Podcast: Moving from the Marines into Supply Chain – with Director of Distribution, Andy Bass

By Published On: January 12, 2022

Hosts: Mike Ogle and Rodney Apple

In This Episode:

We are joined by Andy Bass, he shares his supply chain career journey beginning when he left the Marines and started loading trucks. He quickly worked his way up into supervisory and management roles finding out that he needed degrees to keep working his way up. Andy talks with us about stepping up to take on the work no one else wants to do, along with encouraging people to visualize achieving goals as a motivator to greater success.

Who is Andy Bass?

Andy Bass is the Director of Distribution at Trane Technologies. He has 30-years of experience starting at the entry-level loading trucks and most recently had responsibility leading large teams along with over four million square feet of warehouse space in over 200 distribution locations in the US and Canada. Andy has been responsible for distribution, transportation, manufacturing support, revenue management, safety, and strategic planning. Andy also served on the Board of Directors for WERC from 2016-2020.

Mike Ogle: [00:01:42] Andy, we’re happy to have you with us today, welcome.

Andy Bass: [00:01:44] Glad to be here. I appreciate you reaching out to me.

Mike Ogle: [00:01:47] How did you get started on your supply chain career journey? What were some of your greatest influences that got you started and helped you along the way?

Andy Bass: [00:01:56] Well, I had a friend that I’ve worked with and I was in the Marines for a little while. And then when I was out, I was looking for a career. He was an HR director at an ACE hardware, regional distribution center. And the job they had open was an hourly truck loader. So, my job working four, stay until you’re done shifts, was to load three 53-foot trailers a day by hand. So, the shift could be eight hours or 16 hours. And it all depended on how everybody else did because it all flowed to the shipping department and then we loaded it up on the trucks.

From there I watched and I saw how other folks were doing things. And I was like, well, I can do it better than them, watching the supervisors and that kind of thing. So, I started applying for supervisor. I got the promotion to supervisor and they put me in charge of the team that I came in with. So, I was responsible for shipping. I had a lot of success there, had a really good team. Very hard work, in the south, very hot during the summer. It was pretty tough.

When my son was born, his mom and I decided that we weren’t going to move around a bunch. When it came time for me to get promoted, if it would take a relocation, I would switch companies. So, I went over to work for Dale Earnhardt as his warehouse manager for his souvenir company. That was kind of fun. That was in the heyday of NASCAR. He quickly sold the company. And they in quick succession bought up all the big NASCAR souvenir companies in the Charlotte area. And then that was my opportunity for my first Greenfield distribution center. So at that we would build a brand new site, right beside the Charlotte motor Speedway. It was just a Taj Mahal of a distribution center, a new computer system, lots of conveyor, lots of stuff going on there. Air-conditioned warehouse, cause it was apparel right beside the Speedway. And so that job right there had a lot of flair and color to it, especially on race weekend back then, because it was really, really popular at that point.

I made the move from there to a really large company, with International Paper. I managed a variety of different sites. I went back to school, they paid for my college, in-person night classes and get my bachelor’s degree. So that was wonderful. That was a good experience there, did multiple systems implementations there. We did another acquisition and merger into the site there in Charlotte. Did another warehouse management system implementation. So that was very exciting there as well. And so, that’s my career about every five years moving and, until I actually moved to Alabama to work for an oil and gas distributor, and now I’m currently in St. Louis with my current employer.

Rodney Apple: [00:04:41] That’s a fascinating career story, Andy, I wish we would see more of that type of movement from that ground floor level. We’d love to hear some of those key lessons you learned. What do you think were the keys to success for making those moves up?

Andy Bass: [00:04:56] So for me, the key to success and wanting to continue to step up in your career is you’ve got to be willing to take the jobs that other people don’t want. If that’s going to get you to where you want to be, the job may be more difficult. It may have a bad history or a bad reputation, but that’s your opportunity to go in there and be a winner at it and do it well. But you’ve got to be willing to take the chance, you gotta be willing to say, okay, I’ve been at this company for five years. I’m established, I’ve got vacation, I’m vesting in my 401k and that type of thing, but I’m tapped out here. So am I willing to step out and move companies or actually even relocate for a role. That is stepping out on a limb, but for me, it has worked out, it’s been good moves. In general, these moves have been very positive.

Mike Ogle: [00:05:47] One of the things that would be great to hear about those transitions that you’d made is understanding the levels of responsibility that you had within some of those positions. And when you made the change over, if there were new things that you had to pick up gave you new experience, broadened your development.

Andy Bass: [00:06:05] One of my moves from one company to another, I was with a very large company in Charlotte. I was responsible for three sites. That was more of a distribution business. I made a move to broaden my skillset to a manufacturer as their director of distribution, transportation and manufacturing support, so I’d be responsible for bringing in and housing the raw material, supplying it to the plant. They would make it, they would give it back to us. We would work on the transportation and the distribution out to the customers. And at that time it was very large customers, the big boxes. In the five years I was there, we did four startups of new facilities. We did a major computer conversion, it just kept putting tools in my tool chest. I’d done some startups before, but then these were bigger. So, the challenge was bigger and the scope was larger and I was able to really make a difference and an impact in the organization.

Rodney Apple: [00:07:02] I would imagine Andy, if you’re multi-site, you’re coaching the GM’s. What’s the best way to go about that?

Andy Bass: [00:07:08] When you’ve got multiple sites and each site has a leader, and you’re the leader of those leaders, the best way to succeed in that situation is to have clear, measurable metrics, make sure that the team members and the leaders understand what’s expected of them and how they can succeed. So, what does success look like? You wanna make sure that that’s very clear. Part of my leadership style is one where I’m approachable, even tempered morning, noon, and night. And one of my key rules for my leaders is no one can get more upset than me in a meeting because I’m not going to get upset. Nobody wants to see that. Nobody wants to deal with that. I’ve had very charismatic leaders in the past, and I’ve had ones that had a lot of development that were needed.

I learned from all of those leaders. Being a good leader, yourself, being available, being caring, using servant leadership and the art of caring leadership, making sure you’ve got those metrics that are clearly defined so folks know exactly what’s dependent on them and then giving them the opportunity to present to

senior leadership, to run projects, to manage the site within the parameters that the company has and the metrics that they’re given. You want to make sure that they’re within those boundaries, but then I’m not one to micromanage. We come up with a way to manage the team with those metrics. And then I let the managers go, and I look at the metrics.

I want to make sure that they know that it’s okay to make a mistake. If there’s big decisions, we’ll talk about it. But I want them to make the majority of the decisions because that’s why they’re there. And I don’t want to be micromanaged. I want my boss to say, see that mountain. I want that mountain moved over there by January 1st. And I’m like, okay, come back January 1st. And it will be there. And so, with my team, we would develop a plan to move it. And then of course I would give each of them their instructions, but again, not micromanage. Let them develop and lead their teams. If you do have a leader that is struggling, then I’ll of course come in and help them. I’ve had leaders in the past that were not great public speakers. They weren’t comfortable in front of a group. So, I’ll help with that. Whatever they need, I want to be there and be available for them.

Rodney Apple: [00:09:27] And then when you think about externally, getting work done through others. Whether it’s managing a 3PL that’s attached to your network or vendors, what do you think are the keys to success with building those relationships with third-party partners and vendors, suppliers, and getting the most out of them, where you’re trying to strive towards that win-win relationship.

Andy Bass: [00:09:46] You want to give them the best scope of work possible to where if you’re going to a third-party logistics provider, for instance, they need to know exactly what it is you want them to do. So, it was just like the metrics that I give to my leaders. The 3PL wants the same thing. They want to know how much, how often, how big is it? How much does it cost? Building a rapport with the leader where you have a good working relationship and that you’re on the same team. That you pick providers that are your partners and that we’ll work with you and, or have some flexibility.

What I’ve seen in the past is the bigger the company, the less the flexibility. So that is one thing that you have to keep an eye out for that a local provider will pretty much do anything for you, but you go to some large multinational company and they just can’t be as flexible because they’re open to losing more and they’re susceptible to having more problems and legal ramifications.

Mike Ogle: [00:10:45] Looking back at your own academic days, what do you wish you had known as a student, both at the beginning and as you were graduating, plus what would you advise students to do today to prepare themselves for supply chain career?

Andy Bass: [00:10:59] That’s a really good question. I was not a good student in high school. I didn’t receive the advice that the higher you start, the further you can go quicker. So with me, having a lackluster high school career, I started off my career at the hourly level, and then it wasn’t until I was into my third professional job when I went to in-person night classes to get my bachelor’s degree, and then later to get my MBA. That’s a lot harder than doing it when you’re young, when you’re doing a full-time job that jobs in logistics are 40, 50, 60 hour a week jobs, plus full-time school, plus a family, it’s much more difficult than if you just do it right out of high. So my advice is, if you’re wanting a professional career, you’re going to need that degree. So go ahead and knock it out when you’re in your late teens, early twenties, and then you’re already up to where you can get rolling. And your earnings potential over your career will certainly be more. And nobody can, of course ever take away your education. It’s portable. I’m very proud to have mine.

And the way I got through all of that was through very good visualization. I was visualizing what it would be like to finish those classes, to finish that semester, to finish that year. And then who would be there at the graduation ceremony when they handed me my diploma. That visualization has worked for me in a variety of different contexts to include this one on my educational path. Don’t ever underestimate yourself. You can do more than you think you can in regards to your career and certainly with your education.

Rodney Apple: [00:12:38] Continuing on the education theme here, on mentorship. Did you have any folks that really helped you maneuver the waters, with your career moves and also wanted to see if you had any advice on that end to somebody that might be seeking out their very first mentorship?

Andy Bass: [00:12:54] As regards to mentors, I’ve had some really good ones. The best ones have actually been peers that have done really well. Like former direct bosses that I consider my friends now. We’ve collaborated on our careers, reaching out to folks that have been successful that are where you want to be. And so those are the folks that kind of have the keys to the kingdom. So you want to find those folks and say, well, how did you get there? What is your path to get to this spot? Is it hard work. Is it education? Is it you’re smarter than anybody else? It’s because you know people and you’re very political, what is it? Or is it just a very good blend? And that’s the kind of people that I like to search out. They’re not just a great politician. The ones that have a little bit of all of those things that create that total package to where they’re just a really good leader that benefit the teams that they work with.

Rodney Apple: [00:13:47] A lot of stuff is changing, would love to hear what you see being some of the bigger influences in terms of change, whether it’s in the logistics, distribution world or broader supply chain world.

Andy Bass: [00:13:58] Well in general, we’re seeing just like everybody is, this year and last year, just very difficult to find folks to come work. And so that’s an economic, a social thing that’s going on right now. And as with everything, there’s an ebb and flow to everything. So, we will get through this and we will be fine. But right now, what you’ve got to do is once you find folks, you need to really work hard to keep them, and make sure that they’re happy, that they’re safe, that they are getting training, that they’re getting developed, where they want to be, because you want to take care of A players to where they can move around and step up if they want. And you will take care of your precious Bs, who are super happy with just coming to work every day and doing a great job. They’re wonderful too. Just like the A’s. You need to make sure they’re appreciated that they’re taking care of and they’ll take care of you because you don’t want folks looking outside of your team only because of the way you’re treating them. That is very much a failure of leadership and in today’s world in particular, good leaders need to take care of good folks because everywhere around the world, the overwhelming majority of folks are really good folks. They just need the right leader.

Mike Ogle: [00:15:35] When you’re trying to evaluate, bringing in talent and team members, what do you do to be able to assess them in advance, and then get to the point where you can determine whether they are an, A, B or C.

Andy Bass: [00:15:49] In the interview process, in the different companies I’ve worked for, everybody has something that’s fairly similar. You’ll have multiple interviews depending on the level of position, for entry-level, it would be like the supervisor and then that supervisor’s manager. And then for supervisors, managers and above there’s a few more interviews to include a panel interview with several people. Those folks will have the same list of questions. You can ask everybody the same questions. So, you’ve got a good comparison on how each person did that. It’s very important to look at the resume of the person to make sure that everything in there makes sense, that they can talk to all the metrics that are on there.

In operations, it’s all about the numbers, so our resumes should have a good bit of financial data and numbers in it, talking about what you did, because that’s what we do. Once we bring folks in, you want to make sure that they’re mentored because I’ve worked for places that had like a 90-day new hire period. And then I’ve worked for places that said, okay, they’re hired. And then if you want to get rid of them, they have to go through the performance improvement plans or the disciplinary process to move them out if you made a bad hire. But what you want to do is get them trained and then have a good group of trainers that can give you really good feedback that says, okay, Susan is really good at this, but she’s really struggling with that. And Bob is the same way, he’s struggling with this. We need to make sure we’re giving them the right training to get them successful. So you depend on their trainers that you have your trusted employees that can give you a real good fit assessment, because you also want to know, are these folks going to fit in with the team or are they not going to fit in with the team and would be better on a different team.

I’ve been fortunate throughout the years to do hundreds and hundreds of interviews. I’ve got a cadence to how it goes, and you can really pick out folks that are going to fit into the team and are not. Folks that are being candid and maybe embellishing a little bit, or that just aren’t comfortable with certain groups. Over the years, I’ve been able to really define that to where it’s worked very well for me.

Rodney Apple: [00:17:58] We talked about the talent shortages. We know it’s impacting logistics, it’s truck drivers. It’s in the warehousing fulfillment centers. And then we’re starting to see a quicker adaption to technology and automation, robotics, things like that. From your lens, are you seeing any of that activity and how do you think that’s going to trend here in the next couple of years as we work through this unprecedented talent shortage.

Andy Bass: [00:18:24] I think that will drive companies and is driving companies to look towards automation and how they can put automation into the processes for some basic functions, moving material around a manufacturing plant, just picking up and taking it and dropping it off at a line. That is something that can be automated fairly easily. Bringing the product to the person at a pick station versus the person having to walk a lot of places to get that, making sure that you have a variety of languages in your computer system and your warehouse management system, and you’re picking documents to where you can open up your opportunities to everybody, which is very important because everybody wants to come here because it’s the greatest country in the world. There’s a ton of opportunity here and people want to come here and you want to make it easy for them.

Automation is going to be really big in the future, is going to continue to grow. Lead times right now for automation is hitting up on a year because so many folks are reaching out for that. And so you’ve got to plan that in there as well. What can you automate? How long is it going to take for you to get it implemented and how are you going to make sure without a doubt that it’s going to be successful and it’s going to do what you wanted it to do.

Mike Ogle: [00:19:42] Two different kinds of automation that people are talking about a lot these days, of course, the physical kind of automation and being able to make stuff move, but also the kind that’s making information move and in offices that you think you can turn into a process automation. There’s some of those tools that have come on pretty strong recently, what are you seeing in that area?

Andy Bass: [00:20:03] So we’re seeing folks build teams to where they can look at the software packages that are currently working with to see what processes they can simplify that they can remove keystrokes, removed screens, remove steps, and then also in the distribution area with a warehouse management system, the purpose of that is to standardize the work and then take decisions away from the team members. So one, everybody does it following the same method and then two, everybody is successful. And so, if you’re successful, then you feel better about yourself. You stay there longer, your retention’s better, your quality’s better, and your safety is better. But by again, standardizing the work, removing decisions, everybody benefits.

Mike Ogle: [00:20:48] Andy, supply chain careers do need continuous improvement. How do you keep up with some of those changes yourself in the industry and how do you advise others to keep improving?

Andy Bass: [00:20:59] So you have to always have a plan for the current year and the next year, because every year you have to have some incremental improvement. So, you’re always needing to look forward. You’re needing to engage your teams and identify what the problem is. How can you permanently fix it in a methodical way? And then how is that going to impact the team and reducing the amount of waste, damage or labor hours that go towards a particular task?

Mike Ogle: [00:21:29] Is anything ever perfect in supply chain?

Andy Bass: [00:21:32] Everywhere I’ve ever worked, you do a thousand things right. But you’re only going to hear about the one you do wrong. That is a perfect formula. I tell my team is we’re like a football team. Sales and manufacturing are the skill players or the quarterback or the running back there, the wide receiver, we are the offensive line. We’re extremely important. We protect all them and we enable them to be successful. So they need us just like we need them. And that’s what builds a really cohesive, successful team.

Mike Ogle: [00:22:03] The old blocking and tackling, right?

Andy Bass: [00:22:05] Exactly. Exactly.

Mike Ogle: [00:22:07] What are some of the specific major challenges that you faced along the way in your career and how did you go about solving those challenges and what kind of lessons did you learn out of those experiences?

Andy Bass: [00:22:20] Early in my career, my lack of education was an inhibitor because you would look for jobs and you had the experience, but because you didn’t have the degree, you wouldn’t even be considered. So, if you’re wanting to continue to step up in your career, the degree is required. You can’t get around it. It’s beneficial. When you get in there that it’s fun. You can learn a lot and it does help you out along the way.

Watching what other folks do that are successful is critically important. You can’t always go in there thinking that you know everything, you need to find the people that are really good at their jobs, watching how they do it, observing it, taking notes, and then blending that into your leadership style. And then in your day-to-day life. To not make the same mistakes they did, but learn from their mistakes and move forward in your career so that education and making sure that you’re watching everything that folks do, discarding the bad and then taking the good to move forward. Critically important to your success is being able to be a bit of a sponge and learn from the people around you, leave your ego at the door. Learn from those folks and take their advice.

Mike Ogle: [00:23:32] Was there any particular situation that you’d say along the way in your career that you had one of those uh-oh kinds of moments of a really big challenge that had to be solved and how you went through that and having that kind of lesson learned over time?

Andy Bass: [00:23:49] When I worked at one company, we had corporate come in and they said they wanted to implement a warehouse management system in 90 days. What I learned from that is that you can do that. It’s not advisable, there are a lot of issues along the way. There are a lot of people that don’t make it to the other end of that. And you’ve got to learn how to say no. If someone were to come to me now and say, we want you to do this, then I would say, no, that’s a terrible thing to do. I learned it can be done. It’s very difficult. It’s not pretty when you get it done, but you can get it installed. It causes a lot of problems with the team because you’ve got the regular work plus something very difficult to do. And so, some folks aren’t still with you at the end of the project, because it’s so difficult. I learned that sometimes you have to say no. Now in my career, I have much more experience where I can logically and clearly explain why that would not be a good idea. Then I was not able to do it. And so we went through that pain. If they’re wanting to do something that could really disrupt the business and negatively impact customers, it’s our responsibility to talk about that.

Rodney Apple: [00:25:02] Andy you shared some great stories and some great advice today. You’ve progressively moved up greater and greater responsibilities, a lot of projects. And you’ve seen a lot of things. What would you tell to people, why should somebody consider career in this fascinating, amazingly high growing space of warehousing and distribution, and really broader logistics.

Andy Bass: [00:25:20] Supply chain, logistics, warehousing, distribution. It’s going to be a job that’s always going to be here. It can’t all be automated. You can’t put a bunch of robots to do it. It’s not easy to do, but once you get good at it, once you’ve built that skill set, once you understand what folks are requiring of you, then the widget that you were moving around becomes less important. There are some very niche types of distribution, but for the most part, it’s all a widget. And it all moves around very similarly. So, your skillset is portable. The methodologies and the metrics are all very closely aligned. Whether you’re moving fluids or apparel or paper, it’s all a widget that you are needing to move from A to B as cheaply and safely as possible. Building that skillset in this field is one where you can carry yourself in a very good career. Because folks need what we’re doing. We’re not just the folks in the back anymore. Our spend is big in particular transportation, space and people of course is high too. So, we are now more important than we’ve ever been. So, it’s a great time to get into supply chain and logistics because folks need us and need our expertise.

Mike Ogle: [00:26:38] Andy, thank you for a great conversation and your insights about supply chain careers.

Andy Bass: [00:26:43] I appreciate you guys talking to me today and I hope I helped at least one person.

Rodney Apple: [00:26:47] I’m sure you’ll help many. Thanks for coming on, Andy.