Standing out in the Crowd

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Whether you're a rookie warehouse operator, a mid-level transportation manager, or a veteran logistician, industry associations can help you make a name for yourself.

Professional logistics and supply chain associations tout their benefits to potential members, focusing on how joining helps advance career development. But are the networking and educational advantages as great as the groups claim?

That's what Inbound Logistics asked six supply chain association members, and their collective answer was a resounding "Yes!" Among the benefits they reaped from signing up, these card-carrying members listed: access to industry experts, opportunities to influence legislators, exposure to best-practice resources, and insight into logistics roles outside their own. Read on to discover why association membership is a good move.

What better way to learn about new supply chain developments than to spend some time with fellow logisticians? This line of thinking makes networking one of the primary reasons to join a professional association.

Just ask Jim Lewis, executive vice president and chief supply chain officer for Itasca, Ill.-based workspace products manufacturer Fellowes Inc. Lewis has been a member of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) for three years.

"I joined because I had recently taken over full supply chain responsibility for Fellowes and was looking for a professional organization where I could connect with others in the field," he explains. "CSCMP members are working on the same issues, challenges, and opportunities that my company faces."

Like Lewis, Larry Corrigan, vice president of operations for Medline Industries, a Mundelein, Ill.-based healthcare supplies manufacturer, values the networking opportunities he has capitalized on since joining the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC) in 1997.

"WERC brings together all facets of distribution and warehousing," Corrigan says. "If I need to find out more about warehouse management systems, conveyors, site selection, or labor management, my WERC contacts put me a phone call away from an answer."

CONNECT WITH THE PLAYERS

Not only do professional association members make widespread contacts throughout the logistics segment, they also connect with supply chain's most influential players. Curt Warfel, who has been a member of the National Industrial Transportation League (NITL) under two different employers since 1986, experienced this high-powered networking firsthand.

"NITL was one of the organizations that logistics professionals 'had to' belong to, particularly in the 1980s," explains Warfel, manager, logistics and distribution, at manufacturer Eka Chemicals, Marietta, Ga. "Access to peers and the ability to rub shoulders with the 'big boys' made League membership a must."

Gerry Bundle, a 20-year member of the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), concurs. "Through ISM, I've connected with Norbert Ore, C.P.M., chair of the Business Survey Committee, which compiles and publishes the Supply Manager's Index, one of the country's most important leading economic indicators," says Bundle, managing director and principal consultant for Standhope Advisory Services. "The Wall Street Journal quotes Ore at least monthly; the chair of the Federal Reserve contacts him for information on where the economy is going. My conversations with Norbert are always enlightening."

GET SMART(ER)

In addition to the professional contacts they make, association members expand their industry knowledge, both as it relates to their own jobs and logistics as a whole.

"I've attended sessions on all aspects of distribution center operations—people, processes, and facilities," says Corrigan. "The sessions that offer the greatest value focus on hiring, training, developing, and retaining a great workforce."

Corrigan also appreciates WERC's educational mailings and online resources. "The value of the education offsets the cost of membership tenfold," he says.

The associations' educational opportunities help logistics newbies and seasoned veterans alike stay current and gain insight.

"Young logistics professionals joining CSCMP can find out the best practices of companies in different industries," says Lewis. "These days, what separates exceptional performers from average performers is the knowledge they can attain on the outside and bring back into their companies. Being a CSCMP member provides this opportunity."

Lewis also arranges for Fellowes employees to attend CSCMP workshops to get "deeper dive" data, as well as to obtain benchmarking information. "CSCMP provides access to the right measurement practices so we can calibrate performance trends and identify areas for improvement," he explains.

Warfel agrees that professional associations are great resources. "With the changes in the transportation industry during the past two decades, more people working in supply chain have backgrounds in finance, accounting, or sales," he says. "Many of them don't have institutional supply chain knowledge, but as members of NITL they can get up-to-date information on regulations and trends."

For Bill Duff, corporate manager of Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc.'s environmental coordination office, membership in the Council on Safe Transportation of Hazardous Articles (COSTHA) has provided access to valuable resources.

Duff joined COSTHA because Toyota had questions about hazardous materials guidelines. "We found the regulations confusing, and we wanted to better understand them," he recalls. "Initially, we joined two or three organizations, but COSTHA was the most informal and held open discussions. The meetings provide opportunities to talk to agency representatives, so I'm able to learn more about hazmat regulations."

Instead of spending hours on the phone with the Department of Transportation, Duff uses COSTHA as the single source for all the information he needs. That insider knowledge has paid off handsomely.

"As a result of our involvement in COSTHA, Toyota has saved millions of dollars, and been violation-free for 10 years," Duff reports.

CERTIFIED BENEFITS

In addition to seminars and meetings, some professional organizations, such as the American Society of Transportation and Logistics (AST&L), offer career development in the form of transportation and logistics certification programs.

"AST&L is the only organization that provides a global certification process for transportation and logistics," notes Mark Holmes, vice president, global solutions for OHL (formerly Ozburn-Hessey Logistics), a Brentwood, Tenn.-based third-party logistics provider. He joined the AST&L 15 years ago.

Established in 1948, the Certification in Transportation Logistics (CTL) is granted to logistics professionals who successfully complete six exam modules on topics such as general management principles and techniques, transportation economics management, and international transport and logistics.

CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS

For many professionals, a highlight of membership is attending the association's conference, where members from around the world gather to participate in educational sessions, panel discussions, and committee meetings.

Warfel finds NITL's TransComp conference valuable because of the number of vendors exhibiting there.

"It's efficient to have so many suppliers 'under one tent' and see what products are available," he says. "My company uses a railroad-pricing model software almost daily, but the only time I have a chance to meet with the vendor's principals is at TransComp."

In conference sessions and meetings, Warfel gains valuable information on fuel cost reduction plans and infrastructure funding. But conferences aren't all business, all the time. This year's TransComp conference also provided Warfel with the chance to meet a personal hero: Don Shula, former coach of the Miami Dolphins, who spoke at the closing session.

"Because Shula coached the first NFL game I ever attended back in 1969, and is still the only NFL coach to lead his team to an undefeated season, being able to meet and have my picture taken with him was a thrill," Warfel notes.

With so much institutional knowledge gathered in one place, members of professional logistics organizations carry a degree of clout.

"The most important reason for being a NITL member is that you become part of an organization that influences the direction of the industry, rather than just coming along for the ride," Warfel says. "You are a player rather than a spectator."

For example, Warfel's company is currently implementing a new tank car security procedure, based on best practices.

"The best practices information resulted from an inquiry I made to several members of the League's rail committee," he says. "Based on my questions, Doug Kratzberg, rail committee chair, created a presentation on securing tank cars and shared it at the committee meeting last August."

Warfel's input may now influence tank car security guidelines.

Duff has also tied his association membership to his job responsibilities. Through his involvement in COSTHA, he helped Toyota form a North American hazmat group for auto companies to focus on challenges in the industry. Next, Toyota got involved in a number of COSTHA committees and gathered the information necessary to put together an industry position.

"Then we got involved in the regulatory process, including public comment," says Duff.

COSTHA has also begun working closely with the federal Department of Transportation, which is making an effort to partner more with industry. In addition, because COSTHA is international in scope, it has gotten involved with the United Nations.

"Attending U.N. meetings has been priceless to our company," says Duff.

Warfel agrees that it's important to help make the logistics sector's voice heard in government.

"A lot goes on in Washington on the various boards related to trucking, rail, and ocean transport," says Warfel. "Actively participating in an organization such as NITL provides us with a seat at those tables and a say in the results."

GIVING BACK

It's one thing to join an association, pay dues, attend meetings, and pull what you can from it. It's quite another to donate your own time to make the association a better one and ultimately help other members. Why are some members so willing to give of themselves? Because they find that they get back as much as they give.

Bundle started donating his time to ISM from the very beginning. Until recently, he was a member of ISM's Committee on Social Responsibility, and he's currently involved with the organization's professional certification program. Both he and the organization benefit from the time he contributes.

"My ISM work helped build my team and leadership skills, and gave me a place to put them into practice," he says.

For Corrigan, a member of the WERC board and director of the 2009 conference, volunteering can have bigger implications. "The organization's success can ultimately have a dramatic impact on how I do my own job," he says.

Many companies acknowledge the benefits of employees' participation in professional organizations. As president of COSTHA, Duff takes part in numerous meetings, both in person and via conference calls, but his employer understands the importance of his commitment.

"Part of Toyota's culture is giving back to the organizations to which we belong," says Duff, who, with other COSTHA leaders, is spearheading an effort to encourage the organization's members to share best practices.

Contributing can be time-consuming, though. Holmes, who is president of AST&L's Boston chapter and will soon be the organization's global chairman, estimates that he spends 10 to 20 percent of his time on AST&L.

"I'm involved because AST&L is so influential to the logistics sector," he explains. "The organization makes things happen."

Duff echoes this sentiment. "Membership helps improve your professional image," he says. "It provides the opportunity to bring some value back to your company."

Involvement in professional supply chain and logistics associations offers limitless career development opportunities for their many members. Shouldn't you join the club?

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