When Jerry Rex, Chief Revenue Officer at Athena, was a teenager, he had a dream job, broadcasting. He was all set to head to the Columbia School of Broadcasting, but before he did, his father dispensed some wisdom.
“He said, ‘you applied for this General Electric apprenticeship program; why don’t we wait to see if you got accepted or not?’ So, very reluctantly, I put the broadcasting dream on hold,” Jerry said. “And honest to God, the day I made that decision, I had an acceptance letter from GE waiting for me in the mail. I didn’t want to run machines my whole life, but I realized that 4-year program would expose me to a ton of different opportunities. So I said goodbye to broadcasting and hello to manufacturing.”
We’re glad he did. Athena is a more exciting and compelling product with Jerry around, and his influence impacts us on a daily basis.
Jerry’s career path
- He started that GE apprenticeship program 45 years ago. Every six months, he rotated assignments. Locomotives, diesel engines, motors, generators, and a whole lot more were being made. “I was constantly learning new skillsets: Programming, lathe operation, tool sharpening, everything.”
- Pretty quickly, Jerry realized he’d much rather spend time working with people than machines. He became a production foreman at age 22, with 28 direct reports underneath him. Some of those people had worked at GE longer than he’d been alive, so it was an eye-opening crash course in leadership.
- By age 28, Jerry was cut loose to launch his career in technical sales. He started the journey at Carboloy, who was part of GE at the time. When the company was purchased by Seco, he became a sales manager there.
- In the early 90s, he jumped over to the machine tool side, becoming a VP of sales and engineering at Gosiger in Dayton, Ohio. J&H Machine Tools (now part of Ellison Technologies) was his next stop in Richmond, Virginia. Then, from 2002 until 2012, he was president of Machine Tool Systems (now Morris South).
- In 2013, Jerry and his family moved to what would become their favorite spot of all: Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was president of Hegman Machinery for a couple years, then EVP of Concept Machine Tools for a year until their relocation to Massachusetts. At that point, he landed a president and CEO role with a major importer/distributor.
- Finally, that brings us to February 2020: Jerry signed on with iTSpeeX and Athena as Chief Revenue Officer, and his love of the industry and deep connections help customers and OEMs wrap their heads around what Athena can do.
Generating interest in Athena
You may have noticed Jerry started at Athena right when COVID-19 hit U.S. shores. For well over a year, he had to do all presentations and demos virtually, which was a hindrance. “I’m glad to be back in front of people again,” he said. “There’s much more understanding and excitement surrounding Athena if I can meet with people face-to-face.”
In a nutshell, Jerry makes sure to acquaint people with Athena so they can explore the possibilities for themselves. Once Athena is on the machine, they generally don’t want to go back to the old way.
On the ground floor of a productivity revolution
That’s the best part of the job for Jerry; exposing people to Athena’s incredible technology. “I use digital assistants in multiple forms every day of my life,” he said. “Being part of a group that brings that assistance to manufacturing, helping to close the skills gap and reduce wasted time, it’s really gratifying and exciting for me.
“Athena truly is game-changing, and all we need is for people to get to know her. The ability to have a machine/human interface that anybody can use with very little guidance—it’ll open up an array of opportunities for machine tools and manufacturing across the board.”
Free time and family time
When he’s not working, there’s a good chance he’s reading, fishing, hunting or traveling. He reads a couple books at a time, one related to business or psychology and one fictional thriller. His standouts include 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, How To Win Friends and Influence People, Blink, Outliers, Good to Great and anything by John Grisham and David Baldacci.
His best fishing memories came on separate occasions with his father and father-in-law on the lake house in Minnesota. “My dad was in his mid 80s at the time, and seeing the like on his face when he caught a 3-foot northern pike, that was unforgettable. Same with my father-in-law’s face when he caught a 6-pound bass on that same lake.”
Jerry has been to 29 countries and 46 states in his life (47 after an upcoming and much-anticipated trip to Alaska), and his recommendations include: the Carolinas and Virginia for their history and climate, Switzerland, Japan, Germany, Italy and Africa.
Jerry and his wife met on a blind date 34 years ago and have been married 32 years. Their son works in the manufacturing industry, and their daughter is a special education teacher in North Carolina.
True to form, Jerry was traveling when he sat down for this interview. He was on his way to Memphis to help his son load everything into a new RV to begin a major life stage.
That’s the kind of guy he is, and it’s why we’re thankful he’s here. He’s always there to lend a hand, and he does it with a smile on his face.