BluJay Solutions CEO Doug Braun:
Leading with Compassion and Conviction
It has been a busy year at BluJay Solutions. In 2016, the supply chain software company, known then as Kewill, acquired another technology player, LeanLogistics. In March 2017, the combined companies rebranded as BluJay Solutions and debuted an innovative new software platform model, the BluJay Global Trade Network. Soon after, BluJay acquired Blackbay, a provider of mobility-enabled solutions for transportation and logistics.
At the helm of all this change is Doug Braun, who joined Kewill as CEO in 2015. At BluJay, Braun now leads the drive to build out the Global Trade Network, drawing in new customers to create greater value for everyone. “As that footprint continues to grow and strengthen, driven by our customers, we become more relevant for more people across the globe,” he says.
Braun talked with us about some of the influences that shaped his career, and about his leadership philosophy.
IL: How did you get started on your career path?
I started back in the punch card days, the days of COBOL programming. I always enjoyed math and the logic behind it. I found a lot of solace in working with numbers. That led me to computers before they were a mainstay. I earned my first degree in programming at a technical school because there were no college degrees in the subject back then. I started programming right after graduation, and I never looked back.
IL: What are some of the influences that helped lead you to your current position?
There are too many to mention, but two stand out: My dad, and a mentor I had when I worked at RedPrairie [now JDA] who always said, “Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.”
Through my whole career, I’ve tried to attract the best and brightest. Not only do those people teach me how to be a better leader, but I learn about the way they do business, because they’re so good at it.
IL: What kinds of challenges keep your customers awake at night?
We’re a global company, with a strong presence throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. Political uncertainty across the globe causes worries about crossing borders and moving product. Will that become much harder?
Also, customer preferences are changing. End customers demand things “today,” in real time. The consumer drives how the supply chain works. Individual package shipping is becoming more relevant, while large containerized loads potentially are becoming less relevant. We have to pay attention to shifting consumer needs and proactively anticipate the impact to the supply chain.
IL: Which technologies will make the biggest difference in the supply chain in the next few years?
Mobility seems to be the key. Everything is moving to a platform where you’ve got to be able to perform any function from anywhere. The supply chain is becoming so real time that having relevant information at your fingertips is critical.
Another change, within BluJay’s own technology, is an initiative to develop what we call microservices. Instead of having to buy a transportation management system or a warehouse management system, customers can go to the ‘buffet’ and pick only the pieces of those systems they want.
For instance, a customer in France wanted to let their guard shack personnel do denied party screenings, so they could check drivers’ credentials as they drove in to make sure they weren’t on a denied parties list. The customer wanted this as an anti-terrorism measure, implemented only at the gate. We set that up for them in just a couple of days.
IL: Tell us about an unusual career challenge you’ve dealt with.
While I was working at RedPrairie, a small earthquake in Nevada broke a bunch of racking and damaged product in a warehouse one of our customers owned. That customer had product on the road, bound for that facility, which couldn’t receive it. Using our systems, we rerouted the product to facilities owned by other customers in the region. Some of those customers were competitors of the company with the problem, but most were willing to help.
IL: How do you foster the company culture at BluJay?
My goal is to visit every one of our offices around the world every quarter, and I’m about 95 percent successful. We give each office the ability to put on events, and we make sure that members of our executive team attend them.
We try to embrace local traditions at those events. For example, our office in India hosts a family day, attended by approximately 1,200 people—employees, spouses, children, and grandparents.
We also recognize employees across the globe. While lots of companies send their top sales performers to the Caribbean, or someplace else nice, to celebrate their successes, we feel that everybody in the company contributes to sales. That’s why, for our trips, including this year’s, we recognize people from human resources, accounting, professional services, and other support departments. Every department is represented because we are a global team delivering global results.
IL: What has made you a successful executive?
I wake up every day thinking about the 1,200 employee families I’m responsible for, and about our 7,500 customers. I take that quite seriously. I’m not impressed by job titles, and we don’t have a big hierarchy at BluJay.
When I first came in, we eliminated some layers of the company to make it flatter. Our incentive programs work the same for the cafeteria workers as they do for me. My executives and I spend every day thinking about how we can create value for our employees, for our customers, and for their customers. I think that’s what makes me a good leader. I try to be compassionate and caring, and make sure we do the right thing.
IL: Can you give us an example of doing the right thing?
The U.S. government doesn’t mandate as much family leave for employees as some other countries do. We felt we should be a little more caring and giving in the United States. Our human resources leadership created a program that provides four weeks of paid parental leave beyond the legal requirement. That’s just one example of how we’re trying to create an environment where our employees are excited about coming to work every day.
Decide, and Keep Moving
There’s no shilly-shallying at BluJay Solutions. “We tell employees, ‘If you have 10 opportunities to make a decision, please make all 10,'” Braun says. “Even if seven of them are wrong, if we learn from those decisions, we’re a better company.”
Mistakes are just part of the process. “I make them every day, I hope,” Braun explains. “I think I learn the most through failure.”
Of course, like any leader, Braun wants all his decisions to turn out well. “I make sure I’m patient and listen to people around me,” he says. “Then my job is to distill down competing ideas and concepts, and try to make the best decision for the company. Sometimes it’s right and sometimes it’s wrong.” But in a fast-moving world, it’s crucial to make a choice and then move ahead.
When a team member’s decision doesn’t turn out well, Braun makes a point of extracting a lesson from the experience—but not right away. “Sometimes there’s emotion involved, and people think they’re going to get their hand slapped,” he says. It’s best to let some time pass. “Then let’s sit down without any agenda other than learning what happened and how we might do it better.”