Worthington Industries Discusses the Importance of the Intersection Between the Arts and Innovation

Michael Luh - Columbus Tech Power Player Honoree

Michael Luh

VP of Strategy and Innovation

Worthington Industries



Jeremy Florea


Stafford Technology


To listen to the podcast, click here!


The VP of Strategy and Innovation for Worthington Industries, Michael Luh, discusses the importance of the intersection between the arts and innovation.


Hello, and welcome to the comSpark podcast, where you will get to meet today's technology thought leaders. To learn more, visit comspark.tech.


JF: We're here today with Michael Luh, who is the Vice President of Strategy and Innovation at Worthington Industries. Worthington Industries is an organization based in Columbus, Ohio with 11,000 employees. My name is Jeremy Florea and I'm with Stafford Technology, and I'll be your guest moderator today. Let's get started. Michael, what is the best part of working in Central Ohio and what are the biggest challenges of working in Central Ohio?


ML: You know, one of the best things about Central Ohio, Columbus area is that we've got a great, intelligent, well-educated organization of, as a city. And I think what's challenging about that though, is that there's a lot of sports. I'm not a big OSU fan, but there's a whole lot of sports here and there’s whole lot of technology. And my wife and I were talking about this once and what's kind of missing in the world of innovation is the arts. Can you get all of them together to make a strong community for innovation? So, sports is really good about teaching you strategy, and technology is fabulous about…well, technology. It’s wonderful.

But in order to create new businesses and new types of innovation, one of the troubles we have is that we don’t have the arts. Sports is really good about following rules because you get penalized for breaking a rule. Arts is about breaking the rules, pushing the boundaries of what's the norm, and that's, you need that for innovation. So, one of the downsides to Columbus is, we don't have a great, strong arts community. You’ve got the, uh, Columbus Arts Museum, you’ve got the Cultural Arts Center – you’ve got places like that who are doing some really interesting things. The trouble is, you don't really stumble across arts everywhere in Columbus. I think we need that as a city to get to better innovations, more innovative businesses, et cetera.


JF: Thank you very much. What kinds of things do you feel the local market needs to take it to the next level in becoming a larger tech hub?


ML: Um, you know, the technology’s here, I think, I think the trouble is, within the Columbus area, is again, it gets back to the arts. You have to have more of those in order to create new businesses, to understand empathy for what's actually needed. You know, the idea of just creating tech for the sake of tech actually isn't very useful. It's only useful if you're solving a problem, a meaningful problem that people actually want and are willing to pay money for. And I think we actually have a lot of tech here. I just wish we had more on the innovation side.


JF: I've got an additional question then, related to your answer. What would be an example of what could Columbus bring related to the arts that, uh, would, would almost satisfy whatever's lacking?


ML: I think like, you know, Short North used to be some 20-odd years ago, used to be kind of an art hub and had the galleries and you started getting more artists attracted there. And now Franklin is becoming that also. Um, I would love to see the city start attracting more artists by, by either giving grants to start attracting the artists to Columbus. Right now, I think the local artists from Columbus might stay here, but you don't run across them very easily. You have to go out of your way to go find them. When you go to cities like San Francisco, you go to LA or New York, you can't help  but run across art every day. In Columbus, you have to kind of go out of your way to go find the arts, and I would love to see more of that within the city. Even since, I lived in Cincinnati for 20 some odd years, and in Cincinnati, you see it through their murals on the buildings, you just run across it everywhere. You just don’t run across it here in Columbus as much.


JF: How do you want to improve your organization in the next three years?


ML: Good question. I think, one of the problems, one of the things I would love to change within our organization is, uh, diversity of the thinking within my group. So, I'm a strong believer that innovation is a byproduct of a great team. And in order to create that great team, part of that is also the diversity of the thinking. If I have 10 people in the room who all think just like me, the range of ideas and the quality of idea is going to be pretty poor. I need to have 10 people who think very differently from me in the room in order to get to great ideas. And so, part of that, that I continue working on in my own organization, is getting more diverse thinking. That means smart people, open-minded, and also being able to think very differently than myself. I mean, the example I always give is, I want someone in the room who is a hardcore atheist to a fundamentalist Christian both listening to each other to solve a problem. Because that type of diversity of thinking is where you're going to get some great ideas.


JF: So, Michael, professionally, what makes you the most happy?


ML: You know, one of the things I love doing, is seeing other people succeed, and get credit for the great work that they do. So I love bringing the genius of other people. Um, when I worked at P&G, one of the, uh…when I worked at P&G, one of the businesses I co-directed was something called the completion project, which was part of the innovation team at P&G. And our tagline was, the art of coming together as one. And one of the things I loved about that work was, at the end of many of our, uh, three month sessions, people would come up to me afterwards and say, “I'd forgotten how smart I was.” And that makes it all worthwhile, because you bring out the genius of someone else, and you see them shine, and you can see that they got to a great result that was meaningful to the company, built the business, also build their confidence and what they could do. And when you create those conditions, it's magical.


JF: In the business that we have and that we do at Stafford, but specifically with the people, companies and professionals that we work with, one of our taglines is, making the individual, making them, helping them become the best version of themselves, and that includes on how they communicate a project's requirements, their vision for their department – it doesn't have to be for an entire company – but especially for individuals who are making a transition from one company to the next. They almost seem more lost in a very much don't take enough credit or don't acknowledge how many talents they walk in with and so your comment resonates with me. It's awesome when they walk out with like, “Oh my gosh, you made this so simple!” I'm like, “All I did was ask you questions that you had answers to and probably highlight on some of these attributes that would help companies.”


ML: I think in a large company that's easy to get siloed into certain organizations and feel like “I can't contribute to other functions.” And what we’ve found was, people have a lot of different talents. You get smart people in the room, they will have different talents, and to tell them you can only do one thing? It's really limiting in the ideas. And so, when you start letting people expand, you picked the right culture for innovation and let some amazing thing happen. And in doing so, people realize, “Oh wow, I've let myself get boxed in over the last 20 years” and now I realize, they realize, “I can do a lot more.”


JF: Thank you. Professionally, who do you rely on for advice?


ML: You know, I've worked with some really smart people over the years, and so it's nice having people that I've had a lot of history with that I really respect. So, for myself, uh, one of the guys I went to grad school with, who I worked with at P&G, Stephen Biko, brilliant guy, and I ask him for advice all the time. He's just amazing, deep, deep thinker. Um, in other fields I will look at other folks and ask for deep insights because I've got, uh, probably 10 different people I will go to for different advice depending on the situation.


JF: Thank you. Thank you for your time. This is Jeremy Florea and Michael Luh. To learn more about us, visit comspark.tech. Goodbye, until next time.


To learn more about sponsorship opportunities for 2019, contact Michelle Ziegler at michelle.ziegler@venuemag.net