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  June 10th, 2016 | Written by

13 Logistics Industry Thought Leaders

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  • 13 Logistics Thought Leaders
  • 3PLs in the Age of Technology
  • 3PLs Thought Leaders Ushering in a New Era

What does it mean to be a thought leader? The term has become common corporate-speak for just about anything involving advice on how to do business, but we set out to look for the executives who have ushered in new eras, quickly and creatively adapted to changing landscapes, and reinvigorated age-old challenges with innovative thinking and focused approaches. We invited 3PLs to submit candidates, and of the entries collected we found 13 that, in our opinion, were out in front.

These thought leaders range in style and substance—from Bradley Jacobs of XPO Logistics who, as a highly successful career CEO, saw a fragmented industry ripe for consolidation; to Kristy Knichel of Knichel Logistics, who takes employee treatment seriously, and to the next level. Others have accomplishments that illustrate points in their careers when they led their teams into uncharted territories and left behind a road map for others to follow. In all cases, there is something to be learned that you can bring to your own operation. 

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CEO and Co-founder
Coyote Logistics | 10 Years

After co-founding the American Backhaulers logistics company in 1984 and selling what had become North America’s second-largest freight brokerage in 1999, Jeff Silver took a hiatus to return to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, to receive his MBA. He next ventured to MIT to earn a master’s in Engineering in Logistics. Armed with an advanced education and industry experience, Silver joined his wife Marianne in co-founding Coyote Logistics in 2006 with four employees. It’s now one of America’s leading 3PLs and Silver is a recognized industry leader. He launched Coyote as “a whole new type of 3PL” that “would therein change the industry.” Coyote’s technological advances brought previously unavailable capacity to the market, something Silver credits to his MIT education and hit-and-miss experiences at American Backhaulers. Silver now sees only a silver lining ahead. “This is an incredible time to be in the logistics industry. We are on the cusp of a new era of automation that will bring rapid change from the warehouse and loading dock to the road. These will be big changes, and we all need to be ready for them, thinking about how things will work for our customers’ supply chains but also about the challenges we will face as humans do fewer of the more mundane, repetitive tasks that automation will take over. We will all need to be smarter.”

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Vice president, Distribution and 3PL Services
Cardinal Health Integrated Logistics | 16 Years

Cardinal Health has a large customer that faced a significant regulatory challenge a couple years ago: Their highest volume product was facing additional regulatory scrutiny, and that impacted their quality release cycle and limited the available supply. Under Theron Neese’s thought leadership, Cardinal worked closely with the client to respond to an unpredictable release cycle and deploy inventory to key locations throughout the country. “We quickly shifted from a deployment strategy that had inventory in nearly 40 locations across the country to one that continued to service the entire country from just five locations,” Neese recalls. “This required continuous communication and flexibility to ensure that critical national customer demand was met. We helped them through the crisis and we were able to assist them in normalizing their supply chain again.” With more than 15 years of experience in distribution, manufacturing, packaging and 3PL services, Neese is regarded as a strong leader with excellent financial, analytical and problem-solving skills. His secret to executing a lean transformation of Cardinal Health? “First and foremost, it always starts at the top,” he says. “Complete buy-in from the C-level and a clear vision as to why the organization is embarking on a lean transformation is critical. The transformation must include employees down to the floor level; this pushes accountability through the entire business.” accountability through the entire business.”

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Regional CEO, Americas
DB Schenker | 3 Years

Before becoming DB Schenker’s Regional CEO, Americas, in March 2015, Philipe Gilbert spent two years as Regional CEO, Europe West, which had him in charge of a logistics network encompassing France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Mauritania and Angola. “I spent six years traveling the African continent,” he observes. “I learned to understand, audit and report on our logistics activities in remote places where political unrest is the norm. I learned how ingenuous and adaptable humans are in their ability to move freight in that beautiful and often harsh landscape. Not only did I learn how to operate businesses for the export of raw materials and the import of manufactured goods, but I also learned how to facilitate food related donations and the importance of effective aid logistics to help people survive.” In those 24 months, he took the company from break even to profitability, so what is the secret for this thought leader with 28 years of logistics experience? Continue learning. From Gilbert’s experience on the African continent, he brought to his current role trust in human ingenuity, a willingness to adapt to the changing situations and a strategy of spreading the risks. “Out of 10 countries in Africa, one will be in turmoil. What you might lose there you make elsewhere.”

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Vice president and general manager, Logistics
Schneider Logistics | 12 Years

Mike Kukiela credits his training and experience in the U.S. Army with instilling in him a disciplined approach to risk assessment and vision alignment with a crisp delivery of objectives. Add to that Kukiela’s 12 years with Schneider, and it is small wonder he has displayed the creativity and bold vision that make him a thought leader in a complex and ever-changing industry. “In addition to monitoring industry regulations, the Schneider Logistics leadership team is continuously monitoring the activity within our portfolio,” he explains. “With superior platforms, we have an ability to foresee trends across modes of transportation, industry verticals or shipping regions. That knowledge is then converted to value for our customers.” Of course, it also helps greatly if you enjoy what you do. “I love interacting with our customers, suppliers and the logistics professionals within Schneider,” confides Kukiela. “Continuous communication strengthens the strategic relationships, increases our knowledge sharing and promotes an environment of innovation and continuous improvement.” One way he does this? Walk the lines. “A former military mentor shared this with me as a junior officer. You cannot fix what you do not see and you cannot capture on an advantage if you’re behind a computer all day.”

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CT Logistics | 32 Years

In 1984, Revenge of the Nerds came out. Coincidentally, that’s when Allan J. Miner joined CT Logistics. The digital revolution now has nerds running the world—and CT Logistics’ mid-’80s embrace of technology led to it becoming a stalwart in the industry and Miner a thought leader (but not a nerd). CT’s FreitRater software, whose first version was introduced commercially in 1986, is a flexible global freight management system with more than 800 data elements to support and produce valuable business intelligence with complete visibility. Since then, FreitRater has been upgraded and expanded to stay ahead of industry standards. “Because of our commitment to unique and customized solutions for each client, CT has been able to accelerate FreitRater’s application growth over the decades because of each client’s individual and unique needs,” says Miner, who also created CT’s annual FreitRater User Group Conference, now in its eighth year, to bring every user together in an open forum of learning and collaboration. “This open forum delivers to clients exactly what they need,” Miner says. “Each year CT sees the pulse of the industry through our clients’ experiences.” So what does he see happening 10 years from now? “Expanded Internet connectivity through personal/mobile devices which connect the entire supply chain for complete visibility, real-time status and informational data knowledge.”

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Chairman and CEO
Echo Global Logistics | 10 Years

Since becoming CEO of Echo Global Logistics in 2006, Doug Waggoner has built the 3PL into a “one-stop shop” that provides comprehensive transportation services to its clients. Through his expertise in computer programming, less-than-truckload (LTL) shipping and acquiring stuff—namely 20 3PLs, many of which had built a specialized focus on modes and services such as intermodal, refrigerated truckload, heavy haul & over-dimensional, and hazmat shipping. “Technology has always been at the core of everything we do,” Waggoner says. “To move more than 12,000 shipments a day, we have to rely on best-in-class technology. The key to building great technology is to always keep shippers and their needs in mind. Our goal is to use technology to simplify the daily tasks and complexities associated with shipping and logistics.” It’s a strategy that pays dividends for clients. Take Action Gypsum Supply, an independent distributor of building materials that used to have its manufacturers manage its inbound shipments and simply roll the shipping fees into the price of the product. “When Echo came on board and started managing Action Gypsum’s inbound and outbound freight,” Waggoner says, “we used our large carrier network to provide our client with significant cost savings and increased margins, which Action Gypsum then used to gain a competitive advantage in the building materials industry and grow its business.”

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President and CEO
Knichel Logistics | 13 Years

Kristy Knichel is an industry thought leader due to the unconventional yet effective strategy she employs at the logistics company that bears her last name: treating all employees like family. Her company’s retention rates are incredibly high, as is morale—and profits. When her company started in 2003, revenue was at $2 million. At the end of 2015, it was near $50 million. “Happy employees equate to happy customers, so keeping employee morale high is a big initiative for us on an ongoing basis as it directly impacts our bottom line,” Knichel says. “All employees are kept abreast of company financials so that they are aware of how we are performing as a group, which is very engaging. In regards to monetary perks, we give annual bonuses and have implemented incentive plans that are performance based. Throughout the course of the year, the company distributes tickets to Penguins, Pirates and Steelers games and we also have a yearly tradition of celebrating customer service week by dedicating the entire week to rewarding our staff with games, food and prizes. I maintain an open door policy, so another large piece to keeping my employees happy is to listen to their opinions and suggestions and put their good ideas into action.” 

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Vice president, Supply Chain Solutions
UPS | 23 Years

Alan Amling began his UPS career in 1982 as a seasonal employee and has since worked as a feeder, package loader, new product developer and e-commerce, marketing and global logistics guru. As vice president, Supply Chain Solutions, Amling is an industry thought leader and 3D printing pioneer. In January, he presented a panel at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show on “3D Printing and Its Industrial Potential,” where contributors discussed the key challenges and opportunities of the technology. “My mantra is ‘learn and adapt,’” Amling says. “In a world of rapid change, businesses need to get products in front of customers early, running through multiple learn-and-adapt cycles to ensure what they’re building provides real value for their customers.” He advises jumping into 3D printing now—lest you be sorry later. “What company doesn’t have at least some inventory that hasn’t turned in a year or more? Virtualizing that inventory to print on demand is a low risk way to start.” While industrial 3D printing is off and running, Amling does not see it taking over traditional manufacturing in the next 10 years, but “it only has to capture a small percentage to have a material impact. Consider how disruptive e-commerce has been to traditional retail and it’s only about 7 to 8 percent of total retail.”

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Trinity Logistics | 19 Years

Some are still licking their scars from the monster U.S. West Coast port strike of 2014-15, but David Pereira’s thought leadership allowed his logistics company to escape with barely a scratch. That is because, long before International Longshore and Warehouse Union workers walked off the job, Trinity Logistics had already partnered with major air carriers to charter flights into Los Angeles, and by the time the first ships began anchoring off of L.A. and Long Beach ports, Trinity was moving (and kept moving) more than 100 tons of cargo per week into the USWC market. “Many of our clients were in desperate need before the final agreement was reached but with our forward thinking and understanding how the negotiations typically panned out, we were able to deliver product on time and keep our clients supply chain moving during an extremely difficult time,” Pereira recalls. Such forward thinking is born out of his No. 1 goal since founding Trinity Logistics in 1997: always have the client’s best interest in mind, a notion Pereira instills throughout his global organization. “As a service organization there is nothing more important than listening to your clients. You can only achieve this with human intervention, building relationships and creating trust.”

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Transplace | 13 Years

With more than three decades of experience in the logistics technology, 3PL and transportation industries, Tom Sanderson has become a thought leader by looking at the big picture. He focuses on technology, the economy, legislative changes, fuel and freight rate fluctuations and transportation regulations to maintain an ongoing commitment to passing value to Transplace customers. Then he boils all these topics down on the “Transplace Blog.” You read that right: This CEO is a blogger. “Our customers asked us to keep them informed on a more frequent basis than our quarterly business reviews,” Sanderson explains. “A blog is an excellent way to communicate more frequently and allow the customer to read what they want when they want it. Not all CEOs would want to write their own blog. I try to stay on top of economic and regulatory activity that impacts freight transportation, and since I am on top of it anyway, it is not that hard or time consuming to write posts about the material. The key is to have a great intern or research assistance to help gather the data and present it in an easy-to-read chart. It all comes down to customer satisfaction and revenue growth. If customers get value from the blog and it helps us convert prospects to customers, then it is definitely worth the CEO’s time.”

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Executive vice president, Customer Solutions
Sunland Logistics | 3 Years

Elijah Ray is the Dr. Phil of logistics and supply-chain management. Early in Ray’s 25-year career in the industry, the thought leader recognized how easily and often shippers and providers became misaligned and the negative effects it had on both parties. So he developed a Relationship Management Process that helps shippers and providers remain aligned both strategically and tactically and to ensure there are multiple levels of relationship owners (strategic, business and operational) in the organization to promote active listening and win-win results. “Companies have to be intentional about managing relationships with strategic customers and suppliers such that it becomes second nature to everyone in the organization,” Ray says. “In other words, there is a culture centered on creating effective interactions with people and organizations. Most organizations that are focused on growth and capturing market share have processes to sell and procure but how many companies invest time training leaders how to manage relationships?” Ray has seen companies that have worked together for up to 20 years headed for Splitsville. “Part of managing relationships is to understand that conflict does occur in strategic relationships and it has to be managed. Companies that understand the ‘storming’ process know that when you get through it, partners can become stronger and more fruitful.”

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Chairman and CEO
XPO Logistics | 4 Years

Brad Jacobs is a career CEO who has founded five companies, including three world-class publicly traded corporations across three industries: transportation and logistics, equipment rental and waste management. Each became a billion dollar or multi-billion-dollar enterprise. But don’t call this thought leader old school. “Technology has the power to disrupt our industry in the best possible ways,” says Jacobs, who predicts artificial intelligence and nanotechnology will transform how goods are stored, handled and delivered. “Our commitment to technology is pervasive across the company,” he says. Proprietary technology facilitates omni-channel distribution, reverse logistics, lean manufacturing support, aftermarket support, supply chain optimization and transportation management. Logistics technology tracks billions of inventory units at any given moment. Even in the last mile business, “we hold the patents on industry-leading software for real-time workflow visibility and customer experience management. This gives us a competitive advantage in the last mile space,” Jacobs says. Technology gives XPO an edge in customer satisfaction as several hundred suggestions for enhancements that come each day are tracked via the cloud through to the moment they are rolled out as upgrades. “The evolution of supply-chain services will be driven not solely by what customers need,” Jacobs says, “but as much by the technologies developed to meet those needs.”

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Executive vice president
Unyson | 10 Years

Unyson Executive Vice President Brian Alexander has been at the forefront of providing innovative solutions that generate supply chain savings, which are then passed on to customers. Alexander is a thought leader because he challenges his team to work cohesively with their partners in promoting healthy change management necessary to realize supply chain improvements. Through Unyson’s advanced optimization techniques and management of big data, the company is now able to enhance customers’ supply chain visibility and push real-time tracking while greatly increasing control over their transportation network. They have traded exchanging Excel spreadsheets for systemic interfaces as well as routine button-clicking for exception-based work queues. This has come about due to Alexander’s support for leveraging best practices across different supply chain verticals that are aimed at exceeding industry standards. The environment created out of this is largely due to Alexander’s unique vision and leadership, including the creation of proprietary technology that: (1) condenses the supply chain by reducing latent communication and shortens the decision-making process; (2) uses complex logic to automate key business processes allowing employees traditionally viewed as “operators” to function more like analysts, further feeding the ecosystem of innovation; (3) revolutionizes tracking solutions by giving customers unprecedented visibility to their dynamic supply chain.