East Coast Warehouse & Distribution CEO Jamie Overley: Driven By Results and Big Dreams
When East Coast Warehouse & Distribution hired Jamie Overley as chief financial officer in 2007, the owners were seeking a leader who could attract and manage capital, and control costs. They got one. Three years after he joined the company, Overley was promoted to CEO. Since then, he has been leading East Coast Warehouse—based in Elizabeth and Jersey City, N.J., and providing end-to-end, temperature-controlled logistics services, focused on imports and exports—through the development and execution of a new strategic plan. Overley talked with Inbound Logistics about what it takes to steer a logistics firm toward its goal of major growth.
IL: Since you became CEO in 2010, what have been your top-priority projects?
We wanted to put a five-year strategic plan in place and focus on growth initiatives, whether organically or through acquisitions. Day-to-day, my number one initiative has been recommitting to premium service. We have talked with all our top accounts and examined our strengths and weaknesses. We have focused on those areas, and on the key performance indicators (KPIs) that needed improvement.
We have set benchmarks and are measuring ourselves in a variety of areas, from soup to nuts, to improve customer service levels. The last initiative is to expand our technology to accommodate and leverage the growth that we are planning.
IL: What are some of the biggest challenges shippers of temperature-controlled cargo face today?
The first major challenge is port congestion. Ocean carriers are deploying larger vessels and pushing more volume through ports, increasing pressure on supply chain partners. The good news is that virtually all U.S. ports are investing in infrastructure and productivity enhancements to help relieve those pressures.
The deteriorating condition of roads, bridges, and other U.S. transportation infrastructure poses a second challenge. The third is the capacity squeeze, caused by the driver shortage, and a fourth is the need to give all trading partners greater visibility into the supply chain. Obviously, cost is a major challenge. There’s a universal demand for low inventory levels, low financing costs, low holding costs, and the ability to create a cost-efficient, flexible supply chain.
IL: How does your company respond to two of those challenges?
To ease the driver shortage, we recruit and train qualified drivers, and strive to create a professional family environment, where drivers are appreciated. We provide them with a good standard of living and work-life balance. We want our drivers to get home every night, have a solid family life, and make a good living.
To meet the need for visibility, we’ve implemented new technology, including a new transportation management system that lets us follow a container from the time it arrives in port, until we get it into our warehouse and then out for final-mile delivery.
We’ve also implemented a new yard management system and expanded our warehouse management system. And we have KPIs to monitor productivity.
IL: How do you stay in front of customers’ needs?
Our philosophy is that there’s nothing better than a conversation, whether face to face or on the phone. We hold periodic meetings with each customer to review all our KPIs. Most importantly, we talk about what customers are expecting. We love when customers tell us their growth plans and the kinds of volume commitments they’re looking for, so we can operate as an extension of their business.
Data is also important. How are we doing at picking up containers? How long does it take and what does it cost? How quickly are their inventories turning? What’s their outbound shipping profile, and how has it changed? How long does it take us to get that product out of the warehouse and across the final mile?
IL: How would you describe your leadership style?
Coming from the finance side, I’m results-driven. But I’m also a dreamer: I dream big. I believe in people and try to delegate, providing resources and challenging our team to succeed. I want to support team members to be successful, both at work and in their personal lives. In sum, I’m a fairly balanced, results-driven leader with a strong human side.
IL: What qualities do you look for in the people who report to you?
Obviously, I look for professionalism and specific skill sets. But I love driven people who enjoy overcoming challenges and winning every day. I also want honest, well-rounded people who are active in helping others and are leading productive lives.
IL: How do you keep those employees motivated and focused on the company’s mission?
We want people to have some fun while they’re working and winning. For example, we hold quarterly catered lunches, where the executive team serves the employees. And we make it a point to say thank you to all our employees. Our team members are competent and work extremely hard. I’m proud of them, and I want them to know how much I appreciate what they do.
IL: What gets you excited about going to work?
I love winning and overcoming challenges. I enjoy envisioning and articulating what we can be as an organization, maybe seeing what others can’t see, helping people convert possibilities into realities, and executing upon those realities.
IL: What important lessons have you learned from a mentor or role model?
In one of my CFO positions, I reported to a CEO who was about 30 years older than me. He helped take away some of the rough edges you find on a hard-charging CFO, and he taught me about balance in life. One important lesson he shared was that your strengths are your strengths, but strengths taken too far can become your weaknesses. He also reminded me to treat others as I wanted to be treated.
IL: What are your biggest goals over the next few years?
To triple the size of the company through organic growth, possibly through acquisitions, and by expanding into markets all over the United States.
IL: Do you have a hidden talent?
I completed an Ironman triathlon and am scheduled to complete another this July. But, I hope my best skill is my ability to be a great father.
Weathering the Storm
East Coast Warehouse’s Jersey City DC lost power after Hurricane Sandy hit the United States in October 2012. “It was a peak time in one of our customers’ shipping patterns,” Overley says. “They called us wanting to know how we were going to get the warehouse back in business.”
Luckily, the company’s Elizabeth, N.J., warehouse operates on the same power grid as Newark Airport and quickly got back on line. Generators and the heroic effort of dedicated employees took care of the rest.
“We did a great job of minimizing downtime,” Overley recalls. “We were able to get back up and running, and provide the level of service our customers expect.”
The biggest takeaway from the Sandy experience?
“Test your backup plans,” Overley says. “Think them through, and document them.”