Logistics gains street cred
When a four-star general tells you logistics and logisticians are now cool, you're cool.
There's something about the guy from Bayonne, N.J., who's standing in front of a room of high-level executives talking about logistics that captures the imagination.
Bayonne, of course, is situated at the heart of the Port of New York and New Jersey. And the guy at the podium sounds like someone from a working-class family who got his start working on the docks or in the bars, married his high school sweetheart, and found a way to get an education and chase broader horizons.
It can be hard sitting in a room with 400 other people, listening to some stranger share his opinions on logistics. But this guy, Marty, is starting to grab our attention.
"Where is that sweet spot where we balance the need to be decentralized with the need to be affordable?" he asks. That sure is something we all struggle with in logistics, and Marty isn't shy about voicing his opinions. He goes right after the leadership mindset, saying, "It's the desire to do something cheaper that drives us to centralize."
Marty, it turns out, is no fan of "command and control" management. He's all about "empowering our people at the edge." To this end, he espouses "syndication," an inherently collaborative approach, and "decentralization." He defines decentralization as the inverted pyramid approach to management, where leaders are there to support the people in contact with the job at hand, not the other way around. Taken together, he says, these approaches lead us to the holy grail, an effective and empowered work force.
Marty also cautions his audience about taking the "supply chain" metaphor too literally. "It's a network, not a supply chain, and we have to think that way," he asserts. Marty says we need to avoid single points of failure, have multiple paths, and create the paths before we need them.
According to Marty, in today's rapidly evolving global environment—moving at a clock-speed we never dreamed of even a decade ago—it's the ability to be nimble, to be faster than the competition, that really matters. And to be agile, flexible, and innovative requires a dynamic network.
Every year, the competition raises the bar, he warns. Capabilities spread, and new technologies change the rules. Look ahead, not behind, he says.
"We're the leaders," he reminds his audience, "and we have to create the vision for the future and figure out how to execute it. Look out to 2020, and then turn around and look back."
This is an audience of hundreds of the most senior logistics executives in military markets. This man clearly knows this business, and he knows the audience. The crowd is now hanging onto his every word.
Speaking to us specifically as logisticians, Marty says, "You're all victims of your own success." And then he resorts to what sounds like flattery, except coming from him, it is sincere. "You now are cool. You never used to be."
When people like Marty think that we in logistics matter, that automatically gives us credibility. We get a seat at the table. Marty is a serious man, and if he respects what we do, then we all have legitimate reason to be proud.
Marty isn't some press officer's creation. He is for real. He did grow up in Bayonne. He did marry his high school sweetheart, and he did get an education. It includes three master's degrees, one of which is an M.A. in English from Duke University. His undergraduate degree is from a place called West Point.
So when Marty says logistics matters, it matters.More articles by Mitch Mac Donald
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