Living on the “Elevator Planet”

Blanca and Cornelius Walls at their wedding with his grandmother, Abella Walls, whom he considers an inspiration.

Cornelius Walls enjoys being an active and valued part of the industry.

Formula Systems’ Vice President of North American Operations Cornelius Walls is a familiar face at many industry events. He is always ready with a joke, smile or funny story, but is also an active, determined, hardworking member of the profession – one he chose in 2005 when he and his cousin decided they were going to either join the U.S. Air Force or get jobs and go to college at night. While his cousin went into the Air Force, Walls opted for the latter, applying for a warehouse clerk position at Adams Elevator Equipment Co. in Chicago and getting it.

“[Handling customer service at Adams Elevator] gave me the opportunity to work with some of the true giants in the industry, such as John Koshak, Richard Gregory, Doug Witham, Mark Menke and Steve Husband.”

He remained there for eight years, all the while gaining industry knowledge and earning a bachelor’s degree in Business from Robert Morris University. He said his career at Adams provided both inspiration and opportunity for advancement, recalling:

“I got a promotion from warehouse [clerk] to customer service associate. This gave me the opportunity to work with some of the true giants in the industry, such as John Koshak, Richard Gregory, Doug Witham, Mark Menke and Steve Husband. Working with these people inspired me to want to learn more and grow within the industry. Seeing their passion for what they do heightened my passion to succeed.”

Walls grew up on the West Side of Chicago, where he looked up to his grandmother, whom he considers a mentor and inspiration. “She once told me to never take ‘no’ for an answer,” he said. “I have lived by these words since I was a young man, and they have helped me succeed along the way.”

Walls’ career path has been one of steady progress. Three years after he started as a warehouse clerk at Adams, he was promoted to Customer Service associate, eventually moving up to Customer Support manager. In November 2002, he accepted the position of North America Operations Coordinator for Formula Systems and officially started his job in January 2003. The upward path has been similar there. He says: “I moved up to product manager in spring of 2005. By July of 2007, I was promoted to branch manager. In the summer of 2013, I was given the honor of being vice president of North American Operations.”

Skills he has gained along the way include contract negotiation, new business development, account management, product development, operations management and sales management. Throughout his career, he has stayed heavily involved in industry organizations, serving on numerous National Association of Elevator Contractors (NAEC) committees, on the board of the Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation and in numerous roles with the Chicago Elevator Association, of which he currently is president. He is also a member of Elevator U, the Canadian Elevator Contractors Association and Elevator Conference of New York (ECNY). He makes it a point to attend NAEC spring and fall conferences and the annual ECNY Supplier Showcase, observing, “It is vital to your business to share advancements with other industry professionals and to learn from your peers.”

Keeping his ear to the ground through participation in trade shows and events throughout the year gives Walls insight into issues facing the industry. Keeping pace with all the rapidly changing technology is among the challenges he faces in making sure Formula Systems remains a leader in offering creative products and services. Being surrounded by a talented team, he says, makes this goal easier to achieve.

The fact that there is new technology constantly being rolled out indicates the industry is looking up, Walls observes, a trend he expects will continue. As he keeps pace with change, he aims to continue to deliver reliable customer services and technologically advanced solutions. He intends to continue to learn from the great minds in the industry.

“It is vital to your business to share advancements with other industry professionals and to learn from your peers.”

Walls feels there is no question that he made the right career choice 20 years ago. He finds the “elevator world” a perfect fit for him, both professionally and personally, stating:

“Having the opportunity to work with such great people and building relationships that are not only within the industry, but with those I consider some of my closest friends, is what is most rewarding. The elevator industry is such a unique little planet. Once you are in, it becomes part of you. If I had to say one thing to someone considering a career in the industry, I would encourage them to be themselves, and they will succeed.”

Since he is so busy, it is a blessing for Walls to live in the Village of Schiller Park, Illinois, only a few miles from his job at Formula Systems’ Elk Grove Village, Illinois, headquarters.

Two years ago, he married his sweetheart of 18 years, Blanca, with whom he has a son, Angel, 17, and a daughter, Aryana, 13. The family enjoys vacations – most recently to Disney World in Orlando – but also low-key family activities. Walls states:

“We enjoy movies and family dinners on the weekends. Our kids are so active in sports and activities most of the time that it is nice to kick back and watch a football game with the family. When we can, my wife and I enjoy sitting down and talking with the kids to learn about their day and what is happening at school.”

Walls is often traveling. When he has downtime, however, he enjoys a good book. The last non-elevator book he read was Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different. When he is home, he and his family find time to help out with soup kitchens and drives and fundraisers associated with their church. On the opposite end of the spectrum, he and Blanca’s favorite vacation spot is Las Vegas. With the kids, it is Puerto Rico.

Walls intends to maintain a high level of activity within the industry. He says he is making it a point to focus on one issue in particular:

“With the rapid advancement of technology, I think one of the biggest challenges facing the industry is we must keep safety at the forefront of our minds. We must, as an industry, make safety a priority through creative innovation and technology.”

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Elevator World | May 2015 Cover