What's the new guy like? It's not an unexpected question among co-workers when a new leader comes aboard, or from customers and other partners for whom good relationships make for good business.

Whether or not the question was raised when Paul Cooke was appointed president and CEO of Bosch Rexroth Americas in July 2015, he nevertheless spent much of his first six months on the job traveling (including a move from Germany, where the global headquarters is located, to Charlotte, N.C.) to meet with many of the company's top customers and distribution partners, and provided some answers. Moreover, he's carried out 17 sessions of "coffee with CEO" across the 16 locations that comprise Bosch Rexroth in the Americas.

The "coffee with the CEO" concept is simple, explained Cooke during a recent conversation with IndustryWeek. In each location he visits, Cooke typically gathers a small group of people -- 10 to a maximum of 20 employees, with no other management -- and aims to develop a relaxed environment over sandwiches and coffee to answer questions or simply converse.

"We can talk to each other, and I can listen to them regarding their topics, concerns and also their ideas. That's been really good," said Cooke.

"Because it's a big organization, it's a challenge for anybody to be visible. This is just one of the ways."

Cooke describes himself as both sales driven and results oriented. And while he may be the (relatively) new guy at Bosch Rexroth Americas, Cooke is no newcomer to the global Bosch Rexroth organization.  Indeed, his history with the drives and control technology company dates back 30 years; prior to his current position, Cooke most recently was senior vice president sales and industry management at Bosch Rexroth AG headquarters in Germany.

In his new position, Cooke's target is increased sales in the Americas, which includes Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, and South America. Annual sales volume in the region is approximately 1 billion euros, or about 18% of Bosch Rexroth's global sales volume. Europe is the biggest contributor and accounts for about 3.3 billion euros in sales volume.

The Americas sales goal is clear – to double sales over the next 10-year period. And while Europe will remain the "big engine" for Bosch Rexroth, according to Cooke, "Our strategy, along with many other international companies, is to be more decentralized and to make sure that we can respond in the right way to the different regional challenges."

For Cooke that means more of what he calls "local for local," or making products for local markets in local facilities. However, Cooke says he also is passionate about growing engineering and research-and-development strength in local markets for local markets.

The "local for local" approach is all about agility, which he describes as a key factor to meeting customers' future needs. "They want quicker, they change their minds, they want the flexibility of getting those services and those products and those options very easily and very quickly over short lead times, so we have to respond as any organization [does] … to meet the future needs of our customers," Cooke says.

By the same token, he says similar customer needs are helping drive Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things, arenas in which Bosch Rexroth participates as both a manufacturer and a supplier -- as does its parent, the Bosch Group, which produces not only for industrial markets but consumer markets as well.  

"I think we're in an evolution process," Cooke says. "Many of our customers are still at different stages in knowledge and thinking about what Industry 4.0 really means." That said, Bosch Rexroth is helping promote the conversation. As one example, in October 2015, Bosch Rexroth collaborated with distributor Morrell in Auburn Hills, Mich., to demonstrate several practical examples of Industry 4.0 as well as discuss Bosch Rexroth's 4.0 initiatives.

Cooke described an example he provided to a customer recently about what Industry 4.0 means to him. The example featured his 20- and 22-year-old kids as illustrative of the next, younger generation of customers – a generation that grew up pressing an order button connected to the Internet and receiving their items the next day.

"They are very impatient," he said. "I think as we get younger people, and it's not too far away in many cases … our customers will drive more flexibility in their production processes." They will demand greater intelligence, greater connectivity, more ease of reporting and more ability to communicate in an open way, Cooke believes.

"It is happening already, in my view; we're talking to many customers," he says. As well, the company has several Industry 4.0 projects underway both in its own and in customer facilities in Europe and Asia. "Industry 4.0 will develop quicker than we think."