Talking ’bout the next generation

by David Bradley

Can’t we all – as in motor carriers and shippers – just get along? Well, who says we can’t? In fact, despite popular folklore, many successful companies these days are pretty sophisticated in dealing with competing challenges of suppliers and customers across the supply chain.

Last month, I witnessed first-hand such progress in action and just how productive truckers and shippers can be in finding commonality when they actually have the opportunity to talk candidly and listen to each other. A group of leading shippers from the Canadian Industrial Transportation Association (CITA) and motor carriers from the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) met at our Toronto offices in May with the goal of opening a mutually beneficial dialogue on working together to identify opportunities for greater efficiencies in the goods distribution system.

The forum was an informal and honest discussion between the two key players in the supply chain about: the opportunities for getting waste out of the transportation system; the positives and negatives of the bid/tender process in attaining long-term efficiency improvements; how changes in the psychology of supply chain management are impacting the relationship; and the challenges posed by a shortage of truck drivers.

I’m not suggesting it was a two-hour Kumbaya sit-in – differing viewpoints were expressed and resolutions on many of the issues and challenges we share continue to be a work-in-progress – but the dialogue, long overdue, was very open and respectful of each other’s realities. The group was able to make some preliminary headway by sharing advice, which formed the blueprint for a joint best practices guide for managing the business relationship between carriers and shippers. The group will meet again later this year.

As we barrel towards the brave new world of transportation and logistics, the task of navigating over the operational and technological waves both shippers and carriers face will undoubtedly be even more demanding and will require a certain breed of leadership; people who truly understand their suppliers’ businesses and whose long-term vision transcends basic price. I was struck by this paragraph in a recent issue of DC Velocity magazine comparing the difference between managers and leaders:

“While leaders get the picture, bosses and managers fall into the trap of thinking that supply chain management’s job is to slash inventories, squeeze suppliers on price, and reduce transport expenditures. In short, their supply chains are supposed to drive cost performance – nothing more, nothing less. What’s important (to them) about customer service is the transient cost of a single transaction, not the down-the-road and sustainable consequence of loyalty and increased sales. The leader, rather, has a value mentality and sees dollars as investments with recurring payback, not as margin erosion. The leader wants suppliers and service providers to be profitable, to be able to invest in continuous improvement, and to share in win-win solutions that benefit all partners in the end-to-end supply chain.”

That’s good stuff. And, frankly, not just because it substantiates the appeals of carriers wanting to expand their razor-thin margins as their own costs escalate, but because I’ve seen how successful, innovative companies can work together to help each other to withstand immediate pressures without forsaking long-term performance improvement and growth.

Which brings us to the next question: Where will the leaders come from to guide us over that long-term? Borne out of recession and raised on austerity, will many younger, up-and-coming leaders have the patience, foresight and imagination to nurture these sorts of integrated partnerships and help them endure the next wave of unforeseen supply chain challenges?

The next generation of leaders is out there and it’s our job to find them and mold them before passing the baton for the next leg of the race.

The associations I am responsible for are introducing intensive development programs designed for emerging, next-generation leaders. We’re committed to investing in the industry and its people throughout a company’s life cycle.

Let’s also not overlook or discount the fact that we have a long history and countless great teachers in the industry who have paved the way for our future executives. Over the next several years, we are hopeful the Next Generation program will help future leaders answer with a fresh impetus some of the important supply chain and business relationship questions mentioned previously; but also to imagine new ways of how transportation is bought, sold and managed.

I’m eager to hear about their ideas on such things as social media marketing or their perspective on how to solve the impending shortage of professional drivers.

The future, they say, ain’t what it used to be and belongs to those who show up for it. Look out, then, ’cause the truckers are arriving.

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