Bill Jones: Distribution and the Deep Blue Sea

Twenty-seven years ago, the day school let out, Bill Jones and his father went to buy a pair of boots. The 14-year-old needed them for a summer job with his mother’s employer, Pacific Seafood of Portland, Ore. From then on, summers and weekends, Jones ripped the backs off Dungeness crabs, built boxes, shoveled ice, and otherwise learned the seafood business from the bottom rung up.

He’s still climbing that ladder. After seven years spent managing procurement for Pacific Seafood Group’s Washington branch, Jones was recently named general manager of the company’s Las Vegas distribution center.

A much larger firm than when Jones began there, Pacific Seafood Group is a vertically integrated seafood company with processing and distribution facilities all along the West Coast and in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. It distributes farmed and wild-caught seafood products to wholesalers, food service operators, and retailers in the United States. It also exports products to Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

From his start as a teenage crab-cleaner, Jones took on a broad range of responsibilities. “Back then, I did everything,” he recalls. “I’d pack fish, check the quality, load the trucks, make the delivery, then come back and clean the plant.”

Gradually, he learned more about the fresh seafood end of the business, focusing on native West Coast species. In 1986, he became the fresh seafood buyer for the company’s Portland branch.

When distribution professionals join Pacific Seafood from other industries, they’re often astounded by the rollercoaster nature of seafood logistics, Jones says. That’s especially true when it comes to wild-caught species. For example, each time the National Marine Fisheries Service opens a 24-hour period for catching Alaska’s popular Copper River salmon, there’s a mad dash to fly the fish to Seattle and move it out to customers.

The company bases its distribution plans on when the fishery will open and when customers expect to run ads. But things rarely go as planned.

“The weather’s a little rough, the boats are a little late getting back to the plant,” Jones says. That starts a domino effect, with chartered planes taking off behind schedule.

“All of a sudden, we have to start making decisions. Are we going to send additional trucks? Will we wait until the next business day? We have all these meetings, all these plans, and almost every one of them goes out the window.”

Before Memorial Day this year, the government opened the Copper River salmon fishery from 7 p.m. Thursday to 7 p.m. Friday. With supplies short, “people were screaming for fish to get in before they missed the whole Memorial Day weekend push,” Jones says.

“Normally, we do selected deliveries on Saturday, but we had trucks running back and forth to the airport, driving all over to deliver fish so people could have it on Saturday.”

After a lifetime near salt water, Jones concedes it might take time to adjust to his new home in the desert. As general manager of the Las Vegas DC, he’ll take on a broad range of responsibilities—operations, transportation, procurement, sales, and finance.

“I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to come into this industry,” says the man who started on the fish plant’s lowest rung in brand new boots. “It’s fast-paced, always changing. Every day is a new adventure.”

The Big Questions

What are you reading?

I’m catching up on trade magazines such as Pacific Fishing and Seafood Business. I’m also reading Sunset magazine.

What’s in your briefcase right now?

My contact list, which is very important. Some files, a couple of project folders, including one on Copper River salmon and some on purchasing programs. I also have a binder started for my upcoming responsibilities in Las Vegas.

What’s your business philosophy?

Treat people as you want to be treated. Everybody’s created equal. And play fair. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a strong desire to win, but have a level of integrity as you go along.

Advice for people starting in logistics?

Always be willing to learn and be ready for unknown challenges.

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

I spend time with my wife, my 11-year old stepson, and three-year-old daughter. In the summer, we visit our old farmhouse in the mountains of eastern Washington and do a lot of remodeling. I also like to work out and cook.

Favorite seafood recipe?

Grilled cedar plank king salmon with nothing more on it than a little kosher salt.

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