Communicating in Real Time, All the Time
Scott Pruneau relishes the pace of change in logistics and embraces the daily opportunities to meet new challenges with resilience, empathy, and constant communication.
Sticky notes and pagers were tools of the trade when Scott Pruneau started out in logistics in the 1990s. Pruneau spent the first 11 years of his career in C.H. Robinson’s fresh produce business, first as a broker and later as general manager. He and his team bought and sold fruits and vegetables, built loads, and tracked the progress of deliveries—mostly without the aid of digital technology.
“People would have sticky notes on their desks: ‘Pick up four pallets of limes in Arvin,’ or ‘Pick up eight pallets of peaches in Reedley,'” Pruneau recalls. Drivers gave updates by parking their trucks and using pay phones to report their progress. Pruneau and his colleagues carried pagers and maintained toll-free numbers at home to make sure they received those calls.
It’s a bit hard to believe from where Pruneau sits today, at the head of ITS Logistics in Sparks, Nevada. Like their counterparts at most third-party logistics (3PL) companies, Pruneau and his team command a range of advanced technology tools. “Compared with what it took in the past, it’s amazing how fast you can do the work now,” he says.
We spoke with Pruneau about his development as a leader and his leadership strategies at ITS Logistics.
IL: How did you get started in logistics, and why did you stay?
I played baseball in college and the only plan I had was for my sports career. When that didn’t work out, I fell into an opportunity with C.H. Robinson. I stayed in the business because I loved the pace and the opportunity to solve different problems every day. Until somebody can figure out how to make something disappear and show up at the other end, there will always be a demand for logistics services. The longer I’ve been in the industry, the more I appreciate that fact.
IL: What’s one early experience that shaped you as a leader?
My first boss in the industry modeled what I would call participant leadership from day one. He never expected more from us than he expected from himself. And he got to know you as a person. Our office was a family.
As a leader, you have to be resilient. You have to have empathy. You have to be ready to hear opinions and suggestions from all members of your team and never stop evolving. Having a boss who modeled that behavior early in my career helped me to move forward as a leader.
IL: Is there something you once believed strongly, but have since decided isn’t true?
I used to think you could outwork everything: Bring together people with a common work ethic and attitude, and they can move the world. While those traits are important elements of success for individuals and companies, I now know they’re not the whole story. You also have to be innovative and creative.
IL: What keeps your customers awake at night?
The question, “How do I continue to exceed customer expectations when that bar is rising daily?” Buying behaviors in both the B2B and B2C world are evolving so fast, putting pressure on supply chains from every direction. In many cases, the customer experience is just as important as the quality, the price, and the product.
ITS Logistics helps our customers deliver on their promises to their customers. Our customers choose us because we execute a service mix that drives value and allows them to focus on building their businesses.
IL: Tell us about a tough logistics challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it.
The most demanding challenges I’ve faced came in the early days when I was moving produce. The second you pick produce from the field it starts dying, so you have to get it on the shelf as fast as possible. We were taking refrigerated less-than-truckload orders from California to the distribution centers of clients across the country, all within 72 hours.
What I learned then and continue to apply today is that solving the biggest challenges requires communication in every phase of the process, in real time, all the time.
IL: What qualities make you an effective leader?
I enjoy learning new things and collaborating with people. I’m willing to listen. Also, I’ve been fortunate in my career to be exposed to great people, great companies, and a wide range of experiences. I’ve been involved in all three of our business verticals—asset-based transportation, freight brokerage, and warehousing and distribution. I know just about enough to be dangerous in all of them. That experience helps me with context when we’re talking about problem-solving in our own business. Finally, I’m passionate about our business and the people we serve, internally and externally. Every day, I try to hold myself accountable to that stakeholder group.
IL: What has been one of your best days at ITS Logistics?
I went to a recent executive meeting prepared to present a solution for an opportunity we had been working on. I expected we’d have a quick conversation, the group would be all in, and we’d get started. I explained my idea, and the response was—crickets.
Then the conversation started. I walked to the whiteboard and got some suggestions, asking, “What don’t you like about this, and what do you like?” By the end of the meeting, we were all aligned and ready to move forward, but the solution didn’t look anything like the one I brought into the room. The important thing was that our executive team developed the idea together. It’s rewarding to have an environment where you can have real conversation.
IL: What’s your advice to anyone starting a career in supply chain management?
Be a sponge. Take every opportunity to learn about your company and your industry. And don’t expect someone else to give you the knowledge you need to be successful. Use all the wonderful tools we have today to educate yourself.
IL: How do you like to spend your time outside of work?
My wife and I do a lot of day hiking. My kids are older; one is graduating from college and one from high school. We watch a few TV shows together as a family. I play golf in the little time I have on my own and I enjoy reading business books.
The best advice anyone ever gave Scott Pruneau came not in words, but through example. The source was his father, who owned a small auto body shop and also made hand-lettered signs.
“If he did a job for you, and it wasn’t exactly the way you wanted it, or it didn’t meet your expectations, he redid it,” Pruneau says. “What I took from that is, don’t just go through the motions. If you’re tasked with doing something, do it to the best of your abilities. I think about that every day.”