July 2021 | Case Studies | LeaderSHIP

From Cornflakes and Cars to Logistics

Tags: Food Logistics, Automotive Logistics, Technology

Val Hoge, Chief Operations Officer
DP DHL Supply Chain North America

In the transparent, open, and honest work environment Val Hoge created for DP DHL Supply Chain, teams are empowered, feedback is considered a gift, and even the coaches get coached.


Val Hoge arrived at her current job by way of cereal and cars. Hoge was working as program director, North American logistics, at breakfast cereal producer Kellogg's when one of that company's logistics service providers, Exel, offered her a job in its automotive division. "I had always been interested in joining the automotive world," says Hoge.

In her work, she took particular pleasure in process mapping, standardization, and robotics. "The automotive world was always much further ahead in those areas," she notes.

Exel is now part of DP DHL Supply Chain. Since 2013, Hoge has served as chief operations officer for that company's North American business. In a conversation with Inbound Logistics, she spoke about her development as an executive and some of her current priorities.

IL: What was one experience early in your career that helped to shape you as a leader?

The president of Kellogg's Canada was an innovator, always looking for ways to improve the business. When he asked me to lead one of his projects, I felt it was beyond my capability. But he convinced me to take it on, and throughout he mentored and coached me, providing constructive feedback and always operating in an open, informal way.

As it turned out, I loved the work, and I was able to complete it successfully. The experience helped build my confidence and showed me the importance of taking risks and receiving honest feedback.

IL: If we followed you around on the job for a week, what would we see you doing?

Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, you'd mostly see me at home in front of the computer on virtual meetings. My day usually starts early in the morning, when I represent North America in meetings with DP DHL Supply Chain's global Operations Excellence team. Most of our initiatives emerge from this group. You would see me learning, providing input, sharing best practices, and determining fit for North America.

Work then begins with our North American business leaders to embrace those initiatives—such as standardized processes, technology, or robotics—in our North American organization. The goals are to gain efficiencies, delight our customers, and motivate our associates. All this work is accomplished through my leadership team. We meet regularly to review ongoing design for pursuits, operation implementations, and continuous improvement.

IL: How are your days different in non-pandemic times?

When my team and I are able to meet face to face, we usually do it on the floor at a site, to see how it is adapting the tools and processes we've introduced into the organization.

A lot of what we do involves coaching associates on the floor. It's interesting: coaching doesn't come naturally to a lot of our operational leaders. So we have a program to coach the coaches. We help them step out of their comfort zones and become the type of leader who can embrace input from all of their associates, and help those associates achieve maximum performance and job satisfaction.

IL: What's your leadership style?

I'm very transparent. I empower my team, and we have an environment of open and honest communications. I like to build trust, and I like an informal and comfortable working environment. I like to understand how people think to maximize input and engagement, so we use a lot of feedback tools.

One training module for managers talks about how feedback is a gift. We like to give gifts to each other regularly; this helps us all continue to develop and grow in the organization.

IL: What projects currently get most of your attention?

Our diversity and inclusion program is one. As one of only two C-level women in our North American Supply Chain organization, it's important for me to mentor women to be successful, and to make sure we lead the way for other minorities in the organization. This is essential for our success.

Another key project is innovation, which includes accelerated digitization and integrating robotics into our labor force. Innovation also includes using data analytics and machine learning to become more predictive, so we can improve our quality and enhance our customer relationships.

Sustainability is also a hot topic. We have aggressive goals not just to offset our carbon emissions but to truly reduce them. We also have programs that will create lasting social impacts in the communities where we work.

IL: What's one of the biggest curveballs a customer has thrown you, and how did you handle it?

When I joined DP DHL, we won some business that involved multiple warehousing and transportation solutions across the United States. As we started implementation, we recognized that the requirements were very different from what the customer had described. The business wasn't just storing and shipping goods; it was mostly bringing in components, building kits, and then shipping them out. Building kits requires different skill sets and different systems.

But we met the challenge. I quickly learned that an open and honest relationship with a customer is essential to work through any scenario and provide a solution that works.

IL: With whom would you switch jobs for a day if you could?

I'd love to work at Walt Disney Studios. I've always admired Disney's creativity and innovation, and the company's vision and mission statements are admirable.

IL: How do you like to spend your time outside of work?

I enjoy spending time with my husband and two dogs, and family and friends. I try to take at least two hours daily for physical activity. A walk in the woods is my meditation. n

Think Beyond Your Main Love

As a girl, Val Hoge planned to become a veterinarian. "I worked in pet kennels and grooming studios," she says, "I worked with many veterinarians to gain experience, so I could go to veterinary school."

Then she encountered a substantial roadblock: "I loved animals, but I didn't love biology," she says.

Clearly, Hoge needed a new plan. "But I had little knowledge of what the world had to offer in regard to careers," she says. Then an entry-level position at Kellogg's Canada provided a chance to learn about other options, and she discovered the pleasures of corporate work.

This led her to pursue a degree in computer science and business administration through part-time study while continuing to advance her career. "I thoroughly enjoyed logistics, information technology, and working on projects across multiple areas," she says.

So what advice would Hoge give her 18-year-old self? "Be open," she says. "Learn as much as you can and find opportunities to grow. Think beyond your main love when it comes to career options."






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