Rick Cohen grows Symbotic into Walmart’s orbit.

Tenacity Brings AI Warehousing to Big Contracts for C&S Wholesale Grocers

When fortune smiles on some folks they make the very most of it. Not everyone. Some folks fritter it away. Others take it to the next level. One such person is Rick Cohen. We found out a lot about this overachiever from an extensive ve article from forbes.com.

Cohen, 69, isn’t your typical robotics guy. The owner and executive chairman of C&S Wholesale Grocers, the nation’s largest grocery wholesaler with $25 billion in revenue, Cohen lives in tiny Keene, New Hampshire (pop.: 23,000), where C&S is based. He prefers to stay out of the limelight, almost never giving interviews. But he’s also one of the nation’s most successful CEOs even if you’ve never heard of him, having built his family’s third-generation business from a regional player to a powerhouse that is the eighth-largest privately held company in America.

Pretty impressive isn’t it. But like the old pitchman says: But wait, there’s more.

Now he’s prepared to move into the spotlight with his warehouse robotics firm Symbotic, which he’s been building, largely in stealth, for nearly 15 years. Symbotic, in which he and his family have a 95% stake with employees owning the rest, is announcing today plans to go public in a $5.5 billion deal with a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, sponsored by venture-capital giant SoftBank. The decision to go public comes five months after Symbotic announced a deal with Walmart—now its largest customer and a minority investor in the SPAC deal—to bring its robotic systems to 25 of its 42 regional distribution centers. That mega-deal, along with customers that include Target and Albertsons, as well as Cohen’s own C&S, will help Symbotic increase its revenue for fiscal 2022 (ended next September) by around 80% to an expected $430 million. More impressive, its backlog of orders is now at least $5 billion.

Notice all of the dollar amounts being tallied in the billions?

For Cohen, who built Symbotic with his own funds (he’s put in “hundreds of millions” of dollars, he says) and stepped in as CEO in November 2017, there’s vindication in getting the technology right after a long struggle. Even after taking it public, he’ll hold on to a more than 75% stake. More important, the SPAC deal will give Symbotic $705 million in cash, which will give Cohen the flexibility to buy assets or smaller companies.

“As big as C&S is, in hindsight we probably could be significantly bigger if I had been willing to raise more capital early on,” Cohen says. “You can never get it [capital] when you need it, so it’s best to get it when you can.”

The article goes deep into Cohen’s family background of coming from C&S grocers, which meant a healthy start for a brilliant young man. It didn’t take long for Cohen to buy out the other interests and then eventually take his company’s bottom line from $50 million to over $25 billion.

Back in 1989, Cohen had rolled out his first major technological innovation with a wireless warehouse management system that allowed the guys on forklifts to communicate with other workers in the warehouse. At the time, it was a breakthrough—the first wireless warehouse management system, Cohen says. “The workforce became much more productive. It was a huge disruption. Some people wanted me to form a software company. I said, ‘No, this is for C&S only.’ That was a huge mistake,” Cohen says, noting the success of publicly-traded Manhattan Associates, which does that.

“I said, ‘If I ever have this opportunity again, I won’t make that mistake again.’”

To make a long story a little shorter, Cohen is working with Walmart on a huge new approach to warehousing. The approach gives the warehouse x amount more usable workspace without moving a wall or raising a roof to make the building larger. Using AI to move various sized robots who can pick up a single item or a wrapped pallet full of items.

This is a wonderful history of a brilliant hardworking entrepreneur who can show you how to build an empire if that’s what you are trying to do in life. Amy Feldman of Forbes wrote an interesting piece about a man with a vision.

read more at forbes.com