Rick Cohen points to a floor-to-ceiling cage with multiple levels in it inside an industrial building in the Boston suburb of Wilmington. Dressed in khakis, a light-blue button-down shirt and a dark blue sweater, Cohen flips a switch to show off his 30-inch-wide, 240-pound robots. Inside the cage, the green plastic and steel bots, powered by artificial intelligence, travel at speeds up to 25 mph to pick up items from storage and then organize them onto pallets.
This location is just a test center. But in one of its large-scale warehouses, more than 400 of these autonomous bots—or even potentially more than 1,000—could zip up and down ten levels of narrow aisles completing more than 30 transactions per hour. The scale of it is hard to grasp. “It’s a big Rubik’s cube, a big Tetris game is what we call it,” he says. “It’s the miniaturization of the warehouse.”
Cohen, 69, isn’t your typical robotics guy. The owner and executive chairman of C&S Wholesale Grocers, the nation’s largest grocery wholesaler with $25 billion in revenue, Cohen lives in tiny Keene, New Hampshire (pop.: 23,000), where C&S is based. He prefers to stay out of the limelight, almost never giving interviews. But he’s also one of the nation’s most successful CEOs even if you’ve never heard of him, having built his family’s third-generation business from a regional player to a powerhouse that is the eighth-largest privately held company in America.Forbes