“Always make decisions that keep your team moving in the right direction. Even if you can’t quite get there today, put yourself in a position to get there eventually.”
– Logistics Director John McClymont
Logistics – the physical movement of raw materials and goods from manufacturing sites to retailers and/or customers – used to be seen as a pretty nuts-and-bolts business. But in the age of eCommerce, Amazon, Wal-Mart and big data, customers – both retailers and consumers themselves – expect more from the companies they buy from. More than ever before, they expect companies to be delivery superheroes.
But there are opportunities as well: with big data and digital transformation, companies now have an opportunity to use Logistics and Distribution to provide exceptional customer experience, improve their brand, and gain an edge on competitors. This is doubly true in high-competition industries, or industries with little product differentiation. As a result, there’s a tremendous demand for people who can strategically assess a Logistics network, cut out the fat, and identify the opportunities – people who don’t see Distribution as just something that “has to be done,” but something that can create as much value for companies as marketing, branding, and product development.
John McClymont is one of those people. That’s why we were thrilled to speak with him for our latest instalment of Argentus’ Executive Interview series.
John is a Logistics and Distribution guru with significant experience in network design and optimization at the director level within the fast moving consumer goods industry. He has a track record of successfully transforming complex transportation and delivery networks, resulting in cost savings, innovation and more flexible, dynamic Distribution and agile execution. For our money, he’s an excellent person to speak with about the challenges and opportunities in Logistics today.
Our interview covered:
- John’s background in Logistics, and his path towards a leadership role,
- John’s perspective on the immense potential in transformations, and the biggest things he’s learned,
- His perspective on talent and hiring in the field, and the important role of culture and specialization when building teams,
And more. We hope you enjoy!
Could you start by giving us a brief overview of your background and career in Supply Chain? It’s common that people say they fell into the field “by accident” – though that seems to be changing. Was that your experience as well?
Yes, my story is very similar to a lot of others. When I was younger and going through school, I was thinking I wanted to get into law and pursue that path. I became less enthused with that potential career and where that would go. After finishing my undergrad I hit the job market, and got an opportunity through a recruiter, actually, for a Distribution Supervisor with a company that was looking for someone with fresh ideas and not died to industry past practice.
In that opportunity, I was very fortunate to work with a team and organization that was looking to make a lot of change. The people that I was working with were quite open to share their expertise and knowledge and were exceptionally open and willing to do things differently. We worked on different routing projects to reconfigure the distribution network. About five years in, the logistics group restructured into a more functional structure rather than regional, which allowed me to continue the work I was doing, however now in a manager role, working primarily with large retail customers. Working with a much larger delivery network, there were great opportunities to streamline, harmonize and standardize the entire operation.
One of the big projects that we implemented was “activity-based routing”, which is really constructing your networks based on the time utilization as the primary variable to optimize. You can always have more trucks and more drivers, but any individual driver is only allowed to work a certain number of hours before you have to change out. The model worked as the most efficient direct-to-store delivery network in the company for a period of about two and a half years.
From there it went to a more holistic model for the company, which opened up more activity, and had me transition to a similar role but on a national level, that included management of 3PLs as well as unionized employees across the country. From that point, we started to work on a lot of standardization and remodeling, which involved a lot of process improvement across the different markets through sharing of best practices.
Your specialty is in Logistics and Transportation. How do you think this aspect of the Supply Chain field has changed in your time in the industry?
The biggest change, to put it really broadly, is expectations. The speed of your service, on time in full (OTIF), the push towards perfect orders. Expectations have risen a lot. It sounds really simple to say that all a customer wants is what they ordered and when they want it but for a long time, there were gaps and back orders that were part of the fulfillment cycle since inventory existed throughout the chain. Retail customers, however, have moved to a much more just-in-time operation to minimize costs and maximize opportunities within their stores. There’s a lot more attention placed on specific delivery periods, and having tight time windows to hit. This increases efficiency in the business operation, however adds a lot of complexity to a delivery network. In a market as competitive as retail, companies have been forced to adapt and become more efficient themselves in the face of growing competition.
The other expectation that’s risen is for proactive communication. Customers expect to be informed if there’s going to be a delay, sometimes even if it’s only an hour or two. That enhanced level of transparency and urgency has really stepped up in the past few years, just because of how finely tuned retail operations are these days.
Technology is the other huge shift that we are seeing in the space. Freight used to be a fairly mechanical and low tech industry. Now, the leaders in the industry use some of the most advanced tech systems that you’ll find. That’s a huge shift. You used to think of freight as just a truck driver, now, it’s a business partner who’s much more in tune with the details of the business than just taking product from point A to point B.
During your career, you initiated some pretty significant changes to Logistics / Network design that improved the function. How do you go about transforming a function like this, and what have you learned along the way?
Any time you’re going to undertake a major change or a large transformation, the devil is really in the details. I think it’s extremely important that the key decision makers really understand how the operations are working today. Be brutally honest about what you do well, and what you don’t do well. If you don’t know where you are, it’s hard to end up where you want to be. That, for me, is the biggest and most important thing to be aware of.
If you’re dealing with large organizations or a large industry, oftentimes there are legacy systems and processes that have proven successful. It’s important to keep a mindset of continuing to push forward. Even if you’ve got a “no” yesterday, doesn’t mean you’ll get a “no” tomorrow. Expectations change, technology changes, the people you are interacting with change, and any one of those changes can be the missing piece that can take a “no” yesterday to a “yes” today. It’s really a blank slate with every process.
The other thing that’s really important is making sure you really understand what you want to achieve – what’s the expectation for the customer and what do you want to achieve internally? How do you meet those needs while complementing your own business? Not every organization is going to want to (or be able to) invest in a lot of retrofits, so you have to understand how you can get there in terms of stages or phases. Always make decisions that keep your team moving in the right direction. Even if you can’t quite get there today, put yourself in a position to get there eventually.
You also have to keep in mind that these transformations are not one-sided. What really needs to happen is a collaborative process between the internal and external stakeholders. It really needs to be a holistic approach.
We’re interested in your perspective as a leader in the industry about your perspective on talent. What are the biggest things you’re looking for when building a team, both from the perspective of hard skills, and more intangible things like soft skills and business acumen?
I think the most important aspect is to understand that you’re really building a team. It’s not an isolated bunch of individuals. People are going to have different roles and responsibilities, so you need different competencies. There’s a trend that everyone wants to have these unicorn-style candidates who will be a star in every role. The reality is that everyone is a human with their own special skills and abilities. If you’re building a team, look at your competencies: what do you have, and what are you missing? Hire toward that. If you’re building a team from scratch, you have to understand what you’re trying to achieve, and tailor your hiring toward that.
When it comes to talent, I’m a big believer in investing in the person, and not just a resume. What I’m most interested in is to understand how a candidate thinks, and the types of questions they ask. This is particularly useful in a Supply Chain world where what we’ve done yesterday might be obsolete tomorrow. I’m looking for people who think about problems differently. Someone who says, “this is the way that things have always been done,” is not usually the right fit for my team.
If I need a data analyst, I’ll look for people with those competencies. If I need someone who’s more of a relationship manager, a boots-on-the-ground type person, I’m going to focus more on those types of skills. You’re trying to match someone’s intrinsic motivation, and what kind of work they want, with what you need done. That will be most effective.
A big thanks to John McClymont for taking the time to share his expertise with our readers! And stay tuned, as always for more interviews with leading lights from the world of Supply Chain.