Part of the Ship’s Engine, Not Part of the Load

It’s amazing what we can learn if we stop talking long enough to listen.

As a CEO, there are so many occasions to speak, to describe, to explain, and to present our ideas. But I find that the most valuable experiences are those that offer the chance to simply hear—really HEAR and fully UNDERSTAND—what those around us have to say.

Recently, I had just such an opportunity as part of the corporate celebration of our company’s 40th anniversary. We kicked off the year by celebrating our 40 years of growth and change, but our focus soon shifted to the future. After all—these days, the future swoops in on us at warp speed, with another totally different series of circumstances following closely behind.

At our corporate celebration, we invited a panel of five forward thinkers to present his or her vision of the very near future. The theme of the day was “2005 in Plain Sight.” Two of the panelists were alliance partners; three were customers—each representing a different type of business; two from large Fortune 500 companies, one from a young and thriving dot-com.

All the presentations were insightful and thought provoking. They generated a tremendous amount of dialogue and new thinking. But I want to focus on one talk in particular—because it penetrates to the core of what logistics providers and supply chain managers need to know in this unpredictable business environment.

CPG Industry Meets Challenges

Walt Lentz, Director, North American Distribution & Customer Service for Kellogg’s, in describing his vision of the future, spoke of the challenges facing the Consumer Packaged Goods industry—challenges such as the growing complexity of the marketplace, changing consumer expectations, the compression of time causing companies to compete ever more fiercely for mere minutes of consumers’ lives, the diminishing reliance on brand loyalties, the intensifying impact of information overload, and the continuing trends toward globalization and consolidation.

As you know, Kellogg’s is the world’s largest maker of ready-to-eat cereal as well as a leading producer of convenience foods. As a Fortune 100 company with almost 100 years of experience in the CPG industry, Kellogg’s knows more about consumers the world over than some companies could ever hope to learn. Yet Walt Lentz and his colleagues also know that the industry is in the throes of change. Walt realizes that the Internet has “provided the platform for equalization of competition” and that even the giants in the industry must learn to think and act like small nimble firms.

How do they do it? By growing through niche marketing in a world of commoditization. Through product innovation. And flexible manufacturing. By collaborating with partners who can help them achieve things together they never could alone—partners who can help with whatever transformation may need to take place.

How utterly, absolutely true! As large, successful companies change the ways they produce, market, and distribute their goods and services, they need us—their logistics and supply chain management partners—to be agents of change. Not obstacles to change—but the driving force to turn their ideas, their decisions, and their strategies into efficient, effective realities. As they change courses—these manufacturing and marketing giants—they need us to be part of the engine, not part of the load. They need us to help spur them forward, not hold them back.

They need all the information we can provide through integrated systems that easily share data. They need our knowledge and our experience, accurately targeted and rapidly deployed. They need us to facilitate and support their innovations. They need our presence and our participation in managing their customer relationships. They need us to be alert and attuned to their business dynamics so we can anticipate changes in their business dynamics—maybe even before they do!

Dot-Coms Need Partners, Too

As for the dot-com start-ups, they need partners, too. They have the advantage of a blank slate—no obsolete systems to replace and no preconceived notions. But they will not be able to—nor will they want to—invest in the systems and spaces it takes to run fulfillment operations. In this fast-paced environment, they don’t have time for trial and error; knowledgeable partners are their shortest route to market.

So, as logistics providers, we can’t just know-how. We have to know-what, know-where, know-when, and know-why as well! We have to part of the engine, fueled by change.

The year 2000 draws to a close. May the New Year be filled with opportunities to keep learning—and to keep sharing what we know!

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