and he says that kind of intimate knowledge of the job is essential.
“We can’t expect our engineers to improve how we do work on the ground if they’ve never seen the work that we do,” he says with conviction.
And that comes down to every part of the organization.
“We tell our engineers that they need to find time to spend with our truck drivers, warehouse distribution facilitators, and dispatch supervisors because that’s how ideas, solutions, and ways to implement those solutions come about. It’s very important that we don’t have desk industrial engineers,” he adds with a laugh.
Students and ABET
When his boss approached him in 2005 and asked him to become an ABET program evaluator on UPS’ behalf, Perez jumped at the opportunity. To him, the work of industry evaluators serves as a mechanism to ensure that companies like UPS are represented in the education of their future workforce.
“We either leave it to chance or we get involved and we want to be involved, we want to be active,” he says.
Perez, who has worked at every level of UPS, understands how important it is to have graduates that are immediately ready to solve today’s problems.
“If the schools don’t do a good job preparing students to meet the challenges of the future, that inability will affect our ability to do good business. That’s how the cycle works in my head, and that’s why it’s important,” he explains.
But, according to Perez, that doesn’t just matter for UPS and the companies that employ those technical graduates. It’s important for the profession and the public whose services they depend on.
“They could work at the Department of Transportation and they might be charged with developing strategies to develop transportation systems, if they’re skilled enough to do a good job, everyone benefits from a better system.”
In addition to their professional advancement, Perez also wants to see other technical professionals succeed on a personal level. On top of his ABET commitments, he also helped to establish UPS’ Latino Business Resource Group (ULBRG), and serves as the over 300-member group’s executive sponsor. In this capacity, he frequently speaks to students about taking advantage of their opportunities.
“Something I always tell kids is that if you want to advance, you’ve got to create a personal brand. Make sacrifices, be a constant learner, and also you need to take risks.” And for the past 30 years that is exactly what Perez has done. “I took a risk by going from one discipline to another and it’s been very rewarding,” he adds, certainly speaking from experience.
By Ryan Garvin