The fear that artificial intelligence (AI) will replace Americans’ jobs is real, and even served as a central tenet of former presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s campaign — but Mars Inc. CEO Grant Reid says his company is trying to employ new technologies while also investing in employees.
“What's really important isn't the use of the technology. It's making sure you don't leave your current associates ... behind,” Reid told Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in a Feb. 19 interview, using the nearly $40 billion candy and pet food giant’s term for employees.
In the newly released interview with Yahoo Finance, Reid noted that Mars has used AI to increase productivity in its factories, in part by sending out an alert that a machine is going to break down before it begins to malfunction. The company also uses AI in a product for cats that can signal to their owners that they have renal issues before even a veterinarian could find them, Reid said.
At the same time that Mars taps into these new technologies, it’s also spending money to re-train employees as their roles evolve. “We've taken about 10,000 of our supply people through re-training as their roles increase over time,” Reid noted. “So investing back in our associates while taking advantage of the new technology.”
Reid made the remarks during a conversation that aired in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
While the terms “automation” and “artificial intelligence” are often used interchangeably, AI is a subset of the former term and a type of digital automation that employs machines to think and act for themselves, according to a November 2019 paper on the topic from the Brookings Institution. That paper found that better-paid, white-collar jobs face the most exposure to AI, as do some manufacturing and agricultural positions.
While the Brookings report acknowledged that it’s inevitable that AI will replace some jobs, it also noted that AI can complement existing workers’ roles by helping them boost productivity. AI could also create new jobs, both indirectly and directly. “Just as the automobile created jobs not only in auto manufacturing plants but also in pumping stations, roadside restaurants, and the new suburban America that emerged,” the report noted, “it seems likely that AI will have similarly far-reaching — if difficult to predict — indirect effects.”
For now, Reid is also contending with a separate issue facing his 10,000 workers in China — the coronavirus. “So job one is really taking care of our associates. It's been a very difficult time for that,” said Reid, who also pointed out that “nobody really knows about the ongoing impact” of the coronavirus.
Reid has served as CEO of Mars Inc. since 2014, just three years after the family-owned seller of candy, pet food, and other items marked 100 years in business. He has worked at Mars Inc. since 1988, when he became the director of marketing and sales at Mars Electrics. He was born and raised in Scotland.
Mars Inc., a privately held company founded in 1911, makes annual revenue of nearly $40 billion and employs about 125,000 people around the world. As of 2019, Mars Inc. ranked as the sixth-largest privately held company in the U.S., according to Forbes.
Erin Fuchs is deputy managing editor at Yahoo Finance.
Additional reporting by Max Zahn.