Reprinted from EXEC US Edition, October 9, 2008

DSC Logistics: Innovation on the move
Ann Drake took the company’s helm in 1990 and hasn’t stopped since. Here, she talks about change and the future of supply chain management

Four years after joining DSC Logistics, Ann Drake took the reins. In her first year as CEO she consolidated the Illinois firm’s 22 subsidiary companies, merged their distinct identities into a single brand and entity, and positioned the warehousing and transportation firm as an integrated logistics partner with state-of-the-art facilities and process management. That was 1994.

Today, increasing numbers of Fortune 50 and 100 companies rely on DSC for logistics and supply chain management services. From paper giant MeadWestvaco to household names such as Kimberly-Clark, Kellogg, Philip Morris USA and Yamaha, global suppliers are forming strategic partnerships with DSC as a way to save money and improve processes.

“Our customers are realizing the value of a strategic partner,” Drake says, “a partner who sits at the table with you to help you improve service, lower systems costs, transform business processes, and help you with your growth and change.”

Logistics: The final frontier
Driving DSC from a regional warehousing and logistics firm to a US$250 million enterprise is simply a starting point for Drake, whose dedication to the collaborative process fuels her vision of DSC as a company “ready for anything!” Supply chain management, she says, has “become a business of thinking. It’s customizing and thinking through solutions that are going to change. That’s really what it’s all about today.”

Drake points to a Fortune 100 company that recently sat down with her and asked to be pushed out of their complacency. “Fortune 100s are large companies, and it’s not easy to change a process or do something different. But we are the last frontier of transforming manufacturing and product businesses. They want to hear us tell them how to do things better, even if it means their processes and ours get transformed together.”

The ability to stay nimble is critical for both client and company. “Providing maximum flexibility is really, really important. Today, everybody’s trying to be flexible, outsourcing some things and not others, trying this, trying that. So we need to be flexible in how we create their supply chain and know that it’s going to change,” she asserts.

Continuous Improvement
Prior to becoming CEO, Drake was responsible for strategic planning and shaping the corporate culture, with continuous improvement as her cornerstone. Headed by DSC’s process and engineering teams and implemented company-wide, the Achieving Performance Excellence (APEX) initiative steers the company ahead of the curve.

“APEX is a culture and an attitude we drove into the company to make sure that people understand that whatever we did today is not good enough for tomorrow, and gives us the means for doing that and means for chairing it,” she explains. “In addition to being a top-down driven initiative, it’s also a bottom-up driven initiative. We are giving our first national award this year for the operation that came up with the best concept that we’ve implemented nationwide so that we also have a grassroots effort. We have several ISO-certified facilities and we have one of the best process people in the country who’s been working with us for years and helped put this in place.”

Diversity, leadership, development
Drake’s leadership has, unsurprisingly, resulted in some remarkable if somewhat unintended consequences for DSC. In response to a customer who needed to meet supplier diversity goals, the firm became certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise.

“Once we joined some of the organizations that are helping to make diversity happen, we realized two things: There is a lot of opportunity for us as one of the largest women-certified businesses to reach out to companies that have supplier diversity goals. There’s also an opportunity for us to do the best we can as a company in looking for vendors that serve us, who are also diverse companies.” DSC is Kellogg’s top women-owned business supplier, and works with retail powerhouses like Wal-Mart to refine their supplier diversity programs.

As a member of the Committee of 200, a nationwide organization committed to fostering, celebrating, and advancing women’s leadership in business, Drake recently met with women CEOs in Dallas, TX, to discuss supply chain management. “We had a lot of conversation about where the leadership is going to come from. These are tomorrow’s new executives, and we have been building these folks for years. Working with the company that has the right leadership selection and development process is really important in the long term.”

Drake firmly believes in grooming the industry’s next generation from the people she presently employs. “One of the advantages of being a middle-market company is that you can really reach out to people on a personal basis. We want to hear from you. We want to engage you and have you be engaged in our business.”

Emerging trends
In the past year, Drake has lent her expertise to the Brookings Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation to develop broad-based initiatives for America’s future competitiveness, focusing on the environment and energy, infrastructure and transportation, population growth, and land use. “I’m working with them to provide a framework to shape the nation’s growth in the 21st century. One of our objectives is to find solutions for creating better environments that make more sense from a sustainability and a green point of view,” she notes.

DSC thrives on change. “You can’t rest for a second or think that you’ve done what you need to do,” Drake says.

© Copyright Exec : US Edition October 2008
Written by A.F. Hutchinson and Produced by Warren McDonald. All rights reserved.

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