Bob Farrell, executive chairman of technology and logistics company GlobalTranz, reveals his leadership tenents.
Paranoia May Not Destroy Ya
A company that builds a strong executive team needs to create opportunities for the best executives to rise, says Bob Farrell. That’s why on Jan. 1, 2019, Farrell moved from chairman and chief executive officer to executive chairman at technology and logistics company GlobalTranz, while chief financial officer Renee Krug moved into the CEO role. At the same time, GlobalTranz’s vice president of finance, Lara Stell, moved into the CFO spot.
For Farrell, watching talented people succeed is one of the most enjoyable aspects of working at GlobalTranz, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based firm he joined in 2016. Putting people in positions where they can flourish is a basic principle of his leadership. “Let them generate personal success, and then the company benefits,” he says.
We recently spoke with Farrell about his priorities as a leader and about some current projects that keep life interesting at GlobalTranz.
IL: You’ve worked at many different technology companies. What attracts you to this segment?
We are changing the game. We are applying technology to automate and streamline operations while making data available for analytics and decision-making—all of which allows customers to scale their business while reducing costs and creating efficiencies. More importantly, we help customers leverage transportation, logistics, and supply chain management to gain competitive and/or operational advantage.
At GlobalTranz, we’ve been focusing on ways to leverage data through machine learning to facilitate predictive analytics, dashboarding, and reporting so our customers can make real-time business decisions and differentiate themselves from their competition. The convergence of these things makes GlobalTranz an interesting and exciting place for a technologist to come to work.
IL: Tell us about an early experience that helped to shape you as a leader.
I’ve been in four CEO roles. Very early on, I learned that I was not going to be the one to solve problems directly. Rather, it was my job to put people in the position to make decisions, and make mistakes without fear of punishment, so they could gain the opportunity to improve.
I also learned that in any senior management role there are two things to worry about: the allocation of time and the allocation of capital. If we focus on the best use of our time, and the best way to leverage capital, we will be in a much better position to drive success.
IL: What big challenges do your customers face these days?
Many customers are worried about geopolitical issues. Some import raw materials or finished goods from countries that may be subject to more challenging tariffs in the future. Access to capacity is another big challenge. Our customers also struggle to find talent to hire. They look to providers such as GlobalTranz that have automated processes to help limit the number of additional resources they need, and to make their current resources more productive.
IL: Which current projects make you excited to go to work?
I’m excited about what we’re doing with data. We are creating visibility through a control tower that helps customers understand historical trends and predictions for the future, marrying those with information about their current and projected order flow. We use data to drive machine learning, to facilitate better decision-making, and to reduce the number of resources necessary to move goods most effectively.
I’m also excited about our growth, which we achieved through a combination of organic expansion and acquisitions. Acquiring companies and seamlessly integrating them into GlobalTranz is exciting.
IL: How would you describe GlobalTranz’s corporate culture?
Our culture is collaborative, empowered, and caring. The caring part is important. Not only do people here care about their colleagues, but they’re also connected to their local community. Our people volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, do food drives, and help with disaster relief. We give our staff the ability to take time off to participate in these activities.
At the same time, our culture is competitive; our people want to win. I like to think that A players attract A players, while B players either figure out how to become A players or go home. You end up with a group of smart, collaborative, empowered, competitive people who are at the top of their game.
IL: What’s one mistake you’ve made in your career that taught you an important lesson?
I’ve learned that in technology, it’s important to base your product management plan on “minimum viable product” or MVP. You will always have people asking you to add one more feature to a product, and then one more. Whenever I agree to those requests, two things happen: The delivery cycle for the product becomes longer, and the product isn’t as strong as it would have been if we had stuck to the MVP. Now I’m a stickler for keeping the list of features in the basic product small. We create an MVP that solves problems, and then in future versions we can enhance it with bells and whistles.
IL: Which aspects of your job are the most fun?
I’ve already mentioned the pleasure of watching people succeed. I also enjoy getting out among our three groups of customers—shippers, carriers, and freight agents.
IL: If you could give your 20-year-old self some advice, what would it be?
Be patient. Follow the old carpenter’s adage: measure twice, cut once. You can be decisive and still be deliberate in your thinking. I’d also stress the importance of empathy. I’m an empathetic person, and when I was younger, I thought that would be a limitation. I’m glad it wasn’t. I would reassure my 20-year-old self that caring about what’s going on with people will serve me well.
IL: How do you like to spend time when you’re not working?
I enjoy time with my family. I run marathons, which helps me to de-stress and sometimes gives me a chance to run with my son. I serve on a couple of boards outside our company. Also, my wife and I love to travel. Even though I travel 200,000 miles a year for work, it’s a treat to visit new places with my family.
Paranoia May Not Destroy Ya
One business leader Bob Farrell finds inspiring is the late Andrew Grove, a founder of Intel and the company’s chairman and CEO for a decade. Grove’s book Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company made a strong impression, thanks to its message about not resting on one’s laurels.
“Whatever we’re doing today isn’t going to be sufficient for tomorrow,” Farrell says. It’s crucial to keep an eye on the innovations that competitors are devising.
“We live in a disruptive environment,” he says. “You would not want to be a New York City taxi medallion holder today, for example, given what Uber has done with ride hailing. For the taxi industry, a certain level of paranoia would have been a good thing.”