Mark Cabrera came to logistics out of the financial world. Today, he is CEO of Saddle Creek Logistics Services, an omnichannel supply chain solutions company headquartered in Lakeland, Florida. Saddle Creek specializes in warehousing, fulfillment, and transportation.
Before being named CEO in 2019, Cabrera served as chief operating officer (COO) and chief financial officer (CFO) for the company. Prior to that, he spent 15 years in financial roles for Arthur Andersen LLP, GTE, National Insurance Services, and Reeves Steel.
Cabrera has been very active in industry organizations. He currently serves on the International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA) board of directors and is a member of the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC). He also serves on the board of the Lakeland Economic Development Council.
Q: You came out of the financial world before arriving at Saddle Creek. Did that background help you in your current role as CEO?
A: Definitely. CFO might be the only C-level job with a big-picture view. And the financial fundamentals—the blocking and tackling—are similar no matter what industry you are in.
It was also valuable to have experience working with companies that scaled up or faced hard times. Prior to joining Saddle Creek, I was CFO for a company that went through a bankruptcy. It was an accelerated course in dealing with adversity. I’ve always found you learn exponentially more in a crisis than you do in good times.
Q: How has the 3PL industry changed in the time you’ve been at Saddle Creek?
A: Twenty years ago, if you walked into a 100,000-square-foot building, you might see five forklift operators, all handling full pallets of product. Today, we may have 100 people working in 10,000 square feet, doing kitting, pick-and-pack, or other value-added services.
Our 2010 acquisition of a small e-commerce–focused 3PL got us into the B-to-C space. It gave us a head start in learning how to operate in this space and understanding how operational and customer service requirements differ from more traditional warehousing and distribution. Getting over that learning curve when we did has enabled us to better react to the rapidly changing needs we’re seeing today. Omnichannel fulfillment is now our fastest-growing service area.
Q: What do you foresee for the industry as the pandemic begins to ease?
A: Companies are now keenly aware of their supply chain vulnerabilities and are actively formulating strategies to help mitigate future disruptions. As we move beyond Covid, I expect we’ll see a pendulum shift from just-in-time inventory management toward “just in case.”
We’re also seeing a rush to scale up to support the pandemic-induced acceleration of online shopping. Meeting labor-intensive demands for e-commerce fulfillment will pose significant challenges in terms of attracting and keeping labor.
Q: Labor is still difficult to find in many markets. What are you doing to attract and retain workers?
A: One of the primary reasons that associates join and stay at Saddle Creek is our corporate culture. In my first week with the company, our founder told me, “Mark, if we take care of our customers and take care of our associates, everything else will take care of itself.” That’s a mantra we still follow today.
We work hard to maintain our long-standing core values and hold leaders accountable to “walk the talk.” We also don’t let our leaders take themselves too seriously! A good sense of humor, humility, and a willingness to listen and learn from front-line associates can go a long way toward employee retention.
Q: Are there particular technologies your company is focusing on to improve operations?
A: We’ve definitely seen an uptick in demand for customized and scalable automated solutions for complex dedicated client operations.
We’ve been concentrating on technology and automation in areas where we have the greatest labor dependency and fluctuations. Technology can help to supplement our workforce and drive efficiencies in value-added service lines and kitting. For example, autonomous mobile robots, or AMRs, can significantly reduce the time associates spend transporting products through the warehouse, so they can increase their order picking speed.
Q: You’ve been active in a number of industry organizations. Why is that important to you?
A: First and foremost, it’s about the relationships. We have great people (and a lot of characters) in our industry. I’ve enjoyed building friendships with so many talented yet down-to-earth leaders in our space.Also, I like to think that I never stop learning, and there’s a wealth of experience in our industry. As the legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” I’m fortunate to have a lot of friends from whom I can learn, and I always come away from industry events with new insights.