Smart Moves: Managing Your Logistics Career
Winning the corporate game requires careful planning and strategic career moves. Learn from these logistics pros who describe the steps they took get ahead.
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It’s your career, not your employer’s career. Therefore, it’s up to you to manage it,” says Cliff Otto. “If you don’t manage your career, the opportunities that you think you’re qualified for will never come to you, and you’ll never know about them.”
Otto knows about managing a career in logistics. He started his journey to his current position as executive vice president of Saddle Creek Corporation, a regional third-party logistics provider based in Lakeland, Fla., in the 1970s, when he earned an MBA with an emphasis on physical distribution at the University of Maryland.
Otto’s first step was to send a customized letter to 200 members of the National Council of Physical Distribution Management (now the Council of Logistics Management). With distribution and logistics at the time still fairly new concepts, Otto’s graduate degree in the field earned him serious attention from potential employers. “I ended up with a dozen on-site interviews and eight job offers,” he recalls.
Another differentiator in the marketplace was Otto’s willingness to relocate. He and his family “were ready to pick up and go wherever the job needed us to go,” he explains.
For example, he began working as assistant to the director of distribution at Baxter Healthcare in Chicago, then moved to Toronto as manager of warehouses for Baxter’s Canadian subsidiary. Next was a stint at Baxter’s manufacturing facilities in Puerto Rico. A year later, he relocated back to Chicago as Baxter Healthcare’s regional distribution manager for the Midwest.
After a few years with American Can’s Consumer Products Division in Connecticut, Otto returned to Chicago to run an international consulting organization for Baxter that provided services to foreign subsidiaries. This involved travel all over the world, including to Europe, the Far East, and Australia.
Otto was the financial manager at Baxter when it acquired American Hospital Supply. Opportunities created by the acquisition finally led to his role as vice president of logistics. It was then he received a call from an executive recruiter who was looking for a senior vice president/general manager to open up the Midwest region for CHEP, an international provider of leased pallets.
“I wasn’t actively looking to leave Baxter at the time,” Otto says. In fact, he declined to pursue the position the first time the executive recruiter called. But a second call piqued his interest.
“It was an opportunity to become a general manager in a logistics environment, one that I was very comfortable in,” he says. Recognizing that some risk was involved in moving to CHEP and its concept that was new to the United States, Otto checked out the company and its financial viability carefully before deciding to join. He stayed for 11 years until the company and he made the mutual decision to part ways. He then began a job search that lasted several months.
Otto sought “an executive-level position that would have a clear path to chief operating officer,” he says. While he targeted third-party logistics companies, he would have been open to going outside the logistics field.
Although Otto contacted executive recruiters and responded to ads in newsletters and on the Internet, including executive-level job sites, he found his current position by networking.
“I spent probably 60 percent of my time and energy on networking, calling people I had a relationship with,” Otto says. “I didn’t ask, ‘Do you have a job? Can you put me to work?’ I asked, ‘Here’s what I’m looking to do. Who do you recommend I talk to?'”
Otto kept meticulous notes of every phone call and followed up with every lead generated through his professional network, which includes between 150 and 200 people.
From Accounting to Logistics VP
Her professional network has helped support Annette Hartmann’s quest to move consistently forward, to master new challenges. “I need to constantly be working on something that is highly challenging,” she says. And her career reflects her need for growth.
After earning an undergraduate degree in accounting, Hartmann served as assistant to the distribution manager of Lea & Perrins Inc., Fairlawn, N.J. Promoted to distribution supervisor, she began studies at the Academy of Advanced Traffic in New York.
Then the distribution manager position opened up. “I felt I deserved the opportunity, but there was some concern that I’d been in the business for only a few years,” she recalls. Nonetheless, Hartmann aggressively sought the job. The company compromised, giving her the title of traffic manager, then moving her into the distribution manager job.
Hartmann then moved on to Parsippany, N.J.-based Estee Corporation, a manufacturer of food for medically directed dieters. There, she served as director of logistics. She was promoted six months later to vice president of operations, running a manufacturing facility and serving as part of the company’s executive team.
Five years later, when Estee was being sold, Hartmann began looking for another position. While she talked with a few recruiters, she focused mainly on finding job leads through networking. After interviewing with two companies, she accepted the position of director of business development with Christian Salvesen Inc. (CSI), a third-party logistics provider located in Secaucus, N.J.
“I’d been very involved with third- party logistics providers throughout my career, and was intrigued with the third-party business,” she explains. In addition, Hartmann was potentially interested in going into consulting work, and her position with CSI was largely a consultative one.
“I went out to very large food companies, evaluated their distribution and warehousing networks, and developed new solutions for them,” she notes. “I loved it.”
Then CSI was sold, and Hartmann went back to her network, where she learned that Tetley Tea was seeking a director of logistics. She took that position, and worked in Shelton, Conn., for two years, until Tetley decided to divest major parts of its business and become a smaller company.
Hartmann again put the word out that she was looking for a new position. A consultant friend gave her name to an executive recruiter who was looking for candidates for the position of vice president of logistics for a watch manufacturer.
“I wanted to get out of the food business and try something different,” she recalls. In addition, this position served on the executive committee of the company, so that she would again be working at the strategic level, a major plus.
Add to that the international nature of the company, and Hartmann felt that this would be a good career move. She has been there now for four years.
While at CSI, Hartmann became active in the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC). “Warehousing was one of the first things I did, it’s one of my loves,” she says. After serving as director of WERCouncils (the organization’s local chapters), she moved through the chairs, serving as the association’s president in 2001.
“It was a completely personal objective, and something I really wanted to do,” she says.
Hartmann attributes her career growth to her constant push for more. This requires “overcoming fears of what the next move is,” she says. In addition, her network of friends and colleagues has given her confidence to move ahead.
“I often found myself in positions where I’d say, ‘Wow, how am I ever going to pull this off?’ I always felt I could go to someone, run ideas past them, and get help,” she says.
From Retail to 3PL
Elijah Ray was a supervisor in the restaurant and textile business before he moved into logistics. When McCrory Distribution built a distribution center 30 miles from Ray’s home, he started out as a receiving supervisor at the highly mechanized facility. He eventually worked his way through McCrory’s distribution operation until he was approached by Wal-Mart in the 1980s.
“Leaving was a very difficult decision,” Ray recalls. “I made the decision to change based on what I thought would be a long-term career move.”
Ray served as area manager and operations manager at Wal-Mart for almost two years, then went to work briefly at The Standard Warehouse Company, Greenville, S.C., before moving to Bausch & Lomb Corporation as shipping manager.
“Bausch & Lomb was a large, well-established company,” Ray says, and offered an opportunity for a great future. In addition to working in logistics, he also gained manufacturing and assembly experience at Bausch & Lomb, where he stayed for four years.
In 1992, Ray rejoined Standard, serving as its director of business development and quality. He was promoted to vice president of business development, and is currently senior vice president of customer solutions for the 3PL, now named Standard Corporation, a UTi Worldwide Company. His responsibilities include business development, quality, engineering, and information technology.
Quality—especially Six Sigma—is a particular interest of Ray’s. He became involved in quality initiatives at Bausch & Lomb, where he was selected as a quality facilitator. He joined a national quality association, completed several training courses there, took some Total Quality Management (TQM) training, and went through several series of trainings internally and externally at Bausch & Lomb and at Standard.
Ray then spearheaded Standard’s application for the Governor’s Quality Award, South Carolina’s version of the national Baldrige Award. He applied in 1999, when Standard was the recipient of the Silver Level Achiever Award, and again in 2003, when Standard won the award.
Throughout his career, Ray has been a continual learner, seeking ways to increase his skills. In fact, his company requires all salaried employees to spend 40 hours a year in some type of training and development activity that is geared toward advancing their careers.
In addition, Ray’s mentor and boss, Bill Gates (now Standard’s CEO) encouraged him early on to become involved in professional associations such as CLM and WERC.
“I grew up in the local CLM Roundtable, going through almost every role at the local level, from secretary to president,” he recalls. He then became a roundtable advisory board member for CLM, with responsibility for several of the local chapters.
He next served on the CLM Executive Committee as chair of the roundtables. Moving through the chairs at a national level, Ray is the current president of CLM.
Such volunteer work takes time, but it’s well worth it. “You meet a lot of friends and develop a network of peers who can assist you when you need support or advice on specific topics,” he explains.
In addition, “it’s very gratifying to give back. As leaders, we give part of our time to our profession, and to our communities. When you give back, you get in return,” Ray says. “Some of the knowledge you get through friends and professionals in the industry can be as important in some instances as what you get in a classroom.”
From India to Long Island
Lalit Panda’s logistics career began in 1989 when he joined Coats Viyella, a Scottish textile company, after graduating from the Indian Institute of Management. He spent some time as a management trainee in sales and marketing, then became logistics systems manager.
He left in 1993, joining Sony Corporation, moving to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to handle logistics and supply chain management for the Gulf, Middle East, and North Africa region.
“I had worked for a British company, and wanted to experience the Japanese management style,” Lalit explains. Five years later, however, he felt that he needed to take a break and recharge his batteries.
“I always try to learn new things, and thought it would be a good move to understand what is happening in supply chain management,” he says. So he began looking to add a degree in logistics and supply chain to his undergraduate technology degree and his MBA, which focused on general management and marketing.
Lalit considered several graduate degree programs in the United States. One option was a Ph.D. program.
“I didn’t feel a Ph.D. was suitable for me because I felt I could only afford one year,” he says. So he decided to pursue the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Master of Engineering-Logistics, a nine-month program.
While there, “I was like a kid in a candy shop,” he recalls, working from 6 a.m. to midnight, earning 120 credits before finishing. One of the greatest benefits of the program was the opportunity to work with professional colleagues from other industries.
The MIT logistics program includes a number of business-oriented courses, some drawing from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. The graduate program enabled Lalit to gain knowledge in areas he probably would not have addressed had he not opted for graduate school.
Of particular interest was a course in negotiation—an integral part of logistics—as well as a course on case studies in supply chain and logistics.
When Lalit finished the MIT program in 1999, he explored career opportunities in the United States and in other parts of the world. He met the CIO of a major global sports apparel company at a cocktail party, went for an interview, and traveled to Europe to consider a position there.
At the same time, he worked through executive recruiters, and received a call to interview at Harman International Inc., in Woodbury, N.Y. Harman is a designer, manufacturer, and marketer of high-fidelity audio products and electronic systems.
Lalit was intrigued by the major change program Harman was undertaking, which involved improving operations and implementing technologies as enablers. He spent several days at Harman in a consulting assignment, conducting brainstorming sessions with the people with whom he would eventually work. He was then offered the position of senior vice president of supply chain and information systems, which he accepted and is still at today.
Looking back, Lalit says that taking the time off to earn his Master’s degree was very useful. “It adds value to you as a person, and to your career. If you’re interested in expanding and learning more, and contributing in a wider sense, it’s important to invest in your personal growth.”
From PDM to M&A to SCM
Wayne Briesemeister started his logistics career working at Johnson Wax as an engineer in physical distribution. While there, he went to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in the evenings, earning his MBA.
The coursework “allowed me a license to explore areas beyond engineering,” he explains, and gave him a foundation for moving into other areas. “It gave me more tools for my toolkit,” he says. Briesemeister moved into inventory management, then finance, at Johnson Wax. “I was building a broader base of supply chain experience before supply chain management was a concept,” he says.
When his employer reorganized engineering positions, Briesemeister took the opportunity to change, joining Kraft Foods for six years, and serving as manager of operations analysis and manager of strategy. Briesemeister then moved to International Multifoods’ VSA Division as director of logistics.
About a year after taking the position, he received a call from his former boss at Kraft, who had left the company and joined ACH Foods, which Kraft had sold to Associated British Foods. “They asked him to run the place, and he asked if I would come on board,” Briesemeister recalls.
He was offered the opportunity to head up mergers and acquisitions (M&A) for AC Humpko, a platform for expansion in the United States and subsidiary of Associated British Foods.
“I didn’t have a banking or finance background, and knew this was an opportunity I’d probably never get again,” he says. Seizing the chance, Briesemeister packed his bags and moved from Denver to Memphis. There he was a department of one, doing everything from due diligence to contracts to negotiations while handling 14 acquisitions for the company.
Briesemeister was eventually also given responsibility for the supply chain group at ACH Foods. All went well, until Associated British Foods reorganized, centralizing all the mergers and acquisitions activity in London while decentralizing supply chain management.
In November 2001, Briesemeister began what turned out to be a 12-month search for another job.
For the first few months, he focused on M&A workin the Memphis area. “I spent too long thinking I could stay in the Memphis area,” he explains. While Memphis is a great location for physical distribution and mid-level management, it’s not home to the headquarters of many major corporations. Over time, Briesemeister expanded his job search, looking for a supply chain management position in the Midwest.
“It wasn’t until several months after I first started that I realized I was spending way too much time on the wrong avenues, working on the Internet rather than trying to develop personal communications and establish a network,” he says.
While he wasn’t always successful, Briesemeister’s goal was to call three to five people a day and secure two or three names from those initial contacts.
Briesemeister kept in touch with a friend whom he had worked with at Johnson Wax. She had been with distributor W. W. Grainger Inc. for 10 years. When his friend moved on to another position, she encouraged Briesemeister to apply for her job, a supply chain position that handles international sourcing for Grainger.
“She was convinced that this position needed someone with a manufacturing, engineering, and supply chain background,” Briesemeister says, and nominated him for the job. In November 2002, after a successful interview, he accepted the position of director of operations—global sourcing, the position he holds today.
Susan Rider’s first logistics job was as director of marketing for UNARCO Material Handling. When UNARCO spun off Integrated Technologies, a systems company, she moved there as vice president of sales and marketing.
Then she became vice president of sales and marketing for another UNARCO spin off, Real-Time Solutions, which sells pick-to-light technologies. Her next stop was Manhattan Associates, an Atlanta-based supply chain/logistics systems vendor, where she was vice president of sales.
Rider then moved to RedPrairie Corporation, a supply chain/logistics systems vendor based in Waukesha, Wisc., as vice president of sales, and was promoted to executive vice president of sales and marketing.
While much of her career has been in warehousing and logistics, Rider’s roots are elsewhere. “Before I entered the world of warehousing and distribution, I had my own advertising and marketing agency,” Rider explains. As a woman moving into the then male-dominated logistics world, “I realized I needed to know and grasp as much information as possible.”
So she began an ongoing professional development program, subscribing to numerous logistics and warehousing publications, attending conferences, trade shows, and supply chain courses at Georgia Tech. While Rider has since moved from learning to teaching, she still attends supply chain courses. “It helps keep my knowledge up to date,” she says.
Rider also became active in professional associations, such as CLM and WERC. She spoke at WERC conferences, served on the conference committee as chair of an annual conference, and was then tapped as a member of the association’s board of directors. She has been on the board for eight years, and is the current WERC president.
Rider’s thirst for knowledge has helped her develop general management skills as she moves up the corporate ladder. “I have worked to develop my financial knowledge by reading industry magazines, and spending time talking with my own company’s chief financial officer,” she says. Because of the international aspects of her job, she is also working to expand her understanding of other cultures.
“You have to be a life-long learner, and continuously stay abreast of developments, otherwise you’ll be left in the dust,” Rider notes. “Technology is making our lives move so fast that you’ll be outdated if you don’t stay on top of things.”
Staying knowledgeable also helps you provide value to others. “From a career development point of view, if you become a knowledgeable source for people, you’ll become a value-add to them, and part of their communications process,” Rider says
Technology and Transportation
Armed with an MBA with a concentration in logistics, Tom Sanderson wanted to work for a company that would give him multiple opportunities. “I wanted a company that was interested in helping me develop,” he says.
Sanderson found what he was looking for at Schneider National. He joined the company in 1980 as a systems analyst, working on the IT side of the business for a year. He then moved into marketing at a Schneider subsidiary company. After two years in that position, Sanderson moved back to corporate headquarters to manage the software applications development staff.
In 1985, he got a call from logistics consulting firm Temple, Barker & Sloan, which became Mercer Management Consulting. “I wasn’t looking for a job, they contacted me,” Sanderson says. He had interned at Arthur Andersen’s consulting group in college, so was familiar with the consulting world.
“The breadth of working on the shipper’s side of logistics and across all modes of transportation was appealing. The range of functionality—including strategy, M&A, finance and operational audit work—offered a great chance to expand my career horizons,” he explains.
Sanderson stayed with the Boston-based consulting firm for five years. “The downside of consulting is that you never have an opportunity to see projects through to fruition. You may give people ideas, but you never get to implement them. I wanted to have my hands on something again.”
In addition, he wanted to cut down on the constant travel. So, when one of his clients, J.B. Hunt, offered him the position of vice president of marketing, he decided to make the move to Arkansas.
Over time, Sanderson was able to gain substantial start-up experience while continuing to serve as vice president of marketing for J.B. Hunt Transport. He helped start up and served as president of J.B. Hunt Special Commodities Inc. and was involved in the start-up of third-party logistics provider J.B. Hunt Logistics.
He was then approached by Dr. Yossi Sheffi of MIT, who was then part owner of the Princeton Transportation Consulting Group Inc. (PTCG), which later became Logistics.com.
“Yossi asked me to help him buy out his partners and join the company as president,” Sanderson explains. “So I did the entrepreneurial thing: sold my house, took every penny of home equity, every penny we had in the bank, and everything we could borrow to get as much equity as possible.”
Sanderson moved back to Boston to head up PTCG. “While I didn’t do everything, I was involved in everything,” he notes. “I was involved in sales and marketing, and was my own CFO and controller.” He helped raise awareness of the company and its optimization tools, speaking at conferences and publishing articles. In three years, PTCG tripled in size.
Sheffi and Sanderson wanted to expand the company further and develop new software but recognized that it would take capital to build the type of system they wanted. In October 1996, they sold the company to Sabre, with Sanderson agreeing to stay on for three years.
In November 1999, Sanderson decided to get involved with a venture capital-backed company. “I wanted to see what the experience was like, and hopefully grow and sell another company.”
He took a job as chief operating officer with NationStreet, whose business was the residential delivery of large consumer deliverables. But he left the job after six months, and NationStreet went out of business six months later.
Sanderson spent the next several months consulting and traveling. Then, in December 2000, he became president and CEO of Clicklogistics, a provider of transportation management technology and logistics management services.
“We were backed by a private equity company, had great customers and technology, and a super team,” he says. “But we didn’t have enough capital.” After Sanderson spent a year and a half trying to raise venture capital, the firm was sold, and Sanderson went back to doing independent consulting.
In the summer of 2003, Sanderson began talking with Transplace, a provider of transportation and logistics services based in Plano, Texas. He joined the firm as president and chief operating officer at the end of last year.
This move closes a loop for Sanderson, as Transplace was formed in 2000 through the merger of the logistics business units of six motor carriers—including J.B. Hunt Logistics.
Sanderson sums up his 24 years of logistics experience saying, “Whether a company is big or small, public or private—or is in technology, outsourcing, transportation, or consulting—does not matter, What is important is to belong to a company that is the best at what it does, or has the potential to be the best. Then work hard and work smart to help your company excel at satisfying customers, employees, and shareholders.”
From Systems Engineer to CEO
After earning an undergraduate degree in industrial and systems engineering at Georgia Tech, Catherine Cooper went to work for BDM Technologies. There, she did systems engineering, and was part of a team that built a robot.
“I started doing a lot of training on how to use systems, and found I enjoyed the training and people side of the business much more,” she says.
While at BDM, she contracted with The Progress Group (TPG), an Atlanta-based consulting firm, to assist with a project. “During the course of the year we worked with The Progress Group, they offered me a position. It took about two seconds to answer affirmatively,” Cooper notes. She has embraced the challenging life of a supply chain and logistics consultant ever since.
In her 10-plus years overseeing major technology projects for TPG, Cooper has managed a variety of systems implementations and new warehouse startups across the country.
“The schedule is difficult, but it’s mine to create and manage. I still work until 10 p.m. and get up at 5 a.m. for conference calls, but, because it feels as if I’m driving the boat, it’s not so frustrating,” she says.
Cooper is energized by the problem-solving and change management challenges inherent in most projects and likes the constant change involved in consulting. “There are new problems, new people, new challenges, a new environment, and new skill sets required,” she notes.
The consultant life isn’t for everyone, she says. “You have to be a self-starter, and have to be comfortable being alone. You may fly in to a client location at 10 p.m., get a rental car, drive to the hotel alone, and eat dinner by yourself.”
While Cooper enjoys what she calls her thinking time, “if you need the ‘water cooler’ talk, this type of job is not for you.”
In addition, she notes, consultants “are not a permanent part of the team—everyone in the company knows that you’re not there for the long haul.” Successful consultants generally have established their own lives outside of the workday. “You don’t have much time to develop a personal life on the road,” Cooper says.
Cooper, who was elected president and CEO of The Progress Group in 2002, has always wanted to be a manager. “I always liked running the show. I did Army ROTC, where I got trained in leadership for four years.” She has continued to hone her business skills by attending sessions at professional conferences. “I wish I had an MBA, but I can’t stop for that now,” she says.
Cooper does a lot of marketing for the firm, speaking at conferences and meetings. “Public speaking is a huge asset for your career,” she says. “So is having an article published. Being able to send out a magazine article is much better than just sending out another resume. It gives you credibility.”
Cooper is active in professional organizations, serving as president of the Institute of Industrial Engineers’ New Mexico Chapter, and as past president of the Engineering Societies President’s Council.
“It’s very important to stay connected to the community,” she says. Such volunteer work is energizing. It also provides a sense of belonging and enables her to stay abreast of changes in the industry while making a contribution.
People who lead such busy lives need to take good care of themselves, Cooper says. To minimize the wear and tear of being on the road, she’ll fly in to a client site the evening before a meeting, rather than go through the stress of a same-day flight. She also looks for ways to rejuvenate herself while on the road. “Physical fitness, and working out are a big deal,” she says.
It’s all part of finding the best work-life balance, according to Cooper.
From Functional to General Management
Barry Dale has maintained consistency while growing professionally. “I started out in logistics—that has been my career,” he says. Dale is president and chief operating officer of Cendian Corporation, an Atlanta-based logistics outsourcing company specializing in chemicals.
The early portion of Dale’s career was two-pronged. One prong involved developing as a functional manager, growing the number of people and dollars for which he was responsible, broadening his network of contacts, and gaining more responsibility as a logistician. The other prong involved building up the capability and skill set needed for general management—leadership skills, communication skills, and people development.
Dale spent much of his career at Eastman Kodak Company, later Eastman Chemical. He began in production and inventory control, moving to customer service, order fulfillment, and procurement before becoming director of global logistics in 1994.
“At that point, Eastman Chemical was spun off into a public company and globalized,” he says. “We took the logistics organization from a North American company, shipping around the world, to a global company that shipped from anywhere to anywhere—that’s a big transition.”
During the next five years, “we built the organization around the world, with employees in Australia, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Mexico, South America and Europe—that was a real learning experience,” he notes.
Dale’s next major transition came after he began heading up Eastman Chemical’s global supply chain process excellence group. “We looked at how to make our existing processes more efficient, and began putting together some ideas on how to take waste out of the supply chain,” he recalls.
Dale and colleague Beat Schweizer, a logistician on Dale’s global management team, identified several technologies they felt would enable the change. But they were unable to achieve the return on investment that would justify those technologies. They then developed the idea of forming an external company that would spread the cost by providing supply chain services to a number of chemical companies.
“We put a business plan together, went to Eastman Chemical, and were able to convince them to provide funding to the company and completely outsource their global logistics,” Dale says.
The result was the establishment of Cendian Corporation, which was launched in March 2000. Since then, the company has grown 50 percent each year, and today has 450 employees, eight offices around the world, and more than one billion dollars under contract.
Dale recognized early on that Cendian needed the skills of a public company chief executive officer. He and the other company founders worked with an executive recruiter to hire Mark Kaiser, Cendian’s CEO.
“It has been a great partnership,” Dale says. “The first day on the job, Mark came into my office and said to me, ‘I hope you’ll be president of Cendian for as long you want. But if you’re going to do that, you’ll have to grow every day. Being president of a company with no revenue is very different from being president of a company with $100 million in revenue. And that’s very different from being president of a company with one billion dollars in revenue.'”
Dale works to continually develop his general management skills. He does this by reading extensively, attending executive education sessions at places such as the University of Tennessee and the Darden School at the University of Virginia.
In addition, he learns from working with executive coaches used by Cendian.
Dale also gives credit to the extensive training program that Eastman Chemical implemented when he was director of global logistics.
“We invested four hours of training every two weeks for almost two years,” he recalls. Preparing for and presenting classes on topics such as quality management, leadership, managing change, empowerment, and managing teams helped to hone his general management skills.
Dale still has his drive to learn. “You can’t stop,” he says. “If you stop pushing, you stop learning—and you start going backward.”
From Ag to Ed
After Roy Cail earned his B.S. degree in agronomy, he spent the first five years of his career in the agricultural department of the Green Giant Company.
“Then they asked me to change career directions and become a distribution center manager—without my having had any logistics experience,” he recalls. “The opportunity to move out of agriculture was really a surprise. Once I ventured outside my initial scope of work, I became interested in looking at new opportunities.”
As his career reflects, Cail had plenty of opportunity to try new things. For example, Green Giant asked Cail to move from the distribution center in Illinois to a manufacturing plant in South Jersey, where he was plant manager for a year and a half.
He was then promoted to director of distribution center operations, moving to the corporate office, where he ultimately became responsible for all channels of distribution operations.
When Pillsbury Foods acquired Green Giant, Cail became director of operations, then director of inventory management, and was eventually promoted to director of distribution for the dry products group. Finally, he was promoted to director of logistics distribution for Pillsbury’s U.S. Foods Group.
“Early in my career, I knew I wanted to work my way up to be a member of senior management,” Cail recalls. “I wanted to be in a position to help make decisions, influence direction, and participate in the senior leadership process.” So he started exploring what types of skills and experience he needed to reach the senior management level.
“I had 20-plus years of experience in food, and knew I needed some diversity, so I decided to go outside the food industry,” Cail says.
He moved to Ecolab, a specialty chemical company, as vice president of operations, with responsibility for both manufacturing and logistics. Then came several positions at consumer products manufacturer Tambrands, culminating in the position of vice president of logistics for North America.
But Cail still had a few more moves up his sleeve. “I wanted to be the officer of a company,” Cail explains, and to have profit-and-loss responsibility. “I wanted the opportunity to lead, and to demonstrate that I have general management skills. While we may manage lots of dollars and volume, we often don’t get to demonstrate that in logistics.”
So he became president and chief operating officer of Distribution Services of America, a small group of logistics-related businesses that included a national 3PL, a rail service company, and a logistics technology company. Cail was contacted by an executive search firm seeking a candidate with an agricultural, logistics, and manufacturing background who had experience in general management for an agricultural-based company in New Zealand.
“They were looking for someone to change the direction of the company,” Cail explains. He accepted the job in New Zealand, serving as general manager for a group of businesses for Wrightson Limited, where he stayed for two and a half years. When he returned to the United States, Cail looked at a number of jobs but didn’t find a good fit.
“I decided to launch my own consulting practice, and landed a multi-billion-dollar company as a client,” Cail recalls. “I partnered with other independent consultants to develop a supply chain strategy for the company.”
During a business trip, he sat on the plane next to a major investor in a new start-up consulting company, Symbius, which was backed with venture capital funding. The two struck up a conversation, which led to an interview, then to Cail’s joining Symbius as vice president of consulting.
“Unfortunately, with the downturn in the economy and the venture capital funding drying up, I re-energized my own consulting practice and decided to look for potential opportunities in the marketplace,” he says.
One of Cail’s goals was to find a job in his home state of Oklahoma where he could draw on his experience to help small and medium-sized businesses. He found just that job in his current position as executive director of economic development at Oklahoma State University’s Technical Branch in Okulmgee, Okla.
Cail is also serving as vice president of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council of Logistics Management so he can “keep an oar in the water in logistics and supply chain management,” he says.
Cail believes it is possible to manage one’s career. “A lot of people talk about luck,” he says. “Luck is part of it, but generally speaking, people create their own luck.
“Timing is everything and we create our own timing.”