Among Candace Holowicki's résumé chops—along with 20-plus years of logistics experience and a master's degree in global supply chain management from Indiana University—is a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Michigan. The latter stood Holowicki in good stead in August 2011, when she was tapped for the newly created post of director of global logistics at Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based TriMas Corp.
As Holowicki toured the business units, she quickly grasped that her people skills would be just as critical as mastering the company's operations, if not more so. The business unit leaders owned their respective transport and logistics functions, and Holowicki wasn't sure how they would react to a newcomer effectively riding herd over them. "Was I there to make trouble for them by observing what they were doing and then reporting back that it was all wrong? Was I there to tell them what to do and how to do it? And did they have to listen to me?" she remembered asking herself. "I felt it was important to build rapport with the business unit decision makers and to learn about the TriMas segments before I tried to change anything."
Today, TriMas's global supply chain is in sync and operating efficiently. Most important, there is trust and collaboration between Holowicki and the business unit leaders, a far cry from what she might have expected six years ago. In an interview with Mark B. Solomon, DC Velocity's executive editor-news, Holowicki described her concerns, her approach, and how a successful logistics strategy can be as much of an art form as it is a science.
Q: Can you describe what TriMas does, what your current role is, and the company's logistics footprint?
A: TriMas is a diversified global manufacturer of engineered products, with businesses operating in four segments: packaging, aerospace, energy, and engineered components. My role is to develop and implement global logistics programs that enable our businesses to provide reliable, on-time, damage-free delivery to our customers via the lowest-cost provider available, within the optimal mode, at the time of shipping. Our logistics footprint is primarily within and between the North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific regions.
Q: You stepped into a newly created role at the corporate level. How was TriMas managing its supply chain before you joined?
A: Prior to creating the corporate function, our business units managed their own supply chains. They were autonomous from each other, and from corporate. There was an attempt to consolidate the parcel and LTL (less-than-truckload) spend under common contracts managed by the largest business unit. This resulted in programs that served the managing business unit very well but did not meet the diverse needs of all of the business units.
Q: You encountered significant pushback early on from leaders of the business units. What was the reason behind it, and what was your approach toward overcoming it?
A: I encountered immediate pushback from the business unit that had been coordinating the LTL and parcel spending. The unit did not want to give up control of those programs. There was also pushback from business units whose needs were not met by the current logistics program. Those businesses needed to use non-TriMas providers in order to meet their customers' expectations, but this spend was reported as "non-compliant" to TriMas leadership.
My approach toward overcoming the pushback was inclusion. I included the logistics manager of the largest business unit in meetings and conference calls with carriers and other providers, and made it clear to him and his boss that my plan was to collaborate with them and to build upon the work they had already done in LTL and parcel. For the business units forced to use non-TriMas providers, I included all of the carriers they were using to fill the gaps in our program as "approved carriers" until we completed our program redesign as a group.
Q: What were the biggest operational issues you encountered during your first months there? How did you address and resolve them?
A: The biggest operational issue I encountered was our carrier selection process. We had a partially implemented TMS (transportation management system) that should have provided dynamic carrier routing for the sites that had it. In addition, the rest of the sites had the most complex Excel-based routing guide that I have ever seen.
The sites without access to the TMS were not using the routing guide due to its complexity. To address this, I assessed the status of the TMS implementation and then project-managed the implementation to completion.
The sites with access to the TMS faced a different challenge. They weren't using the system within the framework of a well-designed shipping process. They just dropped the TMS in as the last step. In the worst case, the shipping clerks selected the mode, based on their experience, before entering the shipment information into the TMS. The software would then select the lowest-cost carrier with the necessary transit time within the assigned mode. However, we were not allowing the tool to show us lower-cost options via a different mode, opportunities to combine shipments, or ways to build multistop truckloads. Essentially, the TMS was just making a poor process more efficient.
The first step was to redesign our shipping process to optimize the TMS's value. We combined parcel and LTL shipments that shipped within two days of each other. We converted LTL shipments with the same ship date into multistop truckload moves, converted LTL minimum-charge shipments weighing less than 190 pounds to small parcel, and combined long-haul LTL shipments moving within the same week to the same state or region into pool distribution. By demonstrating the potential savings, I was able to get buy-in from the business units to redesign their shipping process to incorporate the full functionality of the TMS.
Q: Was there an "aha!" moment when you realized that you had won the trust of the business units and that you were all on the same page?
A: It was different with each business unit. With a couple of them, I realized that I had won their trust when they came to me for direction or assistance before making a change, instead of just doing what they wanted and then coming to me for help if it went wrong. One particularly independent business unit completely surprised me when its president contacted me and asked that I prepare a complete review of its logistics, along with opportunities for improvement. We then worked together to implement the cost-savings opportunities and had biweekly conference calls with his team to track progress and issues. After a couple of successes, I was just one of the team.
Q: Beyond mastering the "art of listening," which is easier said than done, what advice would you give other executives who walk into a similar situation?
A: My advice is to be patient, build rapport, and do your fact checking. That may sound obvious, but when you are new to an organization, you want to prove yourself and show value as quickly as possible. Making changes before you have a thorough knowledge of what the current state is, and how it came to be, can be a recipe for disaster. Remain flexible and adaptable in your approach to a problem, because in the end, both business and logistics are still about relationships.