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Automation is causing a delicate dilemma, business leaders say

  • Three business leaders discussed how automation is changing the workplace during the Peter F. Secchia Breakfast Lecture March 21.
  • John Kennedy, president and CEO of Autocam Medical
  • Fred Keller, founder and chair of Cascade Engineering
  • Spencer Stiles, president of Stryker Instruments

Posted on March 21, 2018

Any work that is done in a routine fashion or involves an algorithm is subject to automation, said Fred Keller, founder and chair of Cascade Engineering in Grand Rapids.

Keller joined John Kennedy, president and CEO of Autocam Medical, and Spencer Stiles, president of Stryker Instruments, in a roundtable discussion about automation. The three business leaders were part of the Peter F. Secchia Breakfast Lecture, "Convergence of Automation and Work," held March 21 in the L. William Seidman Center on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus.

"Automation is changing our lives and changing the way we work," said Keller. "Any work that involves a set pattern or is done in a routine way is subject to automation."

Kennedy said automation began years ago in an effort to reduce cost and increase quality. "Automation was necessary in the precision machining realm, but now we have a new problem," Kennedy said. "We can't find enough skilled or even unskilled workers."

Kennedy described automation as being disruptive and said how companies respond will determine whether they are winners or losers.

Stiles, who heads Stryker Instruments in Kalamazoo, a company that designs and manufactures specialty surgical equipment, said automation is transforming health care and causing a "delicate dilemma." 

"Robots are being used for certain surgical procedures because they are more accurate and predictable —the cuts, the placement, the gluing of an implant back into the body," Stiles explained. "The next generation of physicians will have to become more comfortable with technology and robotics. We will still need doctors to diagnosis, interact, and have compassion and trust."

The three business leaders told students in attendance to be flexible and think ahead of employers, be comfortable being uncomfortable when going into new situations, and be lifelong learners to keep their skills sharp.

The discussion was moderated by Michael DeWilde, director of the Koeze Business Ethics Initiative at Grand Valley.

For more information about the Secchia Breakfast Lecture, contact the Seidman College of Business at (616) 331-7100 or visit