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Episode 19: From Production Line to Director of Transportation Strategy – A Supply Chain Journey with Rob Haddock

Brent – 00:00:01:

Welcome to Freight Nation, a trucking podcast where we explore the fascinating world of trucking and freight management. We dive deep into the freight industry and uncover why the trucking industry is more crucial to our country now than ever before. Stay tuned to uncover the driving forces behind successful trucking businesses and hear from the hardworking truckers and leaders who keep the world moving. Let’s hit the road. Well, hello again, Freight Nation. This is Brent Hutto from Truck Stop, your host. Thanks for joining us for Freight Nation, a trucking podcast from truckstop.com. It’s been so much fun doing these podcasts and learning the stories. It’s always about the story. That’s really what compels people and me to listen along. So we try to craft them around someone’s story about how they got into transportation, what drives them and kind of what’s next and what’s some advice that can be given. So because freight is such a large, large topic when it comes to what we do in the United States and the world in general. So it’s a lot of fun. There’s a never ending amount of stories to hear. And so we got a really great win today. So I grew up in the South. I grew up with many unique things in the South. Everybody loves the food and things that go on the South. And one of the very, very unique things about the South is we love our Coca-Cola. And so many years ago when I got into the supply chain part of transportation, I met this really cool guy named Rob Haddock because he worked for Coca-Cola. And so I was so driven. I wanted to talk to him about what it’s like working for Coca-Cola that we became such good friends. And today you will get to hear Rob’s story. You’ll get to hear what I know to be such a great, wonderful, not just knowledge base. And boy, is he deep in knowledge when it comes to this. But also what genuinely makes transportation supply chain one of the greatest industries in the world is the people that are in it. And so get ready, Freight Nation. You’re going to hear a great story today. And Rob, welcome into Freight Nation. Thanks a lot for joining us.

Rob – 00:01:52:

All right. Thank you, Brett. And I’m well prepared for the show. I’ve got my morning Coke, Diet Coke. So let’s roll.

Brent – 00:01:58:

Well, that’s fantastic. All right. Well, Rob is joining us today from Suwannee, Georgia. He’s had a long career inside of Coca-Cola and he’s even retired from Coke. He’s got something new. But before we talk about that, Rob, I think it’s super important to hear the story. One of the great things about transportation and supply chain is not everybody goes, oh, when they were young and they went, I want to be in supply chain or I want to be in transport. They usually just something happens and they end up there and then they love it. So you have a great story about you didn’t even start out in this country. So start out with telling us your story about where you started out and then we’ll roll on.

Rob – 00:02:33:

Yeah. I mean, I didn’t have to come far, Brett. I started in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, Canada as a young child born there. My brother and I were both born there. But yeah, I think when I was about five years old, my dad, who worked for True Temper at the time, he’s an engineer. He got transferred to Northeast Ohio. So about a three hour drive from where I started. But being in Northeast Ohio, those early days. The years, the snow belt. You can imagine what that’s like, especially for us now who are comfortable in the south. We are not used to those cold weather. And as I look back, growing up in Northeast Ohio, you did all of the sports. I had a paper route. I learned everything about supply chain and collections and trying to deliver my newspaper route before I went off to Little League practice. So everything about time management and logistics, I think I was starting to ease into at an early age. And then. I stayed in Northeast Ohio all through college. Went to a place called Hiram College, small liberal arts. Management and economics is what I focused on. But, you know, at the time, supply chain logistics really wasn’t a discipline. So I went there. Honestly, I wanted to be in I.T., but I couldn’t figure out Fortran. So I said, forget it. This economic stuff, this management stuff seems pretty interesting. So I excelled at that. I had a lot of fun at that. But I still had always a little bit of technology. I had a lot of technology leaking around in the back of me because I couldn’t program it. But maybe I could tell the programmers one day what I wanted, which has proved useful throughout my career.

Brent – 00:04:02:

Yeah. Super cool. Well, I’m very partial to Ohio. My very wonderful mom, who my kids call Gigi, ball five foot one inch ever, was born in Dayton, Ohio. She grew up in Sydney. She was one of five kids. And I tell people when I meet them, when they’re from Ohio, I go, I love Ohio. They look at me really strange. They’re like, you love Ohio? And I go, yeah, my mom’s from Ohio. I love Ohio. I love the cornfields. I love the industry. I love the hardworking, industrious people of Ohio that are part of what helps make our country great. So I’m very partial to Ohio. So not surprised that your sort of honestness and openness that you’re from Ohio. You made me shudder because I was thinking about those cold winter mornings, especially around the holidays, where you had a newspaper route of a hundred newspapers and you were out there in the snow peddling your bicycle to deliver these newspapers before 9 a.m. And then run off to church. It’s like, how did I do that as a kid?

Rob – 00:04:55:

Well, you know, it’s funny. We do, man. You had a task to do and you went and did it. So I’m not surprised you did well at it. So you said that you liked being into technology. You felt like that that wasn’t your bent, but you do like the idea of systematic approaches to things. So that’s an interesting take. So when you were at Hiram, you were in economics and management, economics obviously being the study of how systems and people being a system that had been worked. So you actually took a job during school that kind of got you into the supply chain while you were at college to kind of pay your way through. I did the same thing. I worked in my dad’s steel plant or steel processing company. Whenever I wasn’t in school, I was working with my dad in the dirty warehouse. So tell a little bit about that, because that’s a really fascinating part of how you kind of cut your teeth.

Rob – 00:05:42:

Yeah, I mean, Brad, it’s just kind of destiny. I didn’t know when I was growing up that there was a small Coca-Cola manufacturing plant in Geneva. Maybe I’d heard about it over the years. And it was back in the day where if anybody on the podcast remembers Hi-C 46 ounce cans, that was a staple. Before you had things like drink boxes and pouches and even glass bottles, there was glass bottle production as well. But Hi-C came in those different formats. And there was a small manufacturing plant in town. Back in the day, it was called Coca-Cola Foods, but it was still part of the Coca-Cola company. And one day I was looking for a summer job after my first year at school. And Hiram College is about an hour south, so it’s not a long drive to get back and forth. And I wandered into this little manufacturing plant and said, hey, do you need some work? And they said, yeah, tell me who you are. Back in the day, there wasn’t these long drawn out resumes. If you look like you were an honest individual and you had some initiative, they would give you a shot. Small town environment. So I wander in there and it just so happens that the HR manager. Was a Hiram College graduate. And it’s like, okay, this is good. So I would do just about any job that they threw at me for, what is it, $2.35 an hour. I had money in my pocket. Keep in mind, I’m graduating from a paper route where I was, you know, if I cleared 10, 11 bucks a week, I had big money in my pocket. Now I’m making 235, 100 bucks a week. And I’m learning a whole lot of skills because when you’re doing the jobs that nobody else wants to do at the bottom of the supply chain, it’s amazing when you’re looking at how it all works. You can see how moving drums around or moving pallets around or jumping on a lift truck, you really start to understand the foundational portions of the supply chain. So it was a good time. I stayed with that job multiple times through my career at Hiram as I went back and forth. And then when I think about it, when I got out in 1983, we were somewhat in a depressed economy. Maybe there were other jobs in other parts of the country, but Northeast Ohio, it was pretty slim picking. So I went back to the Coke manufacturing plant and for the next two years, I worked on the production lines.

Brent – 00:07:59:

Did you really? You worked the labor on the production line?

Rob – 00:08:02:

I worked on the labor and production lines. Wow. Yeah, I did everything from the back end of the line where in the day it was manual case stacking. So we worked. You were stacking cases by hand? And I gradually graduated up to like running one of the fillers. And then one of my last roles was I was actually the blender. So I was the person upstairs blending up the juice before we send it to the production line. So it was really a great experience that two years of interfacing with the union team members, the management team, really understanding all of what it takes to operate the supply chain at the point of conversion where everything comes together and you finally have a case.

Brent – 00:08:43:

Right. So let me ask you this. This is fascinating because, I mean, I worked manual labor for a long time. My dad was like, okay, you’re going to work out in the warehouse with everybody else. And when you learn to do that well and you’ve satisfied my qualifications for it, I’ll think about letting you come into the office. Okay. So what did you learn through that process that helped you, that even helps you all the way until today?

Rob – 00:09:04:

There were so many different things that I did. There’s a production schedule that you need the materials to make it happen. And then you’re expecting a certain number of cases per hour to get off. Those production lines to meet the customer’s demand and get it there on time. You know, what I learned very quickly is that the production schedule can be very dynamic. Depending on the upstream forecast and the inventory that you have. Or the materials that are coming into the facility. There’ll be times where all of a sudden we’re blending up something, getting it ready to go to production, and somebody calls up from the warehouse and says, hey, we don’t have this. It’s like, oh my gosh, what do we do? We just put together a couple thousand gallons of juice, and now I’ve got no packaging to send it downstream to. So that stuff happened all the time. And it just so happens that as I was finishing up my time at Hiram and graduating, I ended up in this role. But then I think around 1985, I couldn’t break into management at the coke offices there in Geneva. So I took a little stint with McLean Trucking. So if you’re familiar with McLean Trucking, 1985 LTL carrier, I think they were the largest at the time. And I spent six months in Cincinnati at their Cincinnati break ball. That was a very interesting job. It was kind of a 24-7. I was the guy in the dispatch trying to navigate trailers in and out of the different docks. And Once again, as destiny would have it, about two weeks prior to McLean filing for bankruptcy. I got a call back from my teammates at Coca-Cola and they said, hey, there’s an opening in the warehouse. And I took it.

Brent – 00:10:49:

Cool. So you catch your teeth pretty early on transportation. You started getting at least a bent towards it. As somebody who’s been a lifelong manufacturer shipper, you know, that sort of thing that’s helped you tremendously, I’m assuming helped you tremendously.

Rob – 00:11:03:

Well, I bounced back and forth between the two. So even envision a small plant, Northeast Ohio. I’ve got warehouse operations, but I was also doing this production scheduling. So I’m worried about everything that’s going on in the plant. So I’m making sure that we have a production schedule. We have the materials to support it on the inbound side. Cans are coming in on these doors. Labels are over here. Bases and concentrates. Then the finished cases are hitting the warehouse. Then I’m figuring out where to put them. And I got trucks coming in. It was such a small plant, but you did just about everything. And maybe not everybody gets to do that nowadays because we’re so departmentalized. But my day was never bored because some part of that equation was slipping through my fingers and you were always adjusting on the fly.

Brent – 00:11:50:

Well, it seems like doing what needs to be done is a little bit of your story. Like, you know, okay, that needs to be done. I’ll do it. I’ll go get that done for us. And so it seems like that’s a little bit of your story. And by the way, I do remember those hot seat cans. Those big 46-ounce cans. They had a paper wrapper on them. Is that right?

Rob – 00:12:08:

Yeah, paper wrapper around the cans in a corrugated box. And I worked a lot with the drink boxes early in my career. But every once in a while when I was still an operator, they wanted me to go over to the can line for relief. Relieving some of the people so they could take a break. So envision this box former where you’ve got this corrugated flat box. But then there’s this device that kind of swings up and puts the box and the cans come flying through. I was terrible at that. So I couldn’t save my life to get that thing to work. Except, you know, they might as well just shut the line down for 10 minutes any time I came around. Because I was going to. Damn it up. They threw me over there a few times and they said, forget it. Go back to the warehouse. You can’t break anything out there.

Brent – 00:12:53:

Good to know you can’t do everything.

Rob – 00:12:55:

Yeah. I know my limits.

Brent – 00:12:57:

It’s good to know. Well, I said you keep sort of filling your talent and credibility and experience bucket. You kind of keep filling it with things. And so you kind of kept moving up. So once you went back to Coca-Cola after McLean. And by the way, Freight Nation, I’m so glad Rob’s on today. Because as carriers and as broker 3PL companies, we don’t get a lot of chances to really get inside the mind of a shipper. So you’re kind of getting inside the mind of a shipper. What’s going on? And I think you’ll find it’s not a whole lot different than when it comes to transportation than just the transportation companies. They just have a different outcome that they have to have. So the Super Cool. So Providence, God’s timing, whatever. You went back to Coca-Cola and started continuing to grow your career there. So tell a little bit more about how that continued to grow when they finally realized there was that one thing you could do. And how did that continue to progress along?

Rob – 00:13:47:

Well, I mean, Brent, I think about that 10 years or so that I was in that warehouse operations role. I had a small fleet to manage. So I was managing the driver as an outbound. You had to coordinate back calls. You had to coordinate maintenance. You had to make sure that the drivers were moving and not sitting. And that was a great experience. And then I had, you know, inbound and outbound shipments happening all day long. I had inventory management. I had production scheduling. And then we really started. We started to get into something called enterprise resource planning or ERP systems. Keep in mind before the 80s and even sometimes the 90s, we didn’t have computers. And imagine no cell phones.

Brent – 00:14:26:

That’s right. Those of us that are 50s, we experienced all that.

Rob – 00:14:29:

I mean, when we were doing inventory, it was yellow pad and paper. And you just kind of thought you knew what was in the back and did your best at shelf rotation. So that’s where I started. But as I was in this warehouse role, we started to get into that. And then we started to implement ERP systems, the enterprise resource planning. And it was all of a sudden overnight, we were integrating production schedules with material requirements and placing orders against vendors. And we were getting shipment orders in from customers, which we used to take by phone. We were now getting them by fax. And then, oh, by the way, now we’re getting through something called EDI. I remember the first time a computer came into my desk and I was using something called Lotus 1-2-3, which was the early version of what we call Excel today. And I was making spreadsheets on a floppy disk. And people thought, oh my gosh, we are getting so sophisticated. But if you think about where we were five years prior and then where we were 10 years after that, it’s like, oh my gosh, things have advanced so quickly. But it was all great experience, all great learning. So my itch to be in technology really was satisfied because rather than being a programmer, I got to be a user, an architect, and I got to have insights into what would perhaps make it better. And then give the idea over to somebody who actually knows what the ones and the zeros mean so they could develop it.

Brent – 00:15:51:

Right. Well, your experience helps to build the technology better. Obviously, we build technology all the time. Talking to areas, talking to brokers, talking to people who may be utilizing it is key. It’s the most important part of developing something that’s useful. It’s actually useful for people.

Rob – 00:16:06:

Well, you know, and I remember a lot of times where a lot of excitement about the technology that maybe we had just bought or somebody had developed and they’d done it in a vacuum. And sometimes those results don’t turn out very well. So I thought what was most useful with the tech team at Coke is that they’re… I would be smart enough to develop a crude model like Power BI is the most recent one. I’d say, okay, I know the basics of Power BI. I wanted to do this. I wanted to look like this. And I’d give them a model. And then they would go off and a month later, they would come back with this tool that would be world-class. And I’m going, how did you do that? And then they’d start to tell me and they would speak in a different language, the IT language. I go, don’t tell me because I didn’t understand anything you just said. I hear it all the time. Yeah. So it’s like, but as long as you know the people who know all that, all of that stuff works.

Brent – 00:16:54:

Yeah, sure. Yeah, without a doubt. Every person has their specific talent that contributes to the overall success of something. No doubt. All right. So you spent 10 years in the processing part of the warehouse, and that’s a big part of it. And so what was the next step for you within Coca-Cola? Now look, it’s so Freight Nation, we’re talking about a 40-year time span that Rob got to spend. So this is more than a short amount of time. So we’re going to try to get the whole picture in here. So what was the next step for Rob with Coca-Cola?

Rob – 00:17:22:

I kept moving through the organization, and I moved to another plant, a plant over in New Jersey, larger facility. Here I was, you know, bigger role. But during my time there, I got to spend a lot of customer interfacing. So I would work with the sales teams and we would look at our delivery performance with customers and we would try and understand why we were doing as well as we should be or could be. And I even got into things like vendor managed inventories so that we thought that if we got the demand signal from a customer, we could do a pretty good job of the order replenishment cycle. And VMI is still out there, but I don’t think it ever got the foothold yet that we thought it could. But some customers wanted to do it. Other customers said they wanted to do it, but they didn’t really want to do it. But in theory, it’s supposed to improve service and drive down inventory levels. And there’s still a great concept, but I don’t think it’s been adopted to the levels that it could be someday. But it was, once again, it was emerging technologies, working with the customer base, working very closely with the sales teams. Did that for three years, but then I got pulled into the Olympics. And for 96 and the 2000 games, I got the… We… We were going to be on site at both the Atlanta and the Sydney games.

Brent – 00:18:34:

Oh, wow. That’s exciting. I mean, who gets to experience that? That’s not a small endeavor and it’s a short timeline. So, wow. Tell us about that.

Rob – 00:18:42:

Well, I mean, each one of the summer events are 17 days in length, but the preparation work is quite long and involved because you’ve got 25, 30 venues that are in need of being set up and then all the supply lines that go to those. So once again, I was planning inventory. I was securing products. I was getting trucks. I know in Atlanta, I had some 30 venues to supply and I had a hundred refrigerated trailers that I was using. Some cold storage facility on the northside of Atlanta has my storage and my yard. And still, you know, keep in mind we’re 1996 technology and computers. We’re still at the infancy stages. And somehow I was able to track the inventories at these facilities via phone calls, put them into spreadsheets, figure out what’s going on. And I gave all the trailers back. I didn’t lose any.

Brent – 00:19:35:

Oh, no way. It was still a fairly manual process.

Rob – 00:19:38:

It was a very manual process. I’m not sure I slept much during that time period. But once again, it was product was where it needed to be on time. Right. Don’t ask me about the cost, though.

Brent – 00:19:48:

Right. I’ve got to guess from a Coca-Cola standpoint, it’s a branding thing. It’s a support thing. It’s a patriotism thing. It’s all the things that go into making Coca-Cola the incredible brand that they are.

Rob – 00:20:01:

I just remember I had a little SUV at the time. And there were times where there were midnight product deliveries because I’d have to run to the warehouse, get something and deliver it through the security gates.

Brent – 00:20:11:

So you didn’t just work in Atlanta. You also went to Sydney. That’s not Sydney, Ohio, right?

Rob – 00:20:16:

No, that was the 2000 Australia Games. That was a lot of fun, too. Multiple trips down there. And basically doing what we did in Atlanta, getting those games set up and working with the local bottling teams there. Because we brought in a number of different items from the United States. To promote at the Sydney Games that weren’t available in the country. So, yeah, I learned a little bit about import export during that stint and had multiple containers arriving at different ports and had to find storage for them and get them out to the marketplace. So once again, really cool experiences that the companies allowed me over the years.

Brent – 00:20:50:

Yeah, no doubt. Why do you think you were chosen to do this at both Olympics? What do you think? Like in 96, somebody said, ah, let’s get Rob to do it. Why do you think they chose Rob to do it?

Rob – 00:21:00:

One of the things I’ve always enjoyed, Brent, is that if there’s a tough challenge out there, give me a shot at it. I may not come through and, you know, be 100% on everything, but I’m going to give it my best. And I think I’ve tried to take that approach with most of what I do. And I always encourage people not to, you know, don’t shy away from the hard projects, because even if it didn’t come to meet full expectations at the end, chances are it was a little bit better than when you started. And maybe you learned something along the way that others can build upon. So I think I had demonstrated that I knew what I was talking about from a supply chain perspective. And I had experience on resource planning. I had it on the transportation side. So I kind of knew logistics. And you’d be surprised how many people really don’t understand logistics. They know the product makes it to the shelf. They see trucks back and forth. They see lots of warehouses. But the science behind the synchronization of all those different movements is very rarely understood. And I had a working knowledge of it. So they said, well, here, we got one for you. Figure this out. And, you know, that’s kind of been my career is like, just go figure this out and come back with a solution and make it all better.

Brent – 00:22:10:

I love it. So essentially you say that most people, they just see the stuff on the shelf and they don’t necessarily know how it gets there. I think that’s one of the things that I really appreciated about you when I first met, when I was talking about the manufacturing process and how does transportation, the actual logistics of moving something, how do those intersect? And so I would like, they appreciated how you, I really understood how the manufacturing of the products and then the warehousing and then the delivery, the transportation of it, all they all intersected into it. So it sounds like that was a big part of the reason why they said, we want Rob to do this.

Rob – 00:22:45:

Yeah, I think that was part of it. And maybe they were sending me a signal that, hey, we want you to move on to something better, give you more experience that’s going to add to your career. So, you know, in the back of their mind, they could have had some development ideas going on. You know, as I think through my notes, Brad, one of the things I wanted to call out is how important the driver is to logistics. So much energy goes into, you know, what are you going to make? How are you going to make it? You get us to the warehouse. And I think way too many times we forget that, okay, it’s at a shipper’s warehouse, but it’s not at the customer yet. So who’s that next individual in the process? And that’s where the driver community comes in and they work nonstop. There’s no way you or I would sign up for the hours of service that these men and women sign up for. It’s very hard working. And I remember many times early in my career where sometimes we’d run a 10 hour shift to 12 hour shift and we’re trying to get cases off the dock. And, you know, we’d get a call that our drivers run a little bit late because chances are they got detained somewhere else. Once we knew that, you know, I would keep some operators a little bit longer than regular time. We’d stage the load and get it ready. And then as soon as the driver hits the docks, you know, we try and get them in and out as quickly as possible. So they could at least, you know, if they had to, they could get them in and out as quickly as If they had some hours remaining, they could get a little bit driving in or they could find a place to bed down for the night because, you know, they would just drag in so tired from the road. And I always thought it’s, let’s meet them with a smile and some efficiency and get them on their way. Even today, I think that is one of the things that is treating the drivers with respect. I think all the places where you should check in and check out at a shipper or receiver should be welcome centers rather than guard shacks or the shipping office, you know, just let’s make them a welcome center. Because, you know, really. You’re welcoming a guest into your facility. Not that you want them to spend the night, but you want them to be there for an hour or two, get on their way. So we can be more efficient as a transportation industry in the long run.

Brent – 00:24:40:

Yeah. Now, wait a minute. This is what’s unique. And so Freight Nation, I hope you hear Rob’s heart in this, that. He was a shipper that said, we need to be welcoming to the drivers. We need to take their time into consideration. And so I know when you and I were talking about this, you talked about there were times where you were able to establish a pretty fast turnaround to get people loaded and get them off the dock and onto delivery. And so that’s unique. So talk a little bit about that, about what was your focus, because you mentioned this just a second ago, but I want you to dive in a little bit more into that. Because to me, Rob, that’s unique. You don’t find many shippers that have that reverse focus. Now, it’s not that it’s not important because shippers know it’s important. It’s just there’s a reverse focus, right? So talk a little bit about that.

Rob – 00:25:21:

Yeah, live loads sometimes can take hours either to load or unload. And we would go and utilize our time with staging the load close to the dock. So when the driver eventually got through the gate and got nestled into the dock, we would have two lift operators just putting pallets on. So, you know, if you’ve got it staged within inches of where it needs to go and you’ve got two lift trucks, it doesn’t take more than 10 to 15 minutes to get the freight on the truck and then get paperwork process and the person on their way.

Brent – 00:25:53:

Right. Yeah. But you achieve that by making it a priority, right? With the people in the dock, everywhere else. Yeah.

Rob – 00:25:58:

Yeah. And it wasn’t just me because, you know, the lift truck operators, because we also had drivers of our own and we knew how tiring it was for them. I mean, everybody puts the driver first in terms of getting them in and out of the facilities.

Brent – 00:26:10:

Well, that is unique, man. I’m sure that the drivers that used to come frequently to your facility enjoyed coming there. I mean, the fact that you said, we’re going to make these interaction points welcome centers, it’s huge. And I hope that other shippers that might listen to this or even carriers that go into shippers might even recommend this. Hey, how do we all work together? Because we all need each other. I know that’s a big part of your ideology around this too, which is we’re not independent of each other. There’s a high need between all the parties that involve logistics and transportation. So talk a little bit about that because Rob, I think that’s probably part of your secret sauce and got you to where you were is really understanding that principle. And as I’ve gone through meeting shippers through CSCMP and the groups that you and I are a part of, I think that’s a big part of. I hear it over and over and over again about how somebody wants to be a shipper of choice and somebody wants to be a carrier of choice or they want to be a transportation provider of choice. There’s a whole lot that goes into that. Talk a little bit about that because your experience, I think, will be very beneficial.

Rob – 00:27:07:

Well, you know, I think some of it is selfish, Brett, because my belief is that if you’re a shipper of choice or a receiver of choice, and it’s a fine line because, you know, if you’re a plant, you’re both receiving and you’re shipping. And if you’re a distributor, you’re receiving and you’re shipping. So shipper of choice, both inbound and outbound freight is under that umbrella. But my belief is that if you’re a shipper of choice, your behaviors are twofold. One, you’re sensitive to the driver’s time and you’re treating them with respect when they’re at your facility. And then two, you’re a good business partner with your carrier management teams, and you have a good understanding of what the market is and what a carrier partner needs to stay a viable business entity. Because at the end of the day, in basic economics, it’s a supply and demand thing. So if there’s a lot of demand and there’s not a lot of supply because folks have been forced out, guess what? Prices are going to be up. Now, the inverse, if there’s too little demand, you might have an excess of supply, which we are currently in, in the current cycle. And every day that supply is getting smaller. And what happens to prices? They go up. If you see some of the curves, the supply and demand curves, they’re very erratic. They’re huge. And not that we’re going to change the behavior overnight of everybody of the industry, but what if you just took those highs and lows out a little bit? Because if you’re responsible for a transportation budget, I’ve always been told by the finance team, we want you to be as closest to the pin as possible using a golf term. So make it as little over or as little under as possible. And that can be very challenging when you have such erraticness in spot rates, contract rates, et cetera. So at the end of the day, I think there’s a lot of capacity that is still stuck in slack time and dwell time. And the driver community, last I checked, is continuing to get smaller.

Brent – 00:29:04:

Yeah, well, for sure. They’re transitioning back to different parts of the market, right? Yeah.

Rob – 00:29:08:

Well, they’re either aging out or they’re going to last mile. They’re going to warehousing jobs. And then, you know, the schools aren’t putting out as many. So you’ve got a declining population. You have demand that hasn’t really changed and potentially can go back up. So that’s, I think everybody’s a little bit worried about is when is that next flip of the marketplace? And my point about shippers of choices is that we know inevitably it’s going to happen. So wouldn’t it be a good thing to be a shipper of choice in the eyes of both the driver and the management teams of those carriers? Because chances are you’ll be higher up on the list when capacity becomes tight.

Brent – 00:29:43:

For sure. So let me ask you this. You talked about the importance of the truck driver during time. So we just went through an unprecedented time during the pandemic, right, where it was tough. And so tell me about your experience through the pandemic and how did that change your point of view towards carriers or enhance your point of view towards carriers?

Rob – 00:30:01:

Well, it was interesting when we first started to think about the pandemic and, you know, the manufacturing plants, which are also where distribution occurs. The first focus was on the support people that were helping with the maintenance of fillers, the equipment manufacturing represented. So everybody said, well, we got to make sure that we can safely get these people in and out of the plants. I raised my hand. I said, you know, we’ve got thousands of guests that visit the back of the plant. And they’re like, what do you mean? I said, well, we have thousands of drivers that visit every day. How do we keep them safe? Because they’ve got multiple touch points. They’re coming in through a security check-in checkout. They’re going to a shipping office. They may interact with a forklift driver. And I said, well, we have to also make sure that they’re as safe as possible because they are moving through the economy and through the country. Every day. So how do we make that safer? So we started to look at, well, electronic bills of lading. So let’s take the paperwork. Let’s take the human interaction out as best as possible. Of course, everybody was wearing security masks, but still, the less touch, the better, right?

Brent – 00:31:06:

Yeah. Yeah.

Rob – 00:31:07:

We didn’t know if whether a piece of paper could be a conduit for COVID or not, or even the seal to close the trailer. So as we were working on trying to figure out solutions for the virus, we were also working on electronic bills of lading. And touchless transactions at the back of the plants. And that work continues on. There’s many of the facilities right now that have gone to paper-free in terms of uploading the traditional bill of lading. Now it’s all electronic and that continues to build out.

Brent – 00:31:39:

I imagine it makes things more efficient as well. So it helps to cut time, which everybody benefits from that, right? Yeah.

Rob – 00:31:45:

I mean, the check-in process, there’s no waiting for paperwork at the end. Somebody just bangs on the back of the door and says, okay, you’re released, you’re ready to go. And then you grab a seal on the way out. So it’s getting more and more paperless. And we do that all day long. If we’re getting packages from one of the package deliveries, there’s nothing to sign for. There’s a picture and shows your package on the front porch and there’s proof of delivery. So why not adopt it, you know, full scale on what we ship via truck?

Brent – 00:32:12:

Right. Well, wow. Rob, that is so cool to hear that led by the great people of Coca-Cola.

Rob – 00:32:19:

Well, we have many others are part of it. And continue. And continue to drive adoption. But someday that you may not have bills of lading paper ones.

Brent – 00:32:26:

Yeah. Well, what I mean by that is that led by the great people of Coca-Cola and for a great company that supported the idea of how do we make sure that we’re taking care of not just our people in the dock and our people that are support people on the manufacturing end or the dock end, but other people that are serving us that we have to have. How are we thinking about a holistic process to protect everyone through this process, through this pandemic that we didn’t know anything about? We’re just kind of, everybody’s kind of guessing what’s going to be the solution. And I think that’s remarkable. And I hope that everybody’s listening and watching today on free nation. Here’s this, that many of the shippers in America, and I’m sure Coca-Cola wasn’t unique, but certainly great leadership there that it was all hands on deck, trying to protect, not just a company trying to predict all the citizens of the United States. So just a really, really cool story about how that happened. I know that during the pandemic, we did a poll and we asked owner operators, are you concerned about your health while driving? Like 85% of them. Not. 90% of them said, yes, I’m concerned about my health. Is it going to keep you from doing your job and driving your truck and delivering? 97% said, no, it will not keep me from doing it. We will be out there delivering. So it kind of shows you the heart for things and good to know that a shipper at the size of Coca-Cola had the same heart towards, Hey, we’re in this all in this together. So that’s so cool. So 40 years at one place, that’s pretty unique. It’s not super unique in transportation because what’s so cool about transportation is people love it. 40 years. You got to the end of the runway on that. And so tell me about the end of the runway. And then let’s talk about what’s next for you.

Rob – 00:34:12:

Well, you get to a point where, honestly, I said a few years ago, I need to get out of the way because there is so many up and coming people within our organization. I’ve been having a great fun. I’ve been recognized many a times. I’m doing great, but I know I can’t do this forever. So even before there was an opportunity to get away or, you know, jump off the company, we started to plan my exodus because I was going to retire one way or another at a certain point in time. I spent the last six months capturing documentation of best practices, passing on things that I did to other individuals so we wouldn’t leave a gap in my departure. And it was really fun. And I have no regrets for leaving. I just want to make sure that they continue to processes that we have built over time throughout the next generations of leaders. But then I thought, well, now I have the opportunity to do this. And I’m going to do this. And I’m going to do this. I’m going to have the opportunity to work across the industry. And maybe plan a few ideas that I thought were helpful and proved to be successful where I was at Coca-Cola, and maybe help others not make the same mistakes or get some efficiency. So I remain very active in shipper of choice and trying to figure out what’s the right technology that a company should have. Things like the U.S. Department’s flow initiative, where they’re trying to figure out where the bottlenecks are within the supply chains. That’s huge, yeah. Yeah, it’s huge because, you know, way too many shipments require more time than they should. Yeah, I continue to refer back to a J.B. Hunt’s study that was the 660 study that showed just out of the hours that a driver has during the day, how many are actually driving and how many are doing non-productive things. And last I checked, they were called drivers. They weren’t called sitters, and they want to drive, right? That’s a good way to put it. Yeah, so, and there’s so much efficiency that could be gained if, I think, the warehousing operations and the transportation teams really stepped it up. To figure out where are the hours being wasted. I always equate it to going into Hartsfield International four hours before my flight because I don’t want to be late for the plane. But along the way, I’ve gone ahead and gotten cleared. I’ve gotten TSA. So now I can dance through the lines in 10, 15 minutes. Why can’t we take that same philosophy and apply it to that exchange between warehousing locations and trucks?

Brent – 00:36:28:

Yeah, for sure. Yeah, that’s cool. That 660 thing, that J.B. Hunt, part of the group that did that just talks about the 40% inefficiency we have in the marketplace when it comes to time. It’s all time-based. It’s all time. It’s super important. So when you think about transportation companies working with shippers and the next part of your career, so you’re advising shippers on how to do better on using your 40 years as a director of planning and logistics and transportation strategy for one of the biggest companies in the whole world, you’re bringing that wisdom. So you were talking about the advice you could bring them. That’s called wisdom, right? You can bring them so they don’t have to step in the same holes that you did. So you bring that wisdom to them. So what are a couple of the great pieces of advice that you’d give a shipper and a couple of great pieces of advice you’d give a transportation provider to that shipper to help it be better?

Rob – 00:37:16:

Oh, gosh. Do we have another hour?

Brent – 00:37:19:

Make them breathe. Yeah, we’ll have part two.

Rob – 00:37:22:

I think way too many times transportation has been treated as a commodity, and it’s really not. It operates on the basic rules of supply and demand. And my advice continues to be to shippers is understand your carrier partners and what they need to be successful. Understand the demand signal that you’re giving your carrier partner, because I spent a lot of time in supply and demand management, and I knew that without a forecast, it’s very difficult to have the right product in the warehouse. The same applies to a transportation carrier. If you don’t have the right demand signal for a lane. But then you go out and you engineer this network that says, well, I’m supposed to have loads between Poughkeepsie and wherever, and they don’t materialize. How are you supposed to have the supply? So I would say that I’m beating the drum on what is called lane projections or lane forecasting and the idea of shared metrics between a carrier and a shipper. I think the shipper is accountable for what is it that I need to ship, and then also making sure that you’re getting in and out of the facilities in a reasonable time. And then the carrier is responsible for having trucks when they’re supposed to be there, and then having those trucks show up on time to the end customer. And you would think that there’s a balanced cost per load or cost per mile at the end of the day. That’s within your reason of market rates. So, you know, carrier partnerships or shipper carrier partnerships are just basic, basic things in relationships that you need to continue to foster.

Brent – 00:38:55:

Yeah, no doubt. I love what you said, understanding the demand signal. I think that’s a great parent phrase for what you talked about and understanding the volumes and the need to move things in lanes and then sharing metrics. I just wrote those down, Rob, because to me, that’s something that could be built on. I love the way you put that’s a great phrase. You need to trademark that phrase, understanding the demand signal. Maybe that’s a book by Rob Haddock. Maybe it’s coming out soon. Soon. But no, seriously, that’s understanding the demand signal. In other words, how does the supply and demand market work? And then how do the players in the market work with each other beneficially to get the freight delivered on time and on cost and on profit for the ones that make their living on it? It’s just a cost to the shipper. It’s the lifeblood for the transportation provider.

Rob – 00:39:43:

Well, the last thought, I look at pricing and pricing is very, it’s an art and a science, I would say. Because every origin destination pair has some of its unique characteristics that drive inefficiency. And I would say that shippers don’t want to be bad shippers of choice, but sometimes the physical constraints of a facility are they require investment. And that investment requires a return on investment. So the whole equation, if you’re trying to justify better efficiency at a warehouse operation, you may need to put in people, infrastructure, or technology. That may all cost something. So what you would like to see is that. Carrier would recognize that shipper for doing something different at that facility to increase the efficiency, which then maybe reduces their cost a little bit to offset that investment. So it’s a partnership. If you really have a partnership between a carrier and a shipper, you can start to look at your bottlenecks and figure out what’s it costs to fix them. And then can I see a return on that? So, you know, if you went from a live load to a drop and hook facility overnight because you put down a new pad, all of a sudden you’ve given the carrier back two hours of drive time. What’s that worth? Right. You’ve added capacity back to the industry, but perhaps you’ve also provided a more efficient rate for that relationship. So it’s just things to consider.

Brent – 00:41:10:

Yeah. Yeah. Well, super good advice to me. And what I’ve seen over the last five years is that time is going to be more of a factor in all this because of the way that technology is allowing things to be measured. So time is going to be a more factor. So you were talking about giving back two hours of time into an efficient process. That’s super important. All right. So what’s any personal advice? Close on a little bit of personal advice. Do you have any personal advice that you like to give out? I mean, you’ve been on this planet for more than a few years, which is great. Me too. And so what’s some personal advice you like to give out? And then we can close it out. Yeah.

Rob – 00:41:42:

I’m technically retired. I’m retired from a full-time job, but I enjoy the industry. And I read a book not too long ago called From Strength to Strength. And it talks about. Moving from fluid intelligence to crystallized intelligence. So when you’re younger, your mind’s sharp, you’re solving all of the world’s problems. You get a little bit on the rusty side of things. You’re not as creative anymore, but you’ve got all of this built up in your gray matter. And that becomes the crystallized intelligence. When you leave the industry, just don’t walk away. Try and find a way to give a little bit back. And that’s what I’m at Quest for is, you know, I don’t want another 40-hour gig somewhere. I’d like to just help out from time to time and have the free time to go do what I need to do. After we finish this call, Brent, I am going out and I am planting a couple of magnolia trees. So, I mean.

Brent – 00:42:33:

Well, we love our magnolias in the South, man. I love it. You talked about giving back to an industry, and I call that being the sage. The last part of our careers, our lives, our job is to help those younger than us to really understand what can be most beneficial for them, and that’s you become a sage. So welcome to the sage part of your life. I think it’s the most impactful part because you’re able to give it back to others. Rob, thank you so much for being on today. What a great opportunity for transportation providers to hear from a world-class person and a world-class transportation subject matter expert who worked for a world-class company in Coca-Cola. So Rob, thank you so much for being on today. I really appreciate you being with us.

Rob – 00:43:12:

Brett, thank you. Anytime. Take care, everyone.

Brent – 00:43:14:

Well, Freight Nation, I tell you what, that’s a wrap for this episode. If you listened to the very last part of it, you probably heard there’s probably going to be a part two of this because Rob’s got such deep knowledge on this, and when you can tap into that, what a benefit it can be to you and be to the listeners of Freight Nation. So thanks a lot for listening. We appreciate it. And don’t forget. Two, be kind, work hard, and stay humble. That’s it, Freight Nation. Talk to you later. On behalf of the Truck Stop team, thanks for listening to this episode of Freight Nation. To find out more about the show, head to truckstop.com forward slash podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, make sure you hit subscribe so you don’t miss any future episodes. Until then, keep on trucking and exploring the open roads with Freight Nation, a trucking podcast.

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