By Julian Blumenthal
To help digest my nearly 50-year career in Transportation/Logistics/Supply Chain, it will be easier if I break it down into topics: 30,000 Feet View, Basic Job Details, Education, Technology, and I will end about the most important few months in the middle of my career, which I will entitle The Valley.
30,000 Feet View
In 1973, terms used to describe this field were transportation and physical distribution. It was a cost center. In 2023, the words used to describe the field is supply chain. Done correctly, it can significantly increase the success, marketing and sustainability of the organization. The Supply Chain field developed a lot of intellectual energy. as it became apparent there were tremendous opportunities to enhance the field. The period saw deregulation of transportation industry. After 9-11-2001, security became a major part of processes. Toyota and Wal-Mart were the early drivers of change in the field. Later part of my career, Amazon and global trade became important drivers of change.
Basic Job Details
There were just 3 employers in my 50-year work history. I will list them then briefly here with more details below. I worked at Eastern Express from 1973 to 1976, Morton Salt from 1978 to 2010, and Signode summer 2015 and June 2016 to the end of December 2022.
Eastern Express was an LTL truck line serving the East and Midwest. My Professors at Indiana University got me this job by recommending me. I was a management trainee in their Terre Haute, IN headquarters, a dispatcher at the Philadelphia, PA terminal. and lastly an assistant customer service manager back in Terre Haute. Most interesting job fuel analysis during the fuel cut off crisis of the 1970’s when fuel was rationed. When I was transferred to Philadelphia for my only midnight shift work in my career, the first thing the terminal manager said to me was I needed to change my name. That job did not work out. In 1976 there was layoff in April which included me. By then, the company which had been family oriented was sold to new owners. The new owner management was not successful as within 3 years the company was bankrupt and ceased to exist. Contributing to this, the company did not a good handle of its operating costs.
Morton Salt was the best-known salt company in America. It is reputable company with many good people as long-term employees. I was hired in part because the new manager of the department so antagonized the work force, they all quit. That manager was fired before I started. For most part in the 31 years, my realistic title was transportation analyst. There was a brief period I was manager of the department which did not work out (see The Valley portion at the end of this essay.) My best move at Morton Salt was to volunteer for the all the jobs nobody else wanted such, DOT safety coordinator of the small private truck fleet, which I managed the equipment issues also. Nobody wanted to do international freight, so I volunteered for that too. After 9-11, it led me to be the transportation security coordinator for both domestic and international shipments. In 2009, a new director of the department was hired who was not comfortable with my proactive style and I started to get bad reviews (after years of good reviews). I knew that I needed to move on, so I resigned in 2010. I do have fond memories of many special people I worked with at Morton Salt.
Between 2010 and 2015 I was in job search and here again, I meant with many people who were really talented and good people. I was interviewed by various televisions networks including a Chinese tv network about my job search. Again, I volunteered to do these, when others did not want to.
In the summer of 2015, three people in the Procurement department of Signode which handled transportation for the firm, simultaneously went on long term sick leave (all with different issues). Because one of the missing persons was head of department, a person from accounting was temporarily placed in that position. He used to work for Morton Salt and knew me, and 15 minutes into the job interview, I was offered the temporary part time position. They needed somebody who would be proactive in dealing with issues. Signode had been sold by previous owner, Illinois Tool Works, (ITW) which had a decentralized management philosophy. So, with the loss of personnel and the imperative to manage the company, there was quite a bit of work just figuring out what was going on. Between my boss and I, we begun to build a structure to manage the transportation end of the supply chain.
My work ended when people started to come back from sick leave in September 2015. But I was so thrilled to be allowed to be creative and proactive, I sent the Vice President a thank you note for hiring me. As the plan to organize the department became clearer, the company needed somebody who could be a change agent and even though I was in my sixties in age at that time, I was open to change and knew how it could be done. I restarted working for Signode in June of 2016 as a part-time employee and that job lasted to until the end of 2022.
The two major things I did were: be main field contact for work needing or being orchestrated by the corporate office and second, overview a third-party firm which did the company dispatching and freight bill payments. My management philosophy of empowering people the freedom to do their job, allow the third-party employees people to grow into their job, learn the people and issues and perform well for Signode. In due course, it was time for me to leave as the company had transferred its operations from Glenview, IL to Tampa, FL. The company was most generous spending money to allow me to train my replacement, my last three weeks on the job. Signode is a quality company with integrity and good values, and I will miss the many quality people inside and outside the company I dealt with
I majored in Transportation at Indiana University from 1969 to 1973. At the time it was series of courses primarily on government regulation of transportation modes. That regulation ended at the end of 1970’s and beginning of the 1980’s. I gained a MBA majoring in Logistics at Penn State from 1976-9178. More advanced than my Indiana courses, it was time wise before a lot of the new stuff on logistics/supply chain became common knowledge. In the early 1980’s, I took a course that allowed me to practice law before the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). While I was a witness in some regulatory hearings, I never practiced. In 1995 the ICC was replaced by the Surface Transportation Board. In 1986, I took a personal computer course on the top business software at the time, soon all to mostly replaced by Microsoft Office. I did gain important knowledge about the software process on computers.
So was my education a waste, as it was focused on items that would soon be completely outdated? No, it gave concepts and ways to think about supply chain issues which lasted throughout my 50-year career. I made it a point to read industry magazines and belong to a couple of professional groups that allowed me to keep current in the field.
The one major miss I see in the educational process is training its students on change management. I find that throughout all business courses. Change is just the nature of the business game these days.
At Eastern Express, while there was a main frame computer during my stay there, it was mostly used fro accounting issues. We kept track of trucks, by moving paper on clips from one hole on the dispatch board to another. At Morton Salt I started with the telephone being the only technology on my desk. Personal computers on my desk did not show up until the late 1980’s although we did have access to the main frame computer by the early 1980’s. At Signode, I started using email and ended Microsoft Teams as my main technology from my laptop.
Every organization I worked for knew there was attractive cost benefitable software out there. Except for Eastern Express, the organizations were profitable, but it was always a question where to put their capital dollars. So top management had to balance all the needs of the firm with limited dollars to spend. There were times when Supply Chain received does dollars and times when it did not.
There is lot of interesting and useful software coming out. Just remember, it is all programmed by humans, who have limited capabilities to forecast the future. The best software enhances the human worker efficient and operational success. I can foresee trucking terminals using automated, driverless trucks to move trailers in the yard. However, a firm lose a lot of flexibility and marketing capability if you replace local drivers by machines. People and technology will need to be balanced.
I write this hoping someone will learn from this. A valley features a drop off on one side and a rise on the other. In 1993 I was manager of the truck transport section of Morton Salt. Managment was justifiably not satisfied with my performance. They were correctly felt I was not getting the good performance needed by others in the department. One day, I found out I was demoted. Since my work was my life, I was so upset I could not sleep for months thereafter. Please, never make the mental destination of your life a place of misery for a job setback. I got very sick. At that point, several good things happened. I said being sick was nuts. I knew I would shorten my life greatly if this continued. Unbeknownst to me, my brain, had been recording memories of good people doing good things. I discovered I could value myself by doing good things for people and importantly, respecting others. I realized in my past; I had let the people put me down and I internalized their comments. For me to be success, I needed to avoid that and be a positive person in other people’s lives. I brought that to my management style. So, I what I thought was the worst day of my life, was really an unparcelled opportunity to led to a better self. Job setbacks will occur, learn from them, and use that as opportunity to enhance your life and career. Don’t let job setbacks dominate your life.
If you have this read this far, I hope this story led to some good career thinking. I am so fortunate and grateful to have the career I had. Supply Chain is constant change and reinvention. It requires not only operation skills but people skills, because it is not software or machines driving it, but it is proactive people. I wish you all a constructive future in your career.