Coffee Break: Chris Oechsel, president of Zethcon, a Made4net company

  • Chris Oechsel

    Chris Oechsel

  • Chris Oechsel

    Chris Oechsel

Posted10/23/2022 1:00 AM

Chris Oechsel



Zethcon, a Made4net company

200 W. 22nd Street, Suite 218, Lombard, IL 60148

(847) 318-0800

Industry: Software

Annual revenue: $25M

Number of employees: 175

Age: 61

Family information: Wife and 4 children

Hometown: Grew up in Western Springs, now resides in Plainfield.

Q: Describe your company.

A: Zethcon is a Lombard-based provider of supply chain software and services for third-party logistics (3PL) companies. Our customers are companies that provide outsourced services to store or ship items for manufacturers or distributors. Our core offerings address a big challenge our customers are facing, and that's a shortage of warehouse space.

We have software and services that help them solve this problem by improving their processes and making full use of their workforce and their existing space within the warehouse.

Q: Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?

A: Zethcon recently had a significant milestone when we were acquired by Made4net, a global provider in supply chain technology and solutions. We had been on a growth trajectory and had been strengthening our team with new hires over the past 12 months. And now, as the industry grapples with a continuous demand for innovative warehouse management solutions, we see significant opportunities for growth and greater staffing needs.

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Q: What will your company's main challenges be in the next year?

A: Economic uncertainty plays a big role in our warehouse customer's decisions to either expand or invest in technology. The challenge for Zethcon is to work with our customers to help them understand that these investments will have long term benefits and will survive and help their companies thrive in both good and bad economic times.

Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?

A: The dramatic growth in e-commerce continues to be the hottest news in our industry. Manufacturers, 3PL companies and warehouse managers are under intense pressure to make sure packages arrive exactly when they are promised to the consumer.

That means there's been a giant shift in how goods are shipped and/or processed in distribution. All of these players need to be better prepared for inevitable disruptions, so many shippers are turning to 3PLs for expertise and greater capacity. And that's where our expertise and our solutions are in demand to help them.

To go a bit deeper, there are both positive and negative trends here. On the positive side, there has been a massive shift in the buying patterns of consumers from retail stores at malls to online providers. This was accelerated due to the pandemic, but still a trend that has been building for many years prior.


This shift has had a direct impact on the way the supply chain works and how product ultimately gets to the buyer. This shift requires companies to have greater visibility in their operations. That typically requires software capabilities that are specifically designed to optimize labor and processes in the warehouses that are shipping the product. That's where Zethcon/Made4net comes in to help our customers with this shift.

On the negative side, the rise of cyber threats has placed a renewed focus on security. Ransomware and phishing scams have risen dramatically and companies have been required to work with companies like ours to help protect them against these threats that can shut down their businesses.

Finally, another big trend is the demand for workers in the warehouses themselves. Many of our warehousing customers are struggling to find workers to meet the demands of consumers.

Q: If you had one tip to give to a rookie executive, what would it be?

A: Nothing can replace hard work. Stay focused on the job you have and always strive to make yourself invaluable. This focus will result in many opportunities being created both inside your organization and elsewhere. But whatever you do, approach your work and decisions with integrity.

I would also add that being a good listener is a great way to learn from those around you and the customers you serve. We all have a tendency to think we have the best solution to a challenge, but invariably, those "best" solutions come through collaboration.

Q: Do you have a business mantra?

A: Customer service is the one thing that matters most. Many companies have good products, but if you do not take care of the customer, you will find many of your new sales just replacing customers that have left. In times when your company faces headwinds from the uncertain economy, those customers you have taken care of will see you through.

Q: From a business outlook, whom do you look up to?

A: I find individuals across a large spectrum of my network that I consider to be my "go tos" when it comes to forward thinking. While there are many sources of news and economic updates, I generally rely upon my customers to help me better understand trends and outlooks as they are most in touch with the manufacturers and consumers.

Additionally, trade associations like the International Warehouse and Logistics Association (based in Des Plaines) provide numerous research reports that have proved to be very useful when looking for information about upcoming economic and industry trends.

Q: What is one interesting fact about you or your company that most people may not know?

A: Zethcon has been in business since 1970. For a software company, that's quite a long time. Over that period, we have developed software for not only warehouses, but also for robotic assembly lines, oil pipelines, stock exchanges and a rental car company.

Q: Was there a moment in your career that didn't go as you had planned? What lesson did you learn from it?

A: There have been many moments in my career like this. One of the more defining and certainly most educational moments came shortly after taking over as president. We were working on implementing our first customer with our new software and we chose to partner with a second company to handle the portion of the project which dealt directly with the customer (configuration, training and go-live support).

We ran into some challenges as you often do and almost lost the customer as a result. Once we asked our partner company to step back, we worked very hard to address all of the challenges and ultimately, satisfied the customer. The lesson I learned was to never outsource your relationship with your customer.

There will always be hiccups that come in any project, but being involved and on top of those issues is the only way not to lose the trust of your customer. The lesson was a very expensive one for my company but we still have that customer almost 20 years later and consider them to be one of our best partners.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: I enjoy spending time with my family, musical theater and golf. Also, riding our motorcycle and traveling with my wife.

Q: What book is on your nightstand?

A: I have always enjoyed Tom Clancy and Ken Follett novels. Currently, I am in the middle of Follett's "Winter of the World."

Q: What keeps you up at night?

A: Over the years, my concerns have ranged from meeting project timelines to landing new business to meeting payroll. More recently, concerns about the economic climate seem to weigh heavy. But as time has gone on, I have learned that there is always something to worry about -- if you allow yourself to worry about it.

Q: If you were not doing this job, what do you think you would be doing?

A: Wow, now that's a head scratcher. I'd like to think that whatever I was doing, I would be working with as good a group of people that I am lucky to work with now. Because that is what I enjoy most about what I do. I believe I would be working in a smaller company, probably in some sort of financial or consulting role.

Q: What was your first paying job?

A: Mowing lawns. A friend and I started a business mowing lawns for folks in the neighborhood. It helped me get my first vehicle -- an orange Schwinn Varsity 10-speed bicycle. After that, I worked in a local restaurant -- The Flame -- as a busboy and then a car parker.

Q: If you could put your company name on a sports venue, which one would you choose?

A: Wrigley Field -- a Zethcon Venue.

Q: Two people to follow on Twitter and why. (besides your company)

A: Being a lifelong "Chicagoan," I am a big Cubs and Bears fan. For the Cubs (and Sox) Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) always has great information. For the Bears, you can't beat Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) in terms of breaking news and information.

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