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  August 7th, 2021 | Written by

How to Lead When the Industry is Volatile

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In 2011, Prince William was marrying Kate, investors’ eyes were on Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, and global trade experts were predicting a volatile 2012.

A decade later, Prince Harry just welcomed his first child with Meghan, Greece is still in the EU, and global trade experts are predicting a volatile 2022. 

As the saying goes, don’t wait for the storm to pass — just learn to dance in the rain. For the global trade industry, this translates into: get used to the volatility.

To build a truly sustainable supply chain in an era where the only stable prediction is instability, company leadership must embrace flexibility. Creating an agile organizational structure that’s ready to adapt at the drop of a hat (or the obstruction of a barge) ought to be considered a critical task for any workforce in the industry. Because — and this is the last quote I’ll reference, I promise — as General Electric’s Chief Innovation Officer Sue Siegel said in a 2018 keynote address, “The pace of change will never be as slow as it is today.”

The experts, however, got the cause of the volatility wrong back in 2011 — they thought it would be inflation. Who would have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic, or the Suez Canal disaster? 

Company leaders who pay attention to the growing data on worker productivity and how they rate their satisfaction on their work/life balance will continue to embrace work-from-home culture (now referred to as WFH by those in the know), instead of dismissing it as a temporarily allowable measure during the pandemic.

Within my own company, until last year we enforced a strict policy of keeping computers at the office — we’d decided the risk of damage during transit and at home was just too great. The pandemic forced us to reverse that policy in an instant, on a Thursday in March, without time to prepare. But we haven’t had to replace any equipment yet; it turns out adults can be trusted to take care of their valuables — and to roll with the punches. When I reflect on the resiliency our employees have demonstrated over the past year, I’m amazed.

In fact, I think the first subheading in the economy section of the 2020 history books will be “WFH.” Employees appreciate the flexibility, and those who benefit from mental and physical health-related workplace accommodations are thriving under the ability to create their own schedule and work environment. 

Meanwhile, COOs are shaking their heads wondering why we’ve been paying for all this office real estate over the years.

Leadership coaches have long preached that innovation is prevented when you’re comfortable with structure, and 2020 forced every member of the team to learn this lesson head-on.

Another takeaway for company leadership that the talking heads have been leaving out of their morning segments is that providing total visibility to clients and customers is the first way to ensure viability during a disaster. Yes, you may get an earful at the time when delivering bad news — but they’ll appreciate it in the long run (and trust you more for it) because a sugar-coated status report doesn’t allow managers to make the best decisions possible for their projects. 

Time for one more?

Those whose leadership style leans toward positivity were more likely to see their staff weather the 2020 storm. In a crisis, employees want to grab onto hope — it’s your duty to serve as their cheerleader. At the same time, make sure you have an outlet to vent that frustration away from work, lest you compress yourself into a powder keg that creates an entirely different problem down the line. 


Richard J. Bolte, Jr. was born in Philadelphia in 1957 and joined BDP International in 1973. Throughout his 47-year career with the company, he has held positions covering a broad range of the firm’s operations in global logistics and transportation. His formative experience at BDP centered on ocean exports and supply chain management, with particular emphasis on company operations. Rich was Vice President of the company’s Northeast Region before taking the position of Chief Operating Officer. In 1996 he was named President of BDP International.

In 2006, Rich Bolte was named BDP’s Chief Executive Officer; and subsequently, in 2013 the Board of Directors appointed Rich as BDP’s Chairman & CEO. He now serves as the organization’s Chairman to the Board. Rich championed BDP’s global expansion, and the company now employs nearly 5,000 employees in 135 offices throughout nearly 40 countries. He can be reached at