Brittain Ladd: Doing It Right The First Time, Every Time

Success to me,” says Brittain Ladd, “is educating others on the importance of quality and doing the job right the first time, every time.” As a Six Sigma black belt, Ladd has dedicated himself to eliminating variance—making sure his organization adheres to the highest standards in every detail.

Ladd is transportation planning manager for Michaels Stores, the nation’s largest arts and crafts retailer. His department must keep more than 750 Michaels and 148 Aaron Brothers stores supplied with thousands of year-round and seasonal items—from quilting needles to nine-foot Christmas trees.

To make sure goods arrive in time for advertised sales, the department must meet tight delivery windows. It also manages delivery of raw materials to Michaels’ Artistree business, which produces custom-made picture frames.

Without solid management and top-grade employees, “things could easily get out of hand” in such a large and complex operation, Ladd notes. The vendor relations team works hard to make sure vendors label goods correctly and follow other requirements to the letter. Errors could delay shipments and impede the flow of goods to the distribution centers and stores.

To encourage compliance, Michaels brings vendors to its headquarters for “merchandise flow training,” Ladd says. Beyond that, “the transportation planners always reinforce to the vendors what they need to do to follow our procedures.”

Though he stresses discipline, Ladd can also improvise in a crisis. As operations manager at FAS Tex Logistics in Austin, Texas, he was responsible for just-in-time deliveries of computer chassis from the 3PL’s warehouse to Dell Computers.

One day, demand at Dell surged just as Ladd learned that four newly hired drivers couldn’t work because their drug test results hadn’t arrived. Ladd called in several drivers who were scheduled to have the day off, but still found himself short-handed.

To bridge the gap, Ladd persuaded Dell to take deliveries two hours early and use some of FAS Tex’s extra trailers for temporary storage. Ladd spent 48 hours shuttling between the 3PL and the customer, “making sure the right model number chassis was delivered and that all the drivers had plenty to eat,” he says. “Because the drivers couldn’t take time to stop for meals, I made sure to deliver food to each one and tell them what a good job they were doing,” Ladd recalls. “The drivers performed superbly and Dell never missed a beat.”

Ladd’s biggest career challenge has been moving Michaels from a 3PL to an in-house logistics operation and implementing a transportation management system (TMS). The team evaluated 50 solutions before choosing i2’s web-based TMS.

At the same time, “we had to hire new people and teach them how to use the old system while we were transitioning to the new IT system,” he says.

The company brought its outbound transportation onto the TMS in July 2002 and the inbound in September, during Michaels peak season. “We are the first i2 customer ever to implement the company’s TMS for both inbound and outbound transportation management within the same year,” Ladd says.

The “hands-on, in-the-trenches experience of implementing a TMS on the scope of i2,” has proven invaluable, Ladd says. “Based on what we learned, if we had to do it again, we’d be able to implement it even faster.”

The Big Questions

What are you reading?

I’m re-reading Moving Mountains: Lessons in Leadership and Logistics from the Gulf War by Lt. Gen. William G. Pagonis and I’ve just started Managing the Global Supply Chain by Philip G. Schary.

What’s in your briefcase right now?

When I carry a briefcase at all, it contains a calculator, a writing tablet and about 15 pens and pencils.

Business motto?

From Peter Drucker: “A business exists for one reason only, to create a customer, and everything that doesn’t add value for the customer must be eliminated.”

Advice for people starting in logistics?

Educate yourself. The best logistics managers are those individuals who are great communicators and who understand the importance of mastering the supply chain as well as mastering relationships with customers and suppliers.

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

I lift weights and do aerobics six days a week at 5:30 a.m. I also like to golf and go dancing. I am a voracious reader; most of what I read is related to business and logistics. I also belong to a very inspirational church.