Beyond Industry and Technology: Re-Inventing America
Comments by Ann M. Drake
Industrial Technology and Management Awards Dinner
Illinois Institute of Technology
May 1, 2009

A few months ago, I boarded an overseas flight bound for home. I was looking forward to immersing myself in Thomas Friedman’s new book “Hot, Flat, and Crowded.” As I cracked open the cover, I was faced with his description of a billboard in South Africa advertising a European-build compact automobile. The billboard held just three lines:

“German Engineering
Swiss Innovation
American Nothing”

I am here with you tonight to say we can – and we WILL -- prove them wrong.

By “we,” I mean the students, faculty and families of the Illinois Institute of Technology. You are connected with one of the great educational institutions in the world, noted for its contributions and achievements in so many fields that support industry – technology, engineering, architecture and others.  Among you tonight are members of the Class of 2008 and I congratulate you.

By "we," I also mean the men and women from DSC Logistics with whom I learn every day...The members of the Committee of 200 and The Chicago Network who inspire me with their energy, perseverance and success...People I’ve worked with on the Metropolitan Planning Council...And the many family members and friends I am honored to have with us tonight.

America has a lot more to offer the world than “Nothing.” But to realize all we can be and to achieve all we are capable of doing, we are going to have to start thinking differently - and acting differently.

Industry and technology have advanced and supported American excellence for more than 100 years. But to compete and succeed in tomorrow's world, we are going to have to think beyond industry and technology. We are going to have to re-invent America.   

Tomorrow morning, after we celebrate tonight, I hope each of us will pause to think about a new agenda for ourselves and for our colleagues, for our families and for our government, as we work together to plan and design the way things ought to function in America in the 21st Century.

The transformation needed begins with a very different mental model of who America is. For over 200 years, we have thought of ourselves as a nation of 50 states, with each one vying for equal access to every national priority. That model no longer works, because who we really are is a nation of 100 metropolitan areas clustered into 10 mega regions.

The nation’s metros – including our own Chicago area are home to 60% of America’s population. They account for 75% of the Gross Domestic Product,
two-thirds of major research universities, 75% of workers with graduate degrees, and 78% of all patents. The metro areas of the U.S. all by themselves account for 92 percent of passengers who board airplanes – and if you’ve been to O’Hare lately, you’ll probably agree that most of these people go through O’Hare on exactly whatever day you are traveling.   

To ensure long-term prosperity, we need to realize that we are a metropolitan nation. According to Bruce Katz, Vice President of Metropolitan Policy for the Brookings Institution, “The ability of our nation to meet the great economic, social and environmental imperatives of our time rests largely on the health and vitality of our metropolitan areas."

Once we accept this new mental model, it affects the way we plan and design for the future – and the way we direct resources to solve problems and prepare America to be the global force it needs to be.

Much of this planning and designing is carried forward by metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) who understand that metropolitan areas are the engines of national prosperity. In our own region, we have our Metropolitan Planning Council, whose forward-thinking work is focused on influencing policy decisions of local, regional and national governing bodies. What the MPOs seek are connections across traditional boundaries and a new federal partnership to face key challenges – such as repairing and replacing the crumbling infrastructure, improving education and housing for the growing metro population, and developing sustainable sources of energy.

One of the most promising programs to be announced by the Obama Administration is the new high-speed rail plan, a national system which will connect cities in metro regions all across the country, including our own Great Lakes Region. The high-speed rail system will be many times faster and less costly than building more highways or adding more air travel to already crowded skies.  

For several years, I have been involved in discussions about our U.S. transportation system and infrastructure needs. After one recent panel discussion, someone asked me, “What is the one thing you’d ask from President Obama?” I answered, “high-speed rail.” I didn’t tell President Obama directly, but I’m quite sure he must have read my mind.

It’s about time high-speed rail comes to the U.S.,because we are the only industrialized county without an extensive high-speed rail system.

I used to think that government was for other people, but I’ve learned that in reinventing America, we must each play a role. Realizing a new vision for America will take smart, committed people – scientists, engineers, designers, architects, planners, human services and educational professionals – and all of you IIT graduates have tremendous skills to contribute.

To reinvent America, we’ll need to step beyond the boundaries that define old ways of thinking about our world. The boundaries that limit us aren’t all physical.
Sometimes they are cultural – and that requires another shift in the way we think.

I used to think that diversity was about the numbers: the number of Asian Americans, the number of African Americans, the number of women, etc. I have come to understand diversity in a very different way over the past couple of years.

Part of my new understanding comes from the strong diversity initiatives currently underway at some of the companies with whom we do business. One of these is The Kellogg Company, a 103-year-old company with a fresh, invigorated vision. Cathy Kutch, Director of Diversity at the Kellogg Company, explains that Kellogg wants to be a company of the future who will serve global markets in all countries. They want to think like and behave like their customers and their global employees. They want the Kellogg fabric to be woven of diversity.

There are other aspects to diversity: It is about bringing people to the table so they can share in economic success. Leonard Greenhalg, from the School of Business at Dartmouth College, who spoke at a recent diversity summit sponsored by another of our customers, MeadWestvaco, said, "If America doesn’t focus upon helping the minorities to succeed, beginning with education, following through on encouraging and empowering entrepreneurial businesses and on fostering their economic success, the negative economic drag on America will be too great to overcome as the population shifts and the minority becomes the majority."

In other words, for economic reasons, America can't afford to ignore diversity. That’s an important reason, but there are still more dimensions.

I serve on the Board of A.M. Castle, a Chicago-based company that is over 100 years old. I was the first woman to serve on that board. John McCartney, Castle's Chairman of the Board, said his team sought out a woman director because he was told by a friend who is Chairman of one of Chicago's large museum boards, that it would "positively change the dynamics of board interactions." He has since told me it's true – and I’m happy to say there are now two of us on the Board who are women.

That is progress. But there is still a long way to go. A study released recently by the Chicago Network found that, in 2007, the percentage of women executive officers among Chicago’s 50 largest publicly-reporting companies was 14%.

Now, a year later, it has “soared” to 14.4%. Whether the minority we speak of is women or Hispanics or African American or any other minority – diversity still has a long way to go.

Diversity is about understanding and learning from other experiences and points of view. It’s about encouraging and empowering people from all backgrounds. It’s about changing dynamics. It’s about creating a business culture that is a strategic asset. For America to succeed, we’re going to have to reach across the aisle of race, gender, and economic and social class.

Clearly, for America to prosper, we also need to be a society and a nation that knows how to collaborate and adapt. Probably nowhere is that more obvious than in my own business -- logistics and supply chain management. We are responsible for the networks that connect the people who make products with the people who use them, so we are closely entwined with our customers. We have to be ready to adjust and adapt – and in reality, to lead and manage change – at the drop of a hat.

Let me give you a few examples that might be familiar to you.

In spring of 2008, a tornado roared through Memphis, Tennessee -- and among the buildings it destroyed was a Logistics Center that DSC operated for The J.M. Smucker Company. By working quickly and effectively as partners with the Smucker team, we were able to redirect their products to other Logistics Centers in our network and avoid any interruption in service to their customers.

Another situation you may remember is the problem with tainted peanuts several months ago. No one could have predicted that!  One of our customer’s products contained peanuts and although they weren’t necessarily the contaminated ones, the decision was made to recall all of those products. DSC executed the recall involving thousands of cases that had been shipped over the past seven months.

At this very moment, we’re involved in another high-profile circumstance. One of our customers makes and sells products that are critically needed in all parts of the world because of the flu pandemic. When the outbreak occurred, DSC adapted this customer’s supply chain in a matter of hours to prioritize orders of those products and increase international shipping. .

Providers of logistics used to be at the end of the decision chain. We carried out orders and that was it. But beginning a decade or so ago, DSC has transformed what we do and the way we do it. Today, in the role of supply chain partner, we collaborate with our customers.

As Dipak Jain, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School Management emphatically said, “We need leaders to be well versed in the higher-order focus of collaboration, which is redefining the nature of work in the global economy.”

Only by being partners with aligned and integrated business processes and clear lines of communication, collaboration and trust, can we respond to change and lead change. Managing change, solving problems, creating opportunities is what great partners do together. This is true for a company…a school…a region…or a nation.

Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School said, “We need to change the way we talk to each other and the way we think and talk about competitiveness in America. Increasingly, competition is about the globalization of company value chains – a shift from vertical integration to relying on outside suppliers, partners and institutions.”

To re-invent America, we must realize that collaboration is the currency of the 21st century. It must be the way we work with our customers, with our employees, with our government, and with our global society.

Transformation isn’t easy. It’s a two step process: we change the way we think and then we change the way we act. It begins with a vision.

My company’s VP of Business Development recently ended a meeting with a lesson he learned from his days racing motorcycles. He described how the race heats up and the motorcycles are churning up dust, and swerving into each other. He said the most important lesson he learned is that “where you look is where you go.” If you turn to the side, you go to that side. The lesson is: If you know where you want to end up, keep looking in that direction.

Reinventing America means creating a new vision -- and keeping our eyes on that vision as we move forward.

I'm most grateful for this honor and for chance to speak to you tonight, and I'd like to leave you with these thoughts.

Step beyond the boundaries.

Reach across the aisles.

Think in new directions.

And keep your eye on where you’re going.

Thank you.

About Ann M. Drake
Ann Drake is the chief executive officer of DSC Logistics, one of the leading supply chain management companies in the U.S. and one of the top woman-owned companies in Illinois. Since becoming CEO in 1994, Drake has guided DSC’s transformation from 22 separate companies into an integrated operation with a nationwide network and partnerships with some of the most dynamic, most successful companies in the world.

Drake is on the Board of Directors for A.M. Castle & Company, serves as vice chair of the Business Advisory Committee for the Northwestern University Transportation Center, and is on the Board of Governors for the Metropolitan Planning Council. She is an active member of many civic and professional organizations, including the Committee of 200 (C200), The Chicago Network (TCN), the International Women’s Forum, the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) and the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC).

She received Ann received her undergraduate degree from the University of Iowa and her Master of Business Administration degree from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University.

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