December 2016 | Case Studies | LeaderSHIP

Winning, With Integrity

Tags: Education & Careers, Lean, Logistics, Supply Chain

While building a career at 3M and its technology spinoff, Imation, Kirsten Hall never considered joining her family's business, Logistics Planning Services (LPS) in Woodbury, Minn. "But I realized in 2010, when Mom and Dad were getting ready to step back, that I had been groomed for LPS and had valuable skills that the company needed," she says.

Hall was director of operations at Imation when she made the transition. She joined LPS as chief operating officer, and not long after that she was named chief executive officer.

Hall talked with Inbound Logistics about her company's dynamic culture, her future goals, and what it takes to lead a logistics company whose mantra is Grow or Die.

IL: How did your work at 3M and Imation prepare you to become head of a third-party logistics (3PL) services firm?

I started in customer service at 3M and then moved to Imation, which was a $2-billion-plus company when we started. I worked my way up through various supply chain roles and had the opportunity to get trained in black belt Six Sigma as well as Lean principles. Over the years, my responsibilities included customer service, inventory planning, distribution, and transportation. That gave me a strong supply chain background. When I joined LPS, I realized that I needed to supplement my mile-wide knowledge of global supply chain with a mile-deep understanding of transportation. I'm still working on that today.

IL: When you became CEO in 2012, what items were at the top of your agenda?

In 2012, my focus was on how to achieve our three-year vision for 2015. Two of our key focus areas were expanding our truckload brokerage and diversifying our customer base. This has been a niche business, focused on the North American utilities industry. We still concentrate heavily on some niche areas with our enterprise offering, but we have the ability to handle anybody's freight, and we serve almost every industry today. I'm proud to say we succeeded in hitting all our key milestones and deliverables by 2015, thanks to the efforts of our team.

IL: What kinds of logistics issues matter most to your customers these days, and how does LPS help with those?

Our clients want to know the status of their freight at all times. We work with carriers who we know will give us accurate updates, whether through direct communications or technology, to ensure that our clients have the visibility they expect. We're also investing in predictive analytics to help our customers be proactive instead of reactive. Getting visibility as early as possible into a customer's ordering process helps us offer the best price and service options.

IL: What's your leadership style? What strategies do you find most effective for motivating your people and promoting your objectives?

Within the Six Domains leadership model developed by Sim Sitkin and Allan Lind, I would describe my style as relational and responsible. Relational leadership starts with a foundation of trust, and showing the team that I truly respect and care about their interests. The responsible leadership qualities are honesty and integrity, ensuring ethical behavior and decision making.

I'm also very competitive, and LPS is competitive as a team, with high expectations. We use what's known as the traction operating model, which applies a highly disciplined structure to running the business, with weekly milestones and a great deal of accountability. Our core value is Grow or Die. It's not really about growth, but about continuous improvement.

IL: What is the corporate culture at LPS, and how do you nurture those values?

Along with Grow or Die, our other core values are Positive Attitude, Do the Right Thing, and Loyalty. We are passionate, and we want to win, but we do it with integrity. We spend a lot of time in the community, packing meals at Feed My Starving Children, volunteering at the children's hospital, holding a bubble soccer game to send a "container of hope" to an orphanage in Jamaica, to give just a few examples. Our largest cause is giving back to veterans. Over the past 14 years, we have used our LPS for Vets golf tournament to help fund efforts to solve and treat PTSD at the University of Minnesota Brain Sciences Research Center, located at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center.

You may think this is all soft stuff. But the soft stuff is really the hard stuff: You cannot make up culture. We are a family-based business with family-based values. Also, research shows that millennials are looking for workplaces where they feel tied to a greater cause. Millennials don't just give money, like the generations that preceded them. They want to give their time and have a greater social impact through the workplace. We think the culture we have fostered for 29 years will continue to allow us to attract and retain great employees.

IL: What other leaders inspire you, and why?

I had the privilege of attending the executive MBA program at one of the best schools in the country, the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. After a rigorous 15-month program, I recently graduated along with 25 of the brightest leaders I have ever met. I am inspired by those men and women, leaders from across the world working in sales, finance, insurance, law, medicine, and entrepreneurial ventures. There is no way an individual can get through that program alone as a working executive, but as a highly functioning small team we were able to succeed. I still rely on many of those leaders for business advice and feedback. All of them inspire me every day to continue to learn and do my best to lead in every area of my life.

IL: How do you spend your time when you're not working?

My husband and I have six children, ranging in age from 5 to 17. I love spending time with them and traveling whenever we can. My husband is the CEO of his own business, so we're both very busy. Just sitting down together to a family meal is a treat.