Where Are They Now? A Reader Profile Reunion

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Time flies, and careers evolve quickly. Since 2002, Inbound Logistics' Reader Profile column has introduced readers to more than 90 colleagues who work in logistics and supply chain management. Many of those professionals have since moved on from the jobs they held when we visited with them. Others still hold the same positions but have seen significant changes in their work. Let's catch up.

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When we last checked in with Kim Brown, she was materials manager at Hearth and Home Technologies, a manufacturer of fireplaces and other home heating products. While in that job, Brown was immersed in facilitating Continuous Improvement events at the company's manufacturing plants, distribution centers (DCs), and stores.

She got so involved, in fact, that Hearth and Home named her its Continuous Improvement manager. That experience serves Brown well in her current job as director of distribution at Quality Bicycle Products, a bicycle parts, accessories, and apparel distributor. Quality had already implemented a Continuous Improvement initiative when Brown arrived, but she brought new tools, such as value stream mapping, to the program.

At Quality, Brown is responsible for all aspects of distribution—receiving product from suppliers, filling orders from independent bike shops and distributors, and managing the DC.

Unlike many corporations in today's economy, Quality is expanding. Along with its current DC in Bloomington, Minn., Quality is strategically locating facilities around the United States to bring product closer to customers. "Our goal is to be two days away from all our independent retail detailers," she says. The expansion presents Brown with the exciting opportunity to build a network from the ground up.

Besides calling upon her skills in supply chain strategy and facilities management, the expansion also gives Brown a chance to exercise her interest in sustainable technologies.

The Bloomington facility was built according to the U.S. Green Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards and earned LEED Gold-level certification in 2007.

"I did not know about LEED before I came to this company," Brown says. Now, she's so well-versed she speaks about Quality's environmental initiatives to groups such as the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. As the company develops its new DCs, she'll put that knowledge to work in multiple locations.

If Brown could change anything about her career, she says she would have gotten involved in the import/export process sooner. The 10+2 rule regarding security filings that importers must make to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency is part of her work routine these days. So is Quality's participation in CBP's Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism program. "I wish I could have gotten in on the ground floor of these initiatives," Brown says.

Drew Alexander: Crate Expectations

THEN: Director of supply chain/logistics, Apex Digital, Walnut, Calif. (profiled in November 2004)

IN-BETWEEN: Director of supply chain/logistics, E&S International (2006-2008); CEO, Top Gun Distribution (2008)

NOW: Global logistics manager, Anthony International, Sylmar, Calif. (since 2008)

Drew Alexander is currently having fun on the job with packing crates.

We first spoke with Alexander in 2004, when he was working as director of supply chain and logistics at consumer electronics firm Apex Digital. In 2006, he left Apex for another consumer electronics company, E&S International (ESI). Then, in 2008, that job fell victim to the world economic downturn.

Eyeing an entrepreneurial opportunity, Alexander made plans to purchase Top Gun Distribution Services, a logistics firm based in Rancho Domingo, Calif. He was rounding up financing and already serving as the company's CEO when Top Gun's owner decided not to sell after all.

At about the same time, Alexander received a job offer from Anthony International, a manufacturer of glass doors for the freezer and refrigerator cases found in grocery stores, delis, and convenience stores. He accepted the job as global logistics manager, making him responsible for all imports, exports, and domestic transportation of materials and finished goods, and for the warehouse in Sylmar, Calif.

That's where the packing crates come in. At ESI, one of Alexander's favorite projects focused on enhancing the company's packaging by reducing cosmetic damage to TVs in transit, fitting more product into containers and trailers, and reducing the company's environmental impact.

Alexander worked with ESI's factory in China to design more compact TV boxes, reducing their volume by as much as 50 percent. "We almost doubled the amount of product we could fit in a container," Alexander says. He also found ways to use recyclable materials and soy ink in boxes without increasing packaging costs.

Now, he's pushing for similar results in his new job.

"I took the knowledge I amassed and the resources I'd networked with over the years, applied them to Anthony International's door crating, and revised the design," Alexander says.

The rugged glass in Anthony's doors rarely breaks in transit, but cosmetic blemishes are always a concern. "We try to avoid having them rub together," he adds.

The redesigned crates reduce the risk of damage, and switching from solid wood to plywood for parts of the crates reduces their environmental impact. Now, Alexander is helping the company further refine the new design, as well as exploring the use of reusable crates to make the packaging even more sustainable.

"This project is challenging and a lot of fun to think about," he says.

Bruce Cutler: Turning Chaos Into Cash

THEN: Vice president of logistics, Star Furniture, Houston (profiled in May 2004)

IN-BETWEEN: General manager, Advanced Logistics Services, Houston (2006-2007); Director, home delivery logistics, Restoration Hardware, Corte Madera, Calif. (2007-2008)

NOW: Vice president, logistics and operations, Masterworks International, Houston (since 2009)

Bruce Cutler spent many years working at firms that put products together. Now he manages an operation that takes products apart.

In spring 2009, Cutler started a new job as vice president, logistics and operations at Houston-based Masterworks International, a Hewlett-Packard authorized distributor of HP computers and parts. Masterworks receives and breaks down obsolete, excess, and refurbished systems, identifies and tests the components, and sells those parts to value-added resellers. "We turn chaos into cash," he says.

Cutler is responsible for the flow of products into the warehouse and out to customers, and for the sorting and testing operations.

It's quite a change from his 2004 stint as vice president of logistics at Star Furniture, where employees in the DC assembled products before delivering them to consumers' homes. Leaving that job in 2006, Cutler became general manager of Advanced Logistics Services, a third-party logistics firm that provided dedicated services for the Houston-area operations of oil field services giant Schlumberger.

Then, in 2007, Cutler went to work as director of home delivery logistics for California furniture company Restoration Hardware. "I worked from home and traveled three or four days a week, visiting a different location almost every day," he says. Most of that time was spent managing the company's relationships with third-party delivery partners.

The economic downturn put an end to that job. Now, at Masterworks, Cutler has returned to his roots in the computer industry: he spent his early career at IBM, Computerland, and Compaq Computer. That background, plus a degree in engineering, provide a solid foundation for his new job. But so does his experience serving Schlumberger at Advanced Logistics.

"That was the first time I sat on the service provider side of the table instead of the shipper side," Cutler says. The experience taught him the nuts and bolts of providing dedicated service to a major client, knowledge he calls on today as he helps Masterworks satisfy HP's needs.

As a vice president at Masterworks, Cutler has the opportunity to hone new leadership skills. "I'm managing the operation under me, and I'm involved in strategic business decisions," he says. "I'm helping develop the company's supply chain vision and determining how to achieve our goals."

Changing jobs several times in the past few years has reinforced Cutler's belief in the value of flexibility, especially in a tough economy. "It helps that supply chain is a broad, horizontal function," he says. "Taking a broad approach makes it easier to weather this storm."

Masao Nishi: View From the Center

THEN: Assistant vice president, supply chain management, Sysco Corporation, Houston (profiled in September 2005)

NOW: Vice president, supply chain management, Sysco Corporation, Houston

Masao Nishi is still at Sysco Corporation, where we found him in 2005. During the past four years, he has seen his job evolve as the food service distribution company developed an enterprise logistics operation.

In 2005, plans to consolidate logistics for approximately 70 independent operating companies in the United States were just starting to unfold. Sysco completed the transition in 2007; it now manages shipments for all those companies from Houston and three regional facilities. Soon it will bring 18 operating companies in Canada under the same umbrella.

Centralization allows Sysco to better balance lanes and ship more full truckloads. The company can ship freight from multiple suppliers on single trucks, crossdock the freight and send full truckloads to the operating companies, or let one truck deliver to two companies in the same region. "We could not have employed that kind of strategy when each operating company was taking care of itself," Nishi notes.

Encouraging the companies to change their processes—getting two Sysco companies 100 miles apart to place orders with vendors on the same day, for example—is a challenge. The operating companies focus intently on the needs of their customers.

"Inbound transportation is not their top concern," Nishi says. "But changing processes on the inbound side can help keep costs down without affecting the customer at all."

Besides coordinating shipments, Sysco is working to better integrate inventory management with transportation management. For example, an operating company might place an order with a supplier every week and receive one-fourth of a truckload. "If we change that to ordering twice as much every other week, we cut transportation costs," Nishi explains.

Managing transportation centrally also helps Sysco save money by letting it put freight out to bid regionally and nationally, so carriers can compete for the lanes they want most.

With retirement looming in a few years, Nishi says he's glad that he came to Sysco only after playing a variety of other roles, including engineer and consultant, and working in several different industries. All that experience has been invaluable during Sysco's transition to a new supply chain model.

"I was able to leverage the knowledge and experience that I've accumulated throughout my entire working life," he says. "It was a benefit that I came to Sysco at this stage of my career, instead of right out of school."

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