Losing Waste, Finding Value

Losing Waste, Finding Value

Michael Wasson is chief operations officer of Tosca, which provides reusable packaging solutions for perishable food supply chains.

Responsibilities: Lead and direct Tosca’s supply chain and plant operations, including asset management, logistics, supply chain planning, environmental health, and food safety.

Experience: Vice president, supply chain and operations, Tosca; several director- and manager-level supply chain planning roles with Coca Cola Refreshments; senior manager, hub operations, DHL Express; service center manager, Roadway Express; manager of logistics, Hammacher Schlemmer

Education: B.S., Business Administration, Lewis University, 1990

The reusable packaging supply chain is complicated. In a traditional supply chain, you know your bill of materials and where every product is sourced from. But when we get a trailer in one of our 14 service centers, we don’t know what’s on it.

Once a container comes back to one of the service centers, we inspect, clean, process, and repair it if necessary, so it’s ready to go back out. We don’t use a big, fancy software system to manage this. We once implemented a premiere supply chain optimization software and broke it trying to input all of our systems.

Instead, it takes terrific people on our supply chain planning team working with homegrown business optimization software to manage our supply chain. We manage our supply chain through great people, not through great software.

So, we need good people and leaders. Like many companies, one of our biggest challenges is staffing. Our sustainability platform and our ability to reduce food, packaging, and landfill waste give us an edge. This work is something employees can get excited about and be proud of.

We constantly look for opportunities to take waste out of perishable supply chains. For example, eggs in transit have one of the highest shrink and breakage percentages. We worked with our engineering team and customers, retail partners, and egg farms to build a container that protects eggs through the supply chain, cutting shrink in half.

The containers also reduce labor by about the same percentage. Because the packaging is retail-ready, we’re able to take products from the refrigerated truck straight to the shelf.

My first college internship was with the vice president of sales and operations for a small manufacturing company. I gravitated toward the operations side. I was interested in figuring out how delivery could live up to the expectations that sales and marketing created.

Every job I’ve held since then has been on the supply chain side, with a focus on continuous improvement. How do you take waste out of the system and make a more efficient supply chain operation? How do you manage fleets and drivers to run an efficient operation? I like to know how things work, and then make them better somehow. That’s a natural fit for the supply chain.

Supply chain traditionally has been a cost center. Going forward, however, supply chain will be viewed as a value creator.

Michael Wasson Answers the Big Questions

1. How would you describe your job to a five-year-old?

The lemonade stand game helps a five-year-old understand that lemonade doesn’t just magically appear. You need lemons, sugar, and water. Then you have to combine these different pieces to create a product.

2. What’s the best leadership or supply chain advice you’ve received?

About 12 years ago, I was considering an MBA program. My boss told me, "An MBA will look great on paper, but you’ve already had responsibility for multi-million-dollar profit-and-loss statements. You’re not going to learn anything from an MBA."

Instead, he recommended earning an APICS certification, which would make me more focused in supply chain. I followed his advice. APICS helped me develop different skills and capabilities so I could grow my career and provide value to my employers.

3. What’s your hidden talent or guilty pleasure?

I wish I had a hidden talent. As far as a guilty pleasure—when I’m off work, I try to be really off work and spend as much time as I can with my family.

4. What you would tell your 18-year-old self?

I got into this career by accident, so I’d tell my 18-year-old self to be a bit more intentional. Spend time reflecting on the things you’re passionate about and the things that get you excited, then figure out what your career path can look like. Also study harder and pay more attention in school.

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