Captains Of Industry

When Don Dickey retired from the U.S. Navy after a 25-year stint with its Supply Corps, he knew he wanted to do something different. That was, after all, what his Navy experience prepared him for: doing something different at the drop of a hat, every day.

Since leaving the Navy in the mid-1990s, Dickey has put his military logistics background to work at a variety of small and large companies, deploying his skills to build supply chains from scratch, ensure smooth manufacturing operations and, well, do something different.

Until recently, he was vice president of logistics and customer support for Utah-based WiLife, maker of the Digital Video Surveillance System. When the company was acquired by Logitech in November 2007, he became senior manager of logistics for the Americas. Where once he was the primary logistics manager for a start-up venture, today he works with the integrated operations of a multinational corporation.

If he is unfazed by transitions and undaunted by dramatic shifts, it’s because life in the Navy made him nothing if not seaworthy. “Every two to three years your assignments change and you do something new, so you learn how to learn. You know how to manage change,” he explains.

A native Californian, Dickey attended the University of Southern California on an ROTC scholarship. He majored in industrial engineering, a discipline that introduced him to the finer points of systems and processes. After graduation and upon receiving his commission, he opted to serve in the Navy’s Supply Corps, assuming that the resulting training would have private-sector applications. At the time, he recalls, “I was not looking to make the Navy a career.”

That soon changed as the opportunities mounted and Dickey traveled the world, soaking up experiences and tackling complex logistics challenges. “I kept going to interesting places to pursue new and challenging assignments,” he says.

His first assignment was aboard a small destroyer, where he was the lone supply officer responsible for ensuring not just that repair parts were on hand for all the equipment, but that the sailors were well fed and accurately paid, that supplies were adequately stocked, and that the ship’s store never ran out of toothpaste, film, or razor blades. “It was a small ship, and I was a one-person show,” he says.

His job was further complicated because the destroyer could not always take advantage of the Navy’s supply infrastructure. “We operated independently because we were trailing Russian ships on intelligence missions,” Dickey says, noting that the ship’s course couldn’t be charted in advance, making refueling and replenishing stops an adventure.

Dickey recalls one impromptu refueling stop in a Spanish port. Because the Navy had no established relationships with local suppliers, Dickey found himself traipsing across town with a briefcase full of cash to make “an ad hoc buy.”

Subsequent assignments took him aboard larger ships and to far-flung naval bases. Eventually he was transferred to Hawaii, where he was put in charge of the logistics plans for the Pacific fleet.

By then, he had accumulated 20 years of service and plenty of logistics know-how. One of his responsibilities was to formulate logistics plans to support various hypothetical scenarios: Suppose North Korea invaded South Korea, tensions escalated between Russia and Japan, or trouble boiled over in the Persian Gulf. How would the Navy respond, and how would the Supply Corps do its part?

As it happened, one of those scenarios came to fruition. “I was in Hawaii when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait,” Dickey says, recalling the events that led to the 1991 Gulf War. Called upon to brief decision makers about the Supply Corps’ preparedness, Dickey drew upon the work he’d done addressing the many “what-if” scenarios.

After reviewing his work, one admiral commented: “OK Dickey, I like your plan. Go and make it work.”

With that, Dickey was dispatched to the Persian Gulf to help run logistics operations for the naval carrier battle force. His assignment involved everything from coordinating refueling efforts to managing food, supply, and weapons deliveries. Because the Gulf War was conducted by a multinational coalition, he also needed to collaborate with the allied naval forces operating in the area.

Given the Navy’s vast experience and capable infrastructure, these operations went off with minimal hitches. Surprisingly, the biggest headaches came with a canceled stamp and a U.S. postmark. No one, Dickey recalls, was prepared for the sacks and sacks of letters and packages addressed to ‘Any Sailor, U.S. Navy.’

“Delivering those letters and packages became one of our major challenges because there was a great outpouring of support,” Dickey says. “That was something we had not planned for ahead of time. Not only did we need to distribute the fan letters and packages equitably, we also needed to ensure timely delivery of the most important mail—letters from family and friends.”

Several years later, the war won and all the mail long since delivered, Dickey began contemplating retirement and a business career. He knew he didn’t want to be a consultant, and he knew he wanted a job that sent him to the corporate world’s front lines.

His first opportunity came with the Covey Leadership Center, where he helped the firm refine its distribution network. A second job with data storage and security technology provider Iomega took him to Malaysia, where he jump-started the supply chain for a new manufacturing site. He landed that job in large part because of his Navy-acquired knowledge of Asian cultures. “My cross-cultural experience gained by living overseas made me an attractive candidate,” he explains.

The biggest adjustment for Dickey, and for so many military personnel who transition into the private sector, was shifting from a maintenance to a manufacturing orientation. Logistics in the Navy means anticipating repairs, stocking ships, and procuring equipment. Logistics for a company such as Iomega means anticipating just-in-time delivery requirements and adjusting to market demand fluctuations.

The transition proved easier than Dickey anticipated, although he worried that his military experience might not match private-sector requirements. “After 25 years in the Navy, you worry that your experience won’t translate,” he says.

As it turns out, Dickey need not have worried.

Jim LaBounty: Performance Under Pressure

In 28 years of service with the U.S. Army, Jim LaBounty learned the art, the science, and the necessity of the logistics post-mortem. Finish a job? Great! Now it’s time to ask the critical questions: What went wrong? What went right? What should be done differently next time?

“There’s a misperception—maybe it comes from reading Beetle Bailey comics—that members of the military are marionettes who just follow orders,” LaBounty explains. “But the military always conducts candid self-examinations of everything its officers do.”

Those constant reviews and evaluations led to cost-saving, efficiency-boosting revisions and made LaBounty a valuable leader once he embarked on a civilian-sector logistics career. But before he could be effective in the commercial world, he had to learn how to adapt his military-acquired knack for candid assessment to an environment where critical scrutiny was often mistaken for finger-pointing.

“When I came to the civilian side, I had to be careful because being candid was viewed as being blunt,” he recalls. Fortunately, his gift for personal accountability helped him tweak his delivery and repackage his expertise for the private sector. For four years LaBounty served as senior vice president and director of supply chain management for JCPenney. He was also president of JCP Logistics LP, an operating subsidiary of JCPenney.

At JCPenney, the Dallas-based LaBounty was responsible for providing strategic and operational leadership for the logistics activities related to moving merchandise from suppliers to stores and from warehouses to catalog/Internet customers. He shouldered oversight responsibilities for a $1.2-billion pipeline operation that involved 21 distribution facilities throughout the United States.

Big as that job was, it was a comfortable fit for LaBounty, whose military experience taught him to greet the unexpected with equanimity. After all, his career began with an unexpected twist.

From Jack Of All Trades To Citizen Soldier

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University, LaBounty went to work for Caterpillar Tractor as a finance analyst. “In those days, finance analyst was another name for jack-of-all-trades,” he says.

At the age of 25, and just 14 months after joining Caterpillar, LaBounty was drafted. The Vietnam War was at its zenith, and like so many draftees, he was reluctant to embark on a career detour. “It was my first big job, and I loved it. Caterpillar was expanding around the world, and it was an exciting company to work for,” he says.

Originally, LaBounty planned to serve his tour, then return to the private sector. With that goal in mind, he tried to pursue military experience that would enhance his resume and perhaps lead to new career opportunities. “When I was drafted, they made me an infantryman, which is not quite a civilian career field,” he says. “That drove me to logistics.”

The Army sent him to Officer Candidate School, and before he knew it, LaBounty was savoring the opportunities that military life presented. His many assignments included leading a Second Infantry Division battalion in Korea, a tour as chief of the Congressional Liaison Office of the U.S. Army Material Command, and four years in California as commander of the Defense Distribution Region West.

That assignment offered the best preparation for his stint with JCPenney. “I was running an army depot,” LaBounty recalls, noting that a depot is military shorthand for a distribution center. His work at the depot coincided with a Department of Defense decision to put logistics for all four service branches under one command. LaBounty was charged with consolidating 15 of the operations and devising a single system to address the varying supply needs of each service.

The task fell somewhere north of Herculean and south of impossible. Imagine the challenges that dog a project of this size and scope: the clash of strong cultures; the need to work with people from different, not to mention rival, services; the frustration of evaluating legacy systems that had evolved over generations; the resistance that invariably greets a sweeping dictate from on high.

LaBounty’s first order of business was to evaluate the existing systems. “Each service had built its own logistics system to serve what it thought were its branch’s unique operations,” he recalls. But LaBounty quickly realized that “unique” was a misnomer: logistics for one service shared much in common with logistics for the others.

In the end, LaBounty and his leadership team structured systems that eliminated redundancies and streamlined operations. Ultimately, they converted a cadre of skeptics into a team of believers. “The key was performance,” he says. “We compared our metrics to their metrics, and in all cases we ended up performing better. We saved $325 million over four years.”

After retiring from the Army as a colonel in 1995, LaBounty served as CEO and president of the United Way of San Joaquin County, Calif. He then moved to Dallas to assume a post with Electronic Data Systems. In 2001, he joined JCPenney, where he worked until his retirement in May 2008.


Throughout his private-sector tenure, LaBounty frequently drew on his long experience adapting to circumstances on the ground: “One key in military training is planning,” he says. “You know you will deal with—and must plan for—the unexpected.”

Just as important, he called upon his military background to help him negotiate changing scenarios. For example, when JCPenney faced some major challenges in modifying its corporate culture, LaBounty embraced the Army’s tradition of in-the-trenches camaraderie, turning to ground-level employees for suggestions and advice.

“The Army holds the view that leaders take care of their people,” LaBounty recalls. “The smart leaders learned that if you take care of your people, they will take care of your mission. When I took that strategy into the civilian world, it paid dividends.”

Todd Robbins: Tapping Private Sector Resources

When Lt. Col. Todd Robbins retired from the U.S. Army in 2007, he didn’t say goodbye to his long-time employer. Instead, he turned around and shook hands with his new partner. That’s because Robbins immediately took the position of executive vice president and chief operating officer for American United Logistics (AUL), whose corporate headquarters is located in the Kuwait Free Trade Zone. Among its many projects, AUL operates a secure staging and warehousing facility at the port of Umm Qasr in Iraq (see sidebar below). In his new role in the commercial world, Robbins has been instrumental in helping the U.S. military take advantage of AUL’s presence in the region, as well as its existing facilities, systems, and networks.

“There is a strategic partnership between the military and AUL,” he explains. “They need us as much as we need them.”

Robbins is both us and them. With one foot comfortable in a combat boot and the other groomed for dress shoes, he understands and respects both worlds. Just as important, he has the interests of both at heart.

A Pennsylvania native, Robbins attended The Citadel on a football scholarship. After graduating, he received a direct commission as a second lieutenant in 1986 and was sent to the Transportation Officers’ Basic and Airborne School. In subsequent years, he was assigned to various transportation companies and commands in the United States. During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, he served as a terminal operations officer, supporting the Army’s efforts and learning about the complexities of mobilizing for unexpected events.

While assigned to the U.S. Transportation Command, Strategy, Plans, Policy, and Programs Directorate, Robbins helped plan and implement the Marine Security Program (MSP), which maintains a modern U.S.-flag fleet that provides the military access not only to vessels but also to a global intermodal transportation network. The network includes logistics management services, infrastructure, terminal facilities, and U.S. citizen merchant mariners. Robbins’ work with the MSP helped him understand how the military and commercial sectors intersect and integrate.

Robbins’ logistics expertise was further developed when, in 1999, he commanded the 955th Transportation Company during the drawdown of all U.S. forces on the Isthmus of Panama. He finished his Army service as commander of the 840th Transportation Battalion in Balad, Iraq. It was there that he became acquainted with AUL.

His final command ranged from assisting units with deployment and redeployment requirements to developing strategies to maximize the efficiencies and capacities of the U.S.-flag maritime companies and their logistics providers. He also was responsible for complying with the regulations associated with U.S. oversight of military materials.

In Balad, he contracted with a number of private-sector companies to handle various aspects of the complicated logistics operation—one that left little room for error because it was, ultimately, about ensuring the safety and preparedness of the troops in the trenches. “The end customer is the soldier who is waiting for a widget—whether that widget is a part for a weapon or a bottle of Gatorade,” he says.

In Balad, Robbins became acutely aware of the efficiencies associated with commercial logistics operations. “The defense transportation system is very effective,” he explains, “but how do you apply commercial best practices to an ‘archaic’ military system? The commercial world is able to adapt quickly to changes in technology, but it takes the U.S. government a lot longer.”

The possibility of addressing that question made AUL an interesting option for Robbins. He joined the company, in part, to help it convince military decision-makers that utilizing the Umm Qasr port made economic and strategic sense. “It was my job to go out and preach,” he says. His message: Take advantage of private-sector expertise and resources, especially those provided by U.S. maritime companies.

Robbins’ military experience gave him plenty of credibility, and his arguments—”increased velocity, better in-transit visibility; all the buzzwords”—made perfect sense. Before utilizing AUL’s Umm Qasr facilities, the Army ferried in materials and equipment from Kuwait. That meant one long truck convoy from the Kuwaiti ports and warehouses to the Iraq border. At the border, the convoy changed hands and security increased. It was a time-consuming and expensive solution. Routing operations through Umm Qasr meant the military could reduce the number of trucks it deployed while reallocating troops to other duties.

During his first year with AUL, Robbins spent as much as three-quarters of his time in Iraq. “That was just to get things rolling,” he explains, noting that one of his responsibilities was to help the firm comply with military regulations, such as registering convoys to move through battle zones.

Today, Robbins lives in St. Louis, near Scott Air Force Base, where the U.S. Transportation Command is headquartered and where he is best able to partner with planners. “This is where the decisions are made,” he says, adding that he still travels frequently to the Middle East to oversee AUL’s work in Iraq, Jordan, and Kuwait.

If Robbins’ transition to the private sector was seamless, it was not without surprises. “I didn’t realize how competitive companies are,” he says. Now, he must factor in the actions of rival firms and devote considerable time to figuring out how to outperform them.

Nor did he realize how vastly company cultures vary. “Every company has its own nuances, and is uniquely operated and run,” he explains. Coming from a strong military culture that changes little from post to post, command to command, that intrigued him.

While he enjoys the challenges of the commercial world, Robbins does miss the esprit de corps that characterized his service. “I miss the camaraderie,” he says.


The efforts of third-party logistics companies (3PLs) and transportation service providers are making a substantial impact on socio-economic development in the southern region of Iraq. Not only are 3PLs and carriers rebuilding Iraq’s local economy, stimulating economic growth, and putting Iraqis to work, they are also taking U.S. soldiers out of harm’s way by removing them from Iraq’s dangerous road networks.

After a visit to Iraq three years ago, American United Logistics (AUL) saw potential at the Port of Umm Qasr in South Port and established a four-million-square-foot secure facility there. This compound not only facilitates the movement of reconstruction cargo, but it opens an avenue for cargo moving in the Defense Transportation System to be staged, prepped for onward movement, and delivered to its final destination in Iraq.

“I looked at the area in South Port as a ‘field of dreams,'” says Richard Raley, president of AUL. “We knew that with a lot of TLC and a huge capital investment, a facility in South Port would be a stakeholder in the development of the Port of Umm Qasr as well as a ray of hope for the local citizens.” Today many of the port town’s population of 46,000 are employed either directly or indirectly by the Port of Umm Qasr.

The U.S. maritime industry also sees the port’s potential. American Cargo Transport, for example, now calls Umm Qasr with three U.S.-flag vessels. Liberty Global, APL, Maersk, ARC, and other ocean carriers also serve the port.


Umm Qasr is said to have been the site of Alexander the Great’s landing in Mesopotamia in 325 B.C. While originally a small fishing town, Umm Qasr was sometimes used as a military port.

After the Iraqi Revolution of 1958, a naval base was established at Umm Qasr. The port was subsequently founded in 1961 by Iraqi ruler General Abdul-Karim Qassem. It was intended to serve as Iraq’s only deep-water port, reducing the country’s dependence on the disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway that marks the border with Iran.

The port facilities were built by a consortium of companies from West Germany, Sweden, and Lebanon, and a railway line connects it to Basra and Baghdad.

Just about every logistician responsible for streamlining some of Iraq’s archaic “brute force” logistics processes has toured the Port of Umm Qasr-South Port. It serves as a model for streamlining logistics processes and creating efficiencies while using Iraqi labor, trucks, infrastructure, goods, and services.

For years, the United States Transportation Command looked for ways to take advantage of the unparalleled capacities and capabilities offered by the U.S. commercial maritime industry and its service providers.

AUL’s compound on the South Port of Umm Qasr provides that advantage. It offers U.S. maritime companies, the Department of Defense (DoD), coalition forces, and reconstruction companies a “one-stop shop” for the shipment of cargo through Umm Qasr to its final destination in Iraq.

AUL’s facility provides 341,000 square feet of covered staging area, 1.6 million square feet of hard stand staging area, 2.15 million square feet of compact staging area, access to the Iraqi Railroad, a DoD RFID interrogator, and a dining facility. There is also dedicated berthing at one of South Port’s eight berths to assist with the rapid loading and offloading of U.S-flag vessels.


Port throughput and transportation assets are key to Umm Qasr’s success. Through a partnership with Armor Group International, a registered private security provider in Iraq, and the Logistics Movement Coordination Center, the facility provides 16 dedicated private convoy security escort teams to ensure the safe delivery of cargo to its final destination.

Direct shipments into Umm Qasr are taking U.S. soldiers off Iraq’s dangerous roads. The 600 to 800 shipments per week that are currently being delivered door-to-door by AUL for the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command used to move into Iraq through Kuwait. The change results in U.S. military security teams escorting 300 to 400 fewer U.S. trucks on the roads in Iraq each week.

Three years ago, a 3PL executive saw the potential of Umm Qasr. Today, the area has produced more than just commercial opportunities. “We are making a difference for our fighting men and women in uniform, as well as for the DoD civilians and contractors,” says Todd Robbins, AUL’s executive vice president and COO.

“We are proud of what we have built, but more importantly how it is directly impacting the delivery of cargo for the Department of Defense and for Iraqi foreign military sales,” says Raley.

While U.S. forces serving in Iraq have had to overcome many hurdles to get to where they are today, a brighter path for the future is emerging, both in terms of commercial opportunities and the ability to provide the Department of Defense with a viable facility in Umm Qasr-South Port.

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