Reader Profile Reunion: Where Are They Now? 2014 Edition

Tags: Education & Careers

Photos of profile subjects Lewis Dibert, Greg Schwartz, Debbie Jackson, and Fred Clark

Inbound Logistics checks back with some of the supply chain professionals we've introduced over the years in our Reader Profile column. Enjoy this visit with four old friends, each of whom has moved on to new supply chain adventures.

Lewis Dibert: Having the Tile of His Life

Profiled March 2003: Director of logistics, Red Gold Inc., Indianapolis

2004: Warehouse consultant, Power Great Lakes, Chicago

2004-2006: Regional director distribution operations, Lagasse/United Stationers, Chicago

Since 2007: General manager, regional distribution center, Mohawk Industries/DalTile

When we last spoke to Lewis Dibert in 2003, he was up to his ears in tomatoes, working as director of logistics for Red Gold, an Indianapolis-based tomato grower and processor.

He left that job in 2004, first taking on a temporary project—setting up a warehouse for small engine manufacturer Power Great Lakes. Then, he took charge of distribution in the northeastern United States for Lagasse, a unit of United Stationers that distributes janitorial supplies.

Dibert had been there just six months when Lagasse bought paper products distributor Sweet Paper, and asked him to integrate some new distribution centers in the Southeast, acquired as part of the sale. Between them, Lagasse and Sweet operated one dozen facilities in that region; Dibert cut that number down to nine.

"It was a process of consolidating the DCs, rationalizing the product lines, then laying out the facilities," he recalls. "Putting all the pieces together was a lot of fun."

The puzzle he assembled included a fleet of trucks attached to each facility. "Consolidating those fleets, and deciding how to best serve customers while making the change transparent to them in their daily operations, was a challenge," Dibert says.

Dibert also oversaw implementation of the company's first warehouse management system, and implemented some high-volume picking and shipping operations to support Sweet Paper's e-commerce business. In addition, he managed the loading of ocean containers bound for the Caribbean.

In 2007, Dibert moved to Maryland when he accepted a job as general manager of the Eldersburg regional DC run by DalTile Corporation, a unit of Mohawk Flooring. DalTile supplies tile and stone flooring to big-box chains and independent retailers; it also sells through its own nationwide showroom network.

The company operates six manufacturing plants in the United States, and one in Mexico. It also sources materials from around the world. The Eldersburg DC receives 10 to 15 containerloads of imported product each day. "We also receive 40 to 50 truckloads daily, and ship out 60 to 70," Dibert adds.

Since arriving at the Eldersburg DC, Dibert has worked steadily to improve operations. One area he's especially proud of is safety performance. "We've significantly reduced the number of injuries—and for more than one year, we've had no injuries at all," he says.

Improved equipment maintenance and processes have contributed to that success. So has a program that encourages associates to look out for unsafe behavior and correct one another.

A safer DC is also a more productive facility. "Making safety changes in the operation ultimately improves efficiency," Dibert notes. "And taking better care of the equipment reduces downtime." New performance-based pay incentives have helped to boost productivity as well, he adds.

Having managed logistics for items as diverse as chemicals, engines, tomato products, cleaning supplies, and tiles throughout his career, Dibert finds the process similar from one business to the next. "In general, it's pallets in, pallets out," he notes. But DalTile does pose some special challenges.

One challenge is that tile is heavy, fragile, and expensive, so DC workers must learn to handle it correctly. "If workers put pallets down too hard, they will break the product," Dibert says. "And sometimes damage goes undetected, because it happens inside the box."

To protect his products, Dibert has had to design specific processes for moving tile, then teach those processes to associates.

Another big challenge, especially in a company handling more than 6,000 SKUs, is assembling orders correctly for customers who pick them up at retail outlets. A single bathroom renovation, for example, might require floor and wall tiles, plus mosaic tile for the shower. "It's important that we get all those items together correctly and ship them out on time," Dibert says.

Often, fulfillment must happen fast. "Although tile is one of the last things customers install during a renovation, they never seem to order it until the day before they need it," he notes.

Dibert's job at DalTile is rarely quiet, and that's a good thing. "This organization is growing and expanding," he says. "Management is driving the business forward, with solid direction."

Greg Schwartz: Staying in Great Shape

Profiled October 2007: Vice president, supply chain management, Jamba Juice, Emeryville, Calif.

Since 2013: Senior vice president, supply chain, ViSalus, Los Angeles

It has been more than six years since we spoke with Greg Schwartz. When we profiled him in 2007, he was blending things up in a new job as vice president of supply chain management at Jamba Juice, the quick-service restaurant chain specializing in smoothies and other healthful products.

When we caught up with Schwartz again recently, we found him still promoting the cause of health and nutrition, this time as senior vice president, supply chain at ViSalus, based in Los Angeles and Troy, Mich. ViSalus sells a line of food, beverages, and supplements to help people lose weight and grow more fit.

Schwartz stayed with Jamba Juice until late 2012. One of his big accomplishments there was his effort to trim the cost of goods—from the fruit that his team sourced from 26 countries to cups, straws, and other consumables and equipment.

"In the nearly six years I worked for Jamba Juice, my team reduced our cost of goods by more than five percent," says Schwartz. To achieve that goal, they consolidated suppliers when possible, optimized the supply chain, and solicited ideas for continuous improvement.

Some improvements involved reformulating products so Jamba Juice could better ensure the supply, or produce them less expensively while preserving the flavor and health benefits. Changes to packaging helped reduce costs and improve sustainability.

Schwartz's tenure at Jamba Juice covered the period when the company added sandwiches, salads, and other fresh foods to its menu. "We faced a lot of challenges connected with distributing those products, which have a significantly shorter shelf life than the products we were used to," he says.

Schwartz started at ViSalus after his family moved from the San Francisco Bay area to Los Angeles. "Our team handles ingredient and packaging sourcing; supplier management; and logistics and distribution," he says.

One big difference Schwartz encountered in his new job was the direct-to-customer distribution model. ViSalus places great emphasis on those deliveries. "We want the box to be in pristine shape," he says. "And when a customer opens that box, we want the product and literature inside to look beautiful."

ViSalus uses contract manufacturers to produce its product and primary packaging. It also contracts with third-party logistics providers to assemble product into kits, put the kits into secondary packaging, then hand them off to small-package carriers.

Schwartz and his team work closely with internal stakeholders in marketing, research and development, sales, and other departments. "We're heavily involved in what the kits look like—the materials used, the thickness of the boards—everything that goes into making sure that we keep the product in the best shape possible, so customers say, 'Wow!' when they open the box," he says.

The team also works closely with manufacturers and distribution partners. "We have implemented scorecarding and measurements to hold one another accountable, as well as other strategies to continuously improve the business," Schwartz adds.

As ViSalus strives to delight its customers, it must also keep an eye on costs. To maintain the optimal balance between quality and economy, the company continually reviews its materials and processes.

"We conduct shipping tests, as well as product integrity tests," Schwartz says. In addition, the team considers the pros and cons of various packaging modifications. For example, "If we make the foil pouch a little thicker, can we make the corrugate thinner?" he says.

As he did at Jamba Juice, Schwartz also considers opportunities to save money by reformulating products. "We look into new technologies or materials that may improve quality or cost less," he says. "We also consider whether we can eliminate higher-cost ingredients without having any negative impact on flavor or nutrition."

Schwartz draws one more parallel between his new job at ViSalus and his earlier work at Jamba Juice, Safeway, and Kraft: all four companies gave him the chance to work with high-quality products and assemble terrific groups of employees.

"Having people on my team who are better than I am, who have great potential and the drive to get things done well, is what makes me successful," he says. "We're currently in the process of building a great supply chain team at ViSalus to help achieve all our goals."

Debbie Jackson: The Campus Connection

Profiled April 2007: Supply chain team lead, procurement, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore

2007-2009: SAP business process expert, Alpha Natural Resources, Linthicum Heights, Md.

2010-2013: Director of purchasing and contracting, Anne Arundel Community College, Arnold, Md.

Since 2012: Senior director of strategic sourcing and procurement, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.

Debbie Jackson was just coming off a massive SAP implementation when we met her in 2007. Leading the supply chain procurement team on the project at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, her job was to get the Supplier Relationship Management module of the new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system running smoothly.

Just as her life was starting to settle down again, Jackson took off on a new adventure. A headhunter tapped her for a job as SAP business process expert at Alpha Natural Resources, a coal company based at the time in Maryland.

Jackson and her husband rented out their Baltimore townhouse and moved to Howard County, Md., putting her closer to the job at Alpha. There, she oversaw enhancements to an existing ERP system, with a focus on purchasing.

"One huge project was cleaning up the vendor master—the database of all the company's suppliers," Jackson says. "I also had the opportunity to visit some coal mines, although I never had the desire to go down into one."

When Alpha moved its headquarters to southwestern Virginia, Jackson returned to higher education, taking a job as director of purchasing and contracting at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Md. While there, she also taught an online course, Business and its Environment. "I was able to share with students some of what I'd learned and applied in my work, in addition to the general theories covered in the textbooks," she says.

In 2012, while hunting up job leads for a nephew who was a recent college graduate, Jackson noticed that The Catholic University of America—where she had worked years before as a purchasing manager—was seeking a senior director of strategic sourcing and procurement. Jackson pursued and won that position, prompting many family jokes about the unexpected payoff from her young relative's job search. "I gave my nephew an extra-special Christmas gift that year," Jackson says.

Since then, Jackson has been riding the daily commuter train to Washington, D.C. Reporting to the vice president of finance and treasurer at Catholic, she designs and manages strategies to ensure that all university departments get the products and services they need at the best possible price.

"I provide high-level contract and supply management expertise," Jackson says. "I touch base with nearly everyone on campus, and handle the complex requests for proposals." One attractive aspect of the job, she says, is that any time she saves a program money, those savings go right back into that program's budget, making funds available for other purposes.

One of Jackson's current goals is to better leverage the university's ERP system. "I've identified some ways to improve product and service procurement," she says. One important area of focus is familiar to Jackson from her days at Alpha: the vendor master database.

In years past, vendors filled out paper forms with information about their businesses, then faxed them to Catholic University, where an employee entered the data into the ERP system. "We moved that paper form to an online process," Jackson says. Vendors are now responsible for entering and updating their own data.

Now that the forms are online, Jackson's team adds new fields—such as each vendor's email address, and the commodities it supplies. Having that information streamlines the procurement process. "Orders are directly pushed out of the ERP system," she explains. That, in turn, helps Jackson keep better track of what the university buys, and from whom.

The fully automated system also helps Catholic University do more outreach to new suppliers, especially smaller companies based near the campus. "In addition to putting our requests for proposals on the Web, we have suppliers we can solicit," Jackson says. "It makes sense to build supplier relationships within the community."

While all this is happening, Jackson is also hard at work on another project: earning a doctorate in education from the Community College Leadership Program at Morgan State University. She started the program during her days at Anne Arundel, when the concentration was a natural fit for her.

Although she no longer works at a community college, Jackson is still deriving a great deal of value from this academic pursuit. "If you're a leader, you acquire skills you can take anywhere," she says.

Fred Clark: Deep Drilling

Profiled May 2008: Director of support services, Kingfisher Regional Hospital, Kingfisher, Okla.

2009-2013: Operations manager, later operations supervisor, Universal Hospital Services, Houston

2009-2013: Sergeant major, Texas State Guard

Since 2013: Logistics and compliance manager, major supplier to the oil extraction industry, Houston

Fred Clark's life came full circle in 2013. Since 2006, his career had focused on the healthcare arena. But when a leading supplier to the oil extraction industry tapped him for a job as logistics and compliance manager at one of its Houston manufacturing plants, he seized the chance to return to a firm he'd been close to all his life.

"My dad retired from this company after 44 years of service," says Clark, who asked that his employer not be named. Clark essentially grew up in the firm, as well as working there himself from 1989 to 1992. Until the company recruited him for his current role, though, he never imagined going back.

When we met Clark in 2008, he was working as director of support services at Kingfisher Regional Hospital, a 25-bed critical-care facility in Kingfisher, Okla. He managed inventory and equipment repairs, and oversaw operations and housekeeping staff.

That job took a new turn when Kingfisher decided to replace the 20,000-square-foot facility with a new building more than three times that size, with state-of-the-art surgical suites and diagnostic equipment. Clark became one of the project's two managers. "Along with the X-ray director, I was responsible for making sure the expansion proceeded properly—from pouring the concrete until the day we opened the doors for the first patients."

Two months after those first patients arrived, Clark returned to his native Texas to start work as an operations manager for Universal Hospital Services (UHS). Hospitals lease equipment from UHS to supplement their assets during busy periods. Clark managed the relationship with one hospital in Houston. "I made sure the hospital had the medical equipment it needed, and that this equipment was ready, clean, and functioning properly," he says.

That role came with the occasional dose of drama. Take the time a nurse called Clark at 2 a.m. to report that the hospital had run out of fresh intravenous pumps after 40 sick people had just arrived from the nearby airport, all off the same plane.

"I jumped out of bed," Clark says. By 2:30, he was at the hospital, locating, cleaning, and testing pumps to get them ready for action. "The emergency room was filled with people and baggage, everywhere you looked," he says. "I never found out why they were all sick, but I suspected food poisoning."

Clark served in that position for two years. Then UHS promoted him to district operations supervisor, responsible for more than 300 hospitals and long-term care facilities across 27 counties. "I oversaw staff who were in their vehicles all day, driving to and from the hospitals, dropping off and picking up equipment," he says.

He also joined the Texas State Guard, serving with a medical unit one weekend each month and during special events such as Operation Lone Star, which offers free medical care to low-income people near the Texas-Mexico border. As a sergeant major, Clark was responsible for the unit's enlisted members, including doctors, nurses, paramedics, respiratory therapists, and other professionals.

Today, Clark is back in the energy industry, working in a plant that makes blowout preventers—devices that control the flow of oil or gas from a well during drilling. He oversees teams that import components used in production; export finished product to customers; ensure compliance with all federal, state, and local laws; and manage domestic trucking. Clark is also in charge of the plant's new foreign trade zone, due to open in early 2014.

Most of the plant's customers are companies in South Korea or Singapore that build drill ships. Once a customer places an order, it takes about 18 months to produce a blowout preventer. Before that project is complete, though, the plant delivers many smaller components. "Then, when the complete project ships, we do all the paperwork so it clears customs in the United States and in the destination country," he says. "We take the products to a shipping terminal here in Houston, where it's loaded on a ship, and off it goes."

One of the most challenging and interesting aspects of the job is its sheer variety, Clark says. Any given day could find him wrestling with import or export regulations, dealing with personnel dilemmas, or fielding any number of logistics issues.

Topping Clark's agenda for the future is simply to learn more about the job, especially the complexities of foreign trade regulation. "I'm sure I will go back to school, and take some business law classes," he predicts.