Thriving on Change, Growth, and Opportunity

Thriving on Change, Growth, and Opportunity

Fresh out of grad school, Thad Bedard moved to the San Francisco Bay area hoping to become a professor of American literature. But teaching jobs were scarce.

“To make ends meet, I started working as a warehouseman,” recalls Bedard. “I enjoyed the industry. The work challenged a lot of my preconceived notions about business.” He started working his way up through a series of supply chain positions.

In 2008, Bedard joined APL Logistics, and in January 2022 he became president. We recently talked with Bedard about the evolution of his career, and what issues are getting most of his attention these days.

IL: How did an experience early in your career help to shape you as a leader?

I was managing a group of organized labor on the waterfront in Richmond, California. The prevailing guidance about managing those teams was to be harsh. I tried that persona, but it didn’t work. When I started treating them as human beings—talking about their concerns and how we could work together to accomplish what we had to get done so we could all go home at the end of the day—things started to improve. The lesson? A hard-boiled, take-no-prisoners management style doesn’t work.

IL: Since you became president of APL Logistics, what have been your top priorities?

We’ve been working hard to realize our corporate strategy, which is tied to our first maxim: to become the premier order management provider in the world. To that end, we’re doing a lot of work on our product management and operational strategy, getting all aligned toward that common vision. We’re also aligning our capital investment strategy, both for the physical movement of goods and in the technology arena.

We also are rolling out the company’s first diversity and inclusion program.

IL: What keeps your customers awake these days?

Customers are focused on how to remain relevant and resilient. Aligned with that is their desire to make sense of all the different technology and service offerings, determine what to do with those choices, and still maintain some feeling that their logistics provider is neutral and has their best interests foremost in mind.

In response, APL Logistics is trying to build out a platform that gives customers the best, most advanced, neutral options, providing different opportunities for transport or for consolidation. On the data analytics and measurement side, our role is to help customers understand how their providers and vendors are behaving against their key performance indicators.

IL: How has the pandemic changed the way people look at supply chains?

The pandemic has made everyone aware that product doesn’t just fall out of the sky. There’s a renewed focus on inbound logistics, and we’re realizing that demand for product is the real driver. During the pandemic, consumers started to buy things at a rate they hadn’t done in many years. And they wanted those products in ways they hadn’t before—at their homes, close to where they got coffee, or where they picked up their kids.

Sellers had to figure out how to get merchandise closer to where consumers were going to be and what specific products they wanted to buy. That leads to the realization that if you don’t get demand right, you’re going to over-manufacture product and generate a lot of carbon waste. One of the threads to follow with the pandemic is the relationship between demand planning and the climate situation we’re in now. I think it’s direct.

IL: How would you describe your leadership style?

Collaborative. I build a management team with the premise that it’s not an authoritarian regime. Executives from all the disciplines that make up a company—from finance to HR to legal—play an equal role. That doesn’t change the fact that I ultimately make the decision, but I am open to and encourage dissent.

IL: What’s the hardest aspect of your job?

Balancing all the components of a global organization that’s engaged in a lot of businesses. Each geography and business presents its own kinds of challenges. And the world doesn’t sleep.

Morning, evening, going out for coffee on a Sunday—I’m constantly checking to see what issues I need to prioritize, what I can delegate, what I can defer for a while, and where I need more information. That has become a constant churn in my brain.

IL: What makes you excited about going to work?

Change, and the opportunity to take what is already a great company and make it an even greater company—one that employees are proud of, that customers want to do business with, and that new employees want to join. Figuring out how to make that work for all parties concerned—from stakeholders to employees—is interesting and forces me to learn new things.

IL: Is there something you believed strongly at the start of your career that you’ve since changed your mind about?

I used to believe that all bosses were out to get me. I didn’t understand the nuances of decision making. Now, I try to remember that the employee’s perspective on a company’s decision is very important. Employees don’t always have visibility into all the variables that go into a decision. I hope I consider all perspectives—management, employees, and customers—when I make a decision and when I communicate it.

IL: Read any terrific books lately?

Horizons by Barry Lopez is a fantastic work. He was in his 70s when it was published, and the book reflects on the adventures he’d had, the landscape around him, what the landscape means, and how it’s changed. I wouldn’t call it a hopeful book, but it’s a beautiful book. I also recommend The Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder. It’s about breaking down the barriers between nature and humans, recognizing that we all live in a kind of wilderness.

IL: Beyond work and books, how do you spend your time?

I spend a lot of time with my wife and three children. We go to the beach a lot. I also enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities, including walking and bicycling.