Lessons from the Transportation and Logistics Business
As recent events have demonstrated, business owners must always be alert, agile, and prepared to adapt to a changing environment. We must call upon the entrepreneurial drive, discipline, and character that helped us build our businesses in the first place to guide our companies through times of turbulence.
Even in calmer times, leading a company through change requires a constant balance of speed and quality—especially in the transportation and logistics industry. As CEO of Trans-Expedite, Inc., a transportation and logistics company with a headquarters in the cross-border trade hub of El Paso, I’ve seen these demands firsthand. As we’ve grown, meeting the needs of our Fortune 500 clients has required comprehensive end-to-end services and impeccable delivery of the client’s assets, often on an extremely time-sensitive basis. This is a challenging imperative for both new and established providers.
We faced a new test when, last year, we expanded to own Transaction Packing, Inc. (TPI) and extend our management of the supply chain for our clients. Based in Houston, TPI specializes in customized crating and packing solutions for global producers of complex products, from massive oil rigs to intricate microchips. This expansion was part of Trans-Expedite’s strategy as a “4PL,” or fourth-party logistics, provider. As a 4PL provider, we increasingly serve as a single point of contact between our clients and multiple providers of logistics services, often overseeing and optimizing their entire supply chain.
If you are in the transportation and logistics business, you may be seeking to evolve into a 4PL provider as well. But no matter what business you’re in, you are likely seeking to grow, change, and meet the demands of a shifting marketplace. Below are six recommendations to CEOs who want to keep their footing as they lead through transformative change of any kind.
- Know your core competency. This is the first step in establishing your company’s credibility. When Trans-Expedite was founded 19 years ago, it offered 24/7/365 delivery and human service contact—a differentiator at that time. Even as the company has expanded to adapt to technological advances and marketplace complexities, delivering on-time, sensitive cargo is still a key element of the brand.
For a major corporation, trying to be everything to everyone is a trust buster. Instead, articulate your strengths and secure a project to prove them. This builds credibility among Fortune 500s and gives you a chance to showcase your strategic thinking and innovative solutions.
- Build your capacity. In a company’s early stages, you’ll need to get creative in partnering, subcontracting, or extending your company to deliver on important contracts. This can also be a treacherous time because suddenly you are relying on others whose performance can impact your reputation.
You can reduce these risks by meticulously vetting partners and suppliers. Seek out expert counsel on prudent ways to accomplish this and draft up tight agreements. And in your spare time, consider taking an intensive executive management course to hone your strategic thinking and broaden your vision for your company’s future.
- Secure advance financing. Have the foresight to develop strong banking relationships as you grow. Entrepreneurs can make the mistake of living moment to moment, but the transportation industry is especially investment-heavy, and many Fortune 500s pay on 120-day cycles. Once you secure that $20-million contract, you may need a line of credit. Keeping your bank in the loop on your progress will help secure it.
- Execute flawlessly. While this may seem obvious, meticulous implementation is a compelling advantage that brings your customers back. The flip side is also true—poor execution can sink your operation, especially in the world of truck transportation, where the labor market is tight and can be difficult to manage.
Creating a cohesive and mission-focused culture is the best way to control execution. As with all behavioral change, this starts at the top of your company and is secured by a strong team and standard operation procedures. Make sure you have clarity on the customer’s expectations and facilitate seamless, ongoing communication between every member of the execution chain.
The CEO should be involved in the early stages of any major contract, and depending on its scope, meet weekly or quarterly with the team to ensure rigorous delivery.
- Take calculated risks. Once all these building blocks are in place, a company is prepared to seize opportunities to expand its services. At one key juncture, our company was asked by a major customer to secure warehousing as part of our deliverables. Thanks to our financial planning, we were able to lease a warehouse, and because of relationships built at a leading women’s business organization, we were able to partner with a Texas-based company, Integrated Human Capital, to provide the warehouse staffing. It was both a risk and an opportunity for us, but having these pieces in place allowed us to capitalize on it successfully.
- Stay true to your principles. In partnering with TPI last year, we purposely selected a management team we had known and trusted for 20 years. As leaders, we shared a strategic mindset and always approached each conversation with the customer’s end in mind. And we thrived on being creative in our solutions—whether we are reengineering factory floor workflows to speed packaging, repurposing materials to pursue sustainability goals, or packing hazardous materials according to national and international standards. In partnering with a team that shared our core principles of strategic, creative thinking, we have built a new relationship that adds up to more than the sum of its parts.
In the fast-changing transportation industry, these guidelines may offer milestones to success. But they also offer a path forward to CEOs everywhere, because like it or not, we must always be ready to adapt.