He travels the world, comes home to the 32nd floor of a Manhattan skyscraper, runs an international company, enjoys world-class cuisine and writes an insightful travel log for his friends on Facebook, all while keeping his Kansas City ties intact. Ervin Cash (’81) is the president and CEO of AERCO International, the originator of semi-instantaneous water heating for commercial application. Nearly a third of the buildings in Manhattan use his company’s systems. His success could make Cash intimidating, but a brief conversation with this MNU alumnus puts one immediately at ease.
Cash is humble and personable. He has nothing to prove, and his résumé speaks for itself. He has marketed high-end products, led new business development, engineered manufacturing solutions in several industries, managed quality assurance programs and driven strategy and competitive growth for an energy technology producer. Through it all, he says he wouldn’t change a thing about his choices at MidAmerica where he majored in communication and human relations and minored in math and physics.
“I knew no matter what I was going to do, I was going to work with people,” Cash says. “That’s the most important part of anything you do. My paradigm is people skills, technical skills, business skills and on top of that, strategy.”
Throughout his career in manufacturing, operations, marketing and beyond, Cash’s approach to success is problem solving with the customer’s needs at the center of the equation. Having gained much of his knowledge about people in his undergraduate studies, Cash then pursued a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Kansas, an MBA at Xavier University and post-graduate study at Harvard Business School in strategy and competitive advantage.
From his work on the factory floor programming micron-accuracy inspection equipment at then Allied Signal (now Honeywell) in Kansas City, to engineering and quality assurance, Cash’s employers have asked him to start new things. He created the quality assurance program for Makino Inc., a manufacturer of machine tools for applications worldwide. The Japanese-owned company sent him for training in Japan.
“It was intriguing,” he says. “I like different cultures and languages.”
Soon, Cash was the plant manager. The company president noticed that when Cash interacted with customers touring the plant, he always asked the same thing, “How are you going to use this equipment?”
“I would get an idea from how they were going to use it, of how to build the quality assurance into the equipment,” Cash said. “The president said, ‘I want you to move that process over to the business side.’ This is how we would win business.”
That move became a turning point in Cash’s career.
A new position at Gardner Denver Inc., a company in Georgia specializing in pump technology for industrial, mobile, energy and environmental markets, led Cash to the energy technology industry. Then a Japanese company called Rinnai tapped Cash for his strategic business leadership skills. His experience in Japan, along with his marketing, manufacturing and energy background, dovetailed nicely in his new job. In 2002, the company sold 6,500 units. By 2008, Cash led Rinnai to 170,000 units in sales with an aggressive marketing and advertising effort. Using radio, television and Internet, along with Major League Baseball, the NFL and NASCAR, Cash employed ads to introduce his product to the market. Now Rinnai has the top-selling tankless water heater in the U.S.
Continuing in the energy industry, and always gravitating to companies that utilized green technology, Cash became president and CEO of Robert Bosch Thermotechnology North America in 2009. In 2012 he was recruited for his current position of president and CEO of AERCO. AERCO high-efficiency commercial boilers and water heaters are in Hilton and Marriott hotels, numerous universities and schools, and major commercial buildings throughout the U.S. Cash says a typical week in his job includes two to three days in the office and the rest at 35,000 feet, traveling to places like Italy, China, Korea and Germany where AERCO’s suppliers are located.
But an exciting new project Cash is working on is much closer to home – MNU’s home that is. AERCO’s equipment is already running at Arrowhead Stadium and a new project will begin after the current football season.
“The biggest concerns in the NFL right now are concussions and player safety,” Cash says. “A lot is being done with helmets, but we are making the surface they fall on softer,” he says, referring to the football field.
His turf-warming project will require installing heated water lines 12-15 inches below the surface. Cash says this will “trick the turf into thinking it is 70 degrees all year round.” The field will not be rock hard in the winter and grass will grow year round.
“The real driver behind this is player safety,” Cash says. “It’s interesting when you can take technology and use it to solve every day, important problems.”
What would Cash say is the most important takeaway from his career experience?
“It’s always been about strategy and culture,” he says. “I spend a lot of time on the business strategy – how to compete, how to win – and right in the middle of that is setting a culture where people like to work, people are engaged, they’re teammates, they’re people who want to take responsibility, and where people get recognition. It’s about how to get people in the organization excited about the business so you have all the energy of the people focused on one mission.”
If that philosophy sounds good, consider visiting MNU this spring to hear more. Cash will be the featured speaker at the April 19, 2016, MNU Tuesday Luncheon for alumni and friends.