January 2006 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Heather Fryar: Life on the Strategic Side

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Airplane components, laundry detergent additives, offset printing equipment, and men's formal wear have one thing in common: Heather Fryar.

As logistics manager for St. Louis-based Sequa Corp., Fryar oversees inbound and outbound transportation strategy for the parent company's seven business units.

That means improving transportation processes and cutting costs among operations that manufacture a diverse array of products, with more than 40 locations in the United States and 60 worldwide.

"No matter how diverse the company, whether shipping a tuxedo or an airplane part, they all use LTL and parcel transportation. Finding those commonalities is my job," Fryar says.

Before it created Fryar's position in 2004, Sequa did not have a formal logistics program.

"When I came onboard, I formed a logistics council with a representative from each division, all of them directly involved in shipping," Fryar says. Council members provide advice that helps Fryar negotiate contracts with service providers.

Besides analyzing carriers' proposals and discussing contracts and rates, Fryar keeps Sequa's transportation management system up to date with current contract information. Shippers in the business units then use that information to choose their carriers.

The job contrasts sharply with Fryar's earlier positions at Fritz Companies and flooring distributor Misco Shawnee, where she directly managed freight movement. "Now, I rely on my team to tell me their specific needs," she says.

Sequa's decentralized structure poses special challenges, particularly in logistics technology. "Each division has a different operating platform, which makes gathering data and communicating changes difficult," Fryar says.

For information to support her logistics planning, Fryar relies on data from the corporation's freight auditor, "which means there's at least one week's lag before we have shipment visibility," she says.

High on Fryar's wish list is software that would draw data from all the divisions' management systems to paint a current picture of goods moving through the supply chain. Given such information, the divisions could more easily collaborate on transportation, she says.

Working on the strategic side of logistics insulates Fryar from the day-to-day stresses of shipping. "The biggest crisis I face is when the lawyers can't agree on some contract language," she says. But Fryar has handled her share of transportation emergencies in the past.

Once, a distress call came into Misco Shawnee on a Friday afternoon. "An LTL carrier had lost a few pallets of flooring that a customer needed for installation the next day," she says. "It was a big deal for this small flooring shop."

Fryar stayed late to hunt down the missing pallets. "I called every terminal the shipment had touched and asked the late-night dock worker to walk the dock until the pallets were located," she says.

When the pallets were finally found, Misco Shawnee arranged for a truck to move them to the customer.

The customer was so grateful they sent Fryar flowers. "That's how much a little extra effort can mean," she says.

The Big Questions

Business motto?

Today I will make a difference.

If you could do something over in your career, what would you do differently?

I wish I'd had the chance to work for one of the logistics giants—a company that has a well-established supply chain, such as Dell or Wal-Mart. It would have been great to have firsthand knowledge of how the experts manage logistics to apply to my recent positions.

Ideal dinner companion?

I'm religious, so I'd have to say Jesus.

What's in your briefcase?

Everything I do is in my laptop, which goes everywhere with me. My colleagues give me a hard time because my desk is always so clean; there isn't one paper on it.

What do you do when you're not at work?

I've been on the board of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' St. Louis Roundtable for five years. I like to hike and travel with my husband. And we have a new puppy; he takes up a lot of time.

If you didn't work in supply chain management, what would be your dream job?

To write a travel advice book. But I'll settle for arranging travel plans for freight.

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