Podcast: The Importance of People, Relationships, and Communication – with Charles Fallon, President of LIDD

By Published On: June 28, 2023

Hosts: Rodney Apple, Mike Ogle and Chris Gaffney

In This Episode:

Join us for an engaging conversation with Charles Fallon, President of LIDD. In this episode, he shares his journey in supply chain, beginning with a mining degree, discovering supply chain management, and then dedicating his career to learning how to collaborate effectively with customers to develop solutions for various supply chain challenges. Charles provides insights on what it takes to establish and grow a consulting business with multiple offices. However, his most significant insights emerge when discussing people, relationships, and communication. He emphasizes the importance of fearlessly identifying and communicating errors on the path to finding solutions. Furthermore, he highlights the valuable learning experiences gained from working with a diverse clientele. Charles also discusses the industry trends he has observed and shares his perspective on mentors and mentoring.

Who is Charles Fallon?

Charles has been working as a supply chain consultant since 1998. He has worked with clients at all levels of the supply chain, from manufacturers to retailers, in a wide array of industries including food, pharmaceuticals, garments and construction materials. He has extensive experience in supply chain strategy, technology, facility design & implementation and operations. As President of LIDD, Charles leads the company’s strategy and global expansion, including opening its offices in Los Angeles and Seoul, South Korea. Charles holds a bachelor’s degree in Mining Engineering from McGill University in Montreal.

[00:01:53] Mike Ogle: Charles, we’re happy to have you with us today on the Supply Chain Careers Podcast. Welcome. 

[00:01:58] Charles Fallon: Thank you. Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here. 

[00:02:00] Mike Ogle: And we’d like to know how you got started in supply chain. What were some of your greatest influences that got you started and what helped you along the way?

[00:02:08] Charles Fallon: Actually, got into the supply chain by accident, so by training in university, I studied mining engineering. I was very good at calculating how to blow things up. I mean rocks specifically. But when I graduated, the mining industry is a very cyclical industry and it was a commodity slump. And my job opportunities at the time would’ve taken me into the Canadian high Arctic. And I did not dream of living with polar bears. So, I went scouring and I was looking at my university’s engineering career website, found a job posting for a generalist engineer to come and do material handling design, at a consulting firm. And I thought that’s my favorite thing to do in mining is to figure out how to get materials from point A to point B. I went for the interview and discovered there’s that the modern-day warehouse is not just a big box building that straddles a highway, but is incredibly complex, highly engineered, operation.

I fell in love with the math and the logic of it and I’ve been doing that for ever since. So that, how I got started, was completely by accident. And then along the way, my first boss was a great inspiration to me. Not only in the craft that I learned, through him, but, in how to treat employees and how to treat customers and clients and fellow team members across multiple organizations. And that actually really reinforced how much I loved my profession.

[00:03:43] Chris Gaffney: So, Charles, obviously you’re doing some wonderful things today. So, from that first point to today, there have been a number of steps along the way for you, and in this series, we’re always trying to be instructive for our audience because there’s no common career path in the field of supply chain.

So, can you tell us about some of the key forks in the road or transitions in your career, and tell us a little bit about how those moves came about. What was your thought process and maybe some of the lessons learned that could be helpful for folks who were listening? 

[00:04:19] Charles Fallon: Sure. In some ways, I probably have the most boring career that anyone has ever had. I graduated university roughly 25 years ago, became a consultant in the supply chain, specifically around setting up, designing, distribution centers. And to this day, that is what I do. So, on the surface it’s quite boring. And to make it even worse, I’ve only really been employed by two companies.

The first company I started at, which I spent, about 11 years there, started as what they call, we called a logistics analyst in those days. Crunching data, transactional data from supply chain operations to make recommendations around design and process improvement. And gradually moved up the ranks from analyst to manager to director, to finally to partner. And then in the great recession of 2008, 2009, which was very, very bad for anyone whose livelihood depended on folks making capital investments, every company has no access to capital or money to borrow, then they don’t need to be told how to do that in a safe and responsible way.

I decided, maybe as an act of desperation, to leave the company I was at and launch and found my own consulting firm. And that’s really where I’ve been ever since as an entrepreneur, which now sounds very, very attractive. But in those early days, were quite scary ones. In terms of the thinking that led me into that transition, there is a time in your career when you maybe realize that you’ve hit the end of the road, you’ve exhausted, the relationships no matter how warm and loving or not they are, and that you are either going to freeze in place and remain sort of this static thing, or you’re going to choose a path where you need to continue to grow. And that is scary, of course, for everyone. But obviously hindsight says to me it was actually the only thing I could have done.

[00:06:22] Chris Gaffney: I will follow up on that and it’s interesting, I’ve made a similar shift in my career to go into kind of running my own business and obviously that can be exciting. It can be scaring. If you look back from then to now, people who are thinking about that, particularly in this profession, supply chain services, if you will, what is your advice for someone who says, Charles, this works for you, should I just dive in and do it? Or what are the things that would raise somebody’s probability of being successful and kind of diving into serving others?

[00:06:55] Charles Fallon: The first thing I would say about that is the beautiful thing about the supply chain. it’s almost like, the medical world, like in a post-apocalyptic zombie world, every supply chain professional is still useful. There’s a role for them to play. There is some value they can have and I put that as a positive thing to say. I knew that when, as scary as making that leap into running a business would be for me, that I had skills I could fall back on. That really, I thought to myself, what am I risking except losing some savings. I mean, it would’ve been losing all my life savings, let’s say at its extreme. But really, I mean, I would still always be useful and have something to contribute to someone because I had a very good skillset set.

And I think a lot of us in the supply chain are like that. There are nine lives for us cats, but on the more cautionary side, which I don’t mean as a caution, I just mean to have the preparations and the discipline. Just because you have a skill does not mean that you can run a business. It just means you are expert in something and there are whole set of skills that come with running a business that you’re gonna learn the hard way and be ready for a couple of years of pain and suffering. Especially as you start to develop staff and you start to need, HR policies and you have to have a sales and marketing team. And, as that expands, the disciplines that you need expertise in, just multiplies along alongside it.

[00:08:22] Mike Ogle: So Charles, you and your team do a lot of work helping people go through major change cycles. what kinds of internal team skills both hard and soft skills tend to matter to you the most as you work within your teams and lead projects with clients? 

[00:08:40] Charles Fallon: The two things that I think are really important when you are working with a supply chain organization, to make a major transformation in that supply chain, that can be a new ERP, a new WMS, it could be a new facility, it could be, even just, process changes. The first thing, and this one exciting thing about the supply chain is of course, so many different stakeholders from so many disciplines, are engaged in those massive transformations. within an organization, you’ll have finance, operations, technology, purchasing. You have HR, you’ll have a whole host of people. And then you’ll also be engaging anywhere from half a dozen to more, other organizations who come in and provide very special services. Whether that’s supplying equipment or technology or just providing, services.

And every one of these groups of people have a different language. We all might speak English, but we have a different language. And the number one skill that I would tell young people and I, I’m gonna hammer this home over and over again cuz it’s the theme of my life, is communication is absolutely the most valuable skill in the world. And major transformations rely heavily on great communication and that should not be confused with exclusively having a really nice, slick looking, project status report template, but actually to have different stakeholders be able to clearly and simply, in a universal language, explain their needs, explain their requirements, their desires, and then also be able to respond in kind to the other stakeholders as they do that. I think that is something as a consultant, when you’re a junior consultant, it’s a very difficult thing to master because you’re doing all sorts of complicated math to lead to a solution. And if you’re gonna talk to a warehouse manager who doesn’t necessarily think in these mathematical terms on a day-to-day basis, you’ve gotta find the way to communicate the urgency of what you’re saying to them in a way that’s meaningful and they have to do the same thing to teach you about their daily day-to-day business. That’s number one.  


Number two, except for the pyramids, which of course were perfect. no major project in history is error free. Like every project I’ve ever done comes with errors and error management. The ability to identify, root out and or adapt to errors is so important. And that also means creating an atmosphere where errors can be communicated, right, and the ability to get a group, again, finance and operations or whoever, to avoid the tribal instincts of these different parties. And that of course is organization to organization, vendor to supplier or vendor to the customer. All of that has to be really carefully, tamped down in the goal of getting as good an outcome as possible. The most successful projects I’ve ever seen are the ones that look fearlessly into mistakes and get them corrected. And the biggest disasters in life are the ones that sweep it under the rug and wait for go live to come and create a nightmare.

[00:11:53] Chris Gaffney: Charles, we always hope to get a couple of great nuggets out of these, and I think we’ve already won the day here, so those are fabulous insights. So, in all sincerity, having been in your side of the fence and the client side, and that’s kind of where I want to go next. And I, having been on both sides, I tried to be a good customer when we used partners because I viewed it as a hopefully an ongoing relationship. And so, the goal was to help the partner be successful because they were serving us. And now on the flip side, when you think about vendor and client engagement, what do you say? If you want to be the best customer, here are the things that were, are really important and we’re serving customers best in engagement when we do this. Beyond the skill insights, what are the things that you think about in terms of that client relationship. 

[00:12:41] Charles Fallon: Well, you said it all as they say. I mean, I think exactly the same way as you do. I had this insight. I thought I was being so clever one day until I realized there’s a reason we call it a supply chain. There’s no organization on earth that doesn’t require suppliers. Like no business can exist without suppliers. You, of course you need customers. That seems obvious to people, but you also need suppliers. I’d love to see a supplier free business. So once you recognize that, and this is how we act with our suppliers. Our suppliers are as important as our customers and that, that’s just how it is.

So, when I’m helping my clients select solutions, I like to remind everyone that you have to act with people as if you’re in day two and actually week five and year seven of this relationship, you want it to be successful. And that begins in the selection and negotiation, phase. I sometimes joke that I’ve lost every negotiation I’ve ever been in because let’s close a deal and it’s great if the other party feels they owe me. They owe me some goodwill. And not that they’re leaving with a bitter taste in their mouth. That’s really important. We’re still a part of your supply chain as much as your real routine inventory suppliers. And we are a single supply chain, and it’s not a zero-sum game. It’s really about making the entire thing a winning supply chain. I hope that attitude exists. 

But from the vendor side, working with urgency, recognizing that clients have a choice, and when they choose you, they are putting their business in your hands. By honoring you with the selection of you as their partner, you have to honor them back with your best work. We care as much about whatever project we’re doing as they are. Ultimately, we gain market share because of that. But I do think young people should have that in their heads as they go in, into their careers. 

[00:14:42] Mike Ogle: You had mentioned your university days and looking at some of the career paths as you look back, I wonder what you would wish you had known when you were a student yourself and what you would tell your younger self about how to prepare for a supply chain career today. 

[00:14:57] Charles Fallon: The advice I would give, there’s really one that I think is more important than any other, and that is you’ll not have graduated college, university, high school, you will not have gotten outta your education with the proper communication skills that you need. That the difference between good communications and bad communications is, I’m gonna say 50% in terms of career advancement. Simple, clear written and spoken communication will make enormous difference in your life. I think it’s, I would tell myself have more discipline around what you say, how you write, be nitpicky about these things for a little while until you develop habits. 

With the analysts, the young folks at LIDD, I tell them, start with George Orwell’s rules of writing. But if you can just master those and just absorb what he’s trying to get at, which is use the simplest word possible when you’re saying something. Use the fewest words possible so that you’re as clean and crisp with your language, you’ll get so much further along.

I mean, if you remember when we were young, probably not you guys. You guys are our podcast stars. But look, when I was young, it was easy. I think you should do this. we throw in all these hedge words and fluff words, and it weakens our message. it makes it harder to listen to. So all these are things that I would tell a student, don’t worry about what EDI means just yet. Worry about how to put a sentence together. 

[00:16:28] Mike Ogle: it’s interesting when you talk about the rules of writing and that is a one-way communication. One of the things as you’re dealing with clients and even with your own team, it’d be interesting to hear what the corollaries would be that you’d add on to say, did you really understand me? Did I really understand you? 

[00:16:48] Charles Fallon: That is such a great point. And becoming an active listener, but even further than that, being comfortable to say, I really don’t understand what you’re saying, and having the confidence, or the willingness to risk looking foolish because you don’t understand what that person is saying. It’s almost never the case that there’s an idea so complicated that it’s outside your ability to understand. It’s almost always the case that if you don’t understand, that person is having a hard time finding the right words to communicate that person’s thought. And, you, especially us as service providers, the onus is not on the warehouse picker. The onus is not on the CEO. The onus is on us to understand what they’re trying to tell us.   


[BREAK at 17:35]

[00:18:16] Chris Gaffney: Charles, you obviously have passion about development and like I think all of us have. You’ve learned lessons along the way and I can see you as we talk, providing guidance to those on your team. But another aspect of growth is this idea of mentorship. And I wonder along the way, have you had a mentor too who’s been formative for you and how did they help you? And then what advice do you give folks in your circle around the role of mentorship and how to take advantage of that?

[00:18:46] Charles Fallon: the single most influential mentor in my life was my first boss. I didn’t directly report to him at the time, but the first partner whose team I worked on, and his name was Alan Cole. I just so greatly admired the way he treated me and other employees, with care and concern. The way he treated our clients. He’s one of those guys who just won’t quit until it’s really over and the lights are out, which is a cool thing because he’s very passionate about solving problems. He has decades long clients, because of the loyalty and love he’s given to those people in solving problems for them. And I’m very proud I also have decades long clients, but I only do so because of Alan Cole, that mentor who really taught me everything there is to know. 

And when I look at mentorship, first I look at it as a selfish, greedy businessman. I like developing relationships with talented young folks as soon as possible. Why wouldn’t I want to engage and help them? There’s a benefit. A great example, just last month, Jeff Hamilton, was named partner at LIDD. He now runs our LA office. He started as an intern eight years ago. He met me as a lifeguard at our community pool. He was an engineering student, but I said, sure, come in. Why not? We’ll take a chance. If you’re no good, we’ll throw you out, and if you’re good, I will have someone who hit the ground running once he graduated university, because he had already got a lot of pre-training in how to think and how to be and skills. I find that most people at our, levels of experience and wisdom are pretty eager, pretty enthusiastic about providing advice to young people.

I think young people should not be shy to reach out. I think it’s a little bit flattering to be asked. I’m just, I’m talking to the young folks there. We like it, we like being asked and there’s just a general pleasure in providing insights. And so, I think young people shouldn’t hesitate. They’ll be surprised at how many people are really happy to do so. I just would tell them. Don’t abuse people’s time, and you’ll be fine.

[00:20:58] Chris Gaffney: I think you’re up to four golden nuggets there, Charles. So just keep rolling, right? You’re winning today. And so now let’s look forward as, you know, you’re guiding a business. You’re guiding people. How do you see the careers of your teams changing as commerce is changing and the world is changing? What are some things that you have people look out for in terms of how they’re shaping their own skills and capabilities to kind of navigate our best view of what’s coming out in front of us. 

[00:21:25] Charles Fallon: Well, it’s funny, it just, that’s such an interesting question because, obviously we all have to be thinking about that all the time, and I just, I’ve been having lots of conversations about that lately. First, my own career actually looks a lot like what I think a lot of people’s career going forward will be, which is, I started as a warehouse designer. No one in a cocktail party asked me another question once I said that, right? Going from a bricks and mortar supply chain focus to a digital and technology supply chain focus. That is the evolution of my career. I didn’t know what EDI was when I started. I now have like 12 people who only work solely on EDI projects. That is not gonna end. In fact, what I tell all the analysts is, a column of steel and a column of data are equally important in the supply chain, and you master both. You have no choice. Master both. I think the demographics and intelligent automation combine, that the next generation of warehouses, and I’ve been an automation skeptic for most of my life. Now it is unavoidable, right? Labor availability is just a real problem. The countries that we used to as North Americans, we would benefit from immigration to solve our labor problems. Well, that’s not as easy to achieve.

The demographic issue is worldwide and the rise of, I hate saying machine learning and artificial intelligence, It’s such silly buzzwords, but there is real technology underneath that, and that does enable, probably much sooner than in the streets of our cities, self-driving, machines in warehouses. So, I think that intelligent automation is a real trend that people are gonna have to contend with over the next 30 years. 

I also think the great decoupling, I think the supply chain that I grew up on where everyone was importing from China is going to change dramatically by policy and by economics. And we’re gonna see more Mexican originating stuff where a lot of our supply chains are gonna start. They work in Mexico and move up. That will change. That is gonna change how many days of supply we have to hold.

I think those are the two things that you gotta embrace technology from a software application side. But in terms of the overall supply chain, intelligent automation and the massive rupture in what has been the last 25 years supply chain is what I see.

[00:23:54] Mike Ogle: And as you see all these things changing in supply chain networks or demand networks or whatever phrase we want to use, you’re always trying to pursue continuous improvement within your own organization for the clients that you work with. But, how do you keep up with those kinds of changes yourself? How do you advise others to keep that improvement process going? 

[00:24:16] Charles Fallon: You know, we get asked this a lot, and the reality is a consultant, we have 150 clients at any point in time, we don’t actually need to stay up to date because our clients are pulling us there. Are there things that might be happening that I don’t know about? Yes, of course. These things are happening. But by and large, our clients across that broad spectrum are asking so many questions that it’s a blessing of being a consultant that we are just pulled by our clients to know everything that’s going on.

[00:24:47] Chris Gaffney: Charles, you’ve talked a lot about technology, playing a bigger role, but I know doing some work that has some parallels to you, the tools are great, but the people make the difference. So, when you’re shaping teams and as you’ve brought teams together and built them, what are your thoughts on how you select the right folks, and also how do you grow and retain the best folks so that they’ll grow with you. 

[00:25:14] Charles Fallon: That is something that’s actually, we go to the extent where we make that a marketing pitch. Like the software doesn’t matter. It’s who implements it. It’s how we implement it. It’s the people implementing it and, you have to do a few filters, but let’s just say the only thing I cannot teach someone is attitude. And I remember when I was in back in college, which where I’m from, here in Quebec, we have a college before university. Basically, senior high school for Americans, or high school. Anyway, I remember a professor of philosophy. We all go into his class day, one of his classes. This is, think about this. One of the best bits of career and business advice I ever got was from a college philosophy professor. We get into class and he says, everybody always asks me, how do I do well in this class? How do I get a great grade in this class? And I’ll tell you, it’s this. If tomorrow we walk into this classroom and there’s a pile of railway ties in that corner, and you all come in and I say, for the rest of this class, you’re gonna pick up those piles of railway ties and you’re gonna bring them to that corner over there. The folks who get up and just start doing it, they get the good grades. The folks who refuse or ask a bunch of questions, they don’t. And that attitude is all the difference. It’s this miracle pill that takes maybe someone who’s mediocre with a great attitude will always outperform, the smartest, strongest, whatever, fastest person who’s got a bad attitude. So, I always look for attitude. And by attitude, is this person engaged? Is she or he is, she or he’s social? Do they go with the flow? Do they seem to accept, like, strain? You try and throw curves at them when you’re meeting and starting to get to know them to see do they adapt? Are they comfortable in all the kind of environments that our folks, get placed in. And I think, yeah, so attitude is my number one criteria for hiring. 

And then how do we retain them? We can only retain them by giving them more and more control over their lives. Every year they have to earn it. But we have to be willing to give it to them so that they feel that they’re living a purposeful life. Like, you know, that they come to work for a reason and that we’re doing good. That they’re doing good, meaningful things, helping clients achieve things. And that they have more and more control over their schedules, like consultants travel. I personally do not like 6:00 AM flights. I do not like 10:00 PM flights. I fly in the afternoon. But I had to earn that. I had to earn that right. And other people would hate the way I do things, and they have to earn it. But then I have to let them set their lives on their terms, build their career around what works for them, in order to keep them happy.

[00:28:01] Mike Ogle: So, one of the traits that you had mentioned before is being able to have that type of person who has the ability to react and anticipate as well. But when something happens and you’ve got a challenge and you have to adjust to it, can you share one or two of those career challenges you faced yourself? And how you dealt with them, plus how those challenges helped you grow. 

[00:28:25] Charles Fallon: Well, the first thing I’ll say is the most sustainable relationships in a vendor to client relationship are ones where you are philosophically aligned. The folks who keep hiring me actually kind of think like me. We tend to like the same things in terms of business and how to conduct ourselves. But you will from time to time, through an accident of selection, it’s funny to think we sometimes win business that we should not have won. It was an accident in the selection process that ends up with us partnering and most of the time it goes okay, and then you sort of never see each other again. Sometimes though it’s very difficult. And those are grin and bear it situations.

The times that are a little more exciting though would be in what we call startup land. So, one of our large set of customer base comes from startups, doing really interesting and novel things, particularly in the food and beverage space. And they tend to be dreamer led, the founder is a dreamer, with very little operational experience. And it falls upon us to make things happen, I mean, it’s just being willing to adapt mentally to solve a problem, that you did not anticipate. And then when the work gets done to do the work that needs to get done. 

I will tell you finally on that though, you also have to know when you’ve hit the end of the road and that you don’t adapt to everything. And my departure from my first company was not due to my beloved mentor, but maybe a more toxic boss, who is involved and sometimes recognizing that there is no curing certain toxic bosses, and I will say this to many young people who will get caught in a situation where they may have a toxic boss, you’ll shock yourself, but you really don’t have to deal with it. The world is actually full of normal people and if you’ve gone for a few months and you say, I really think I’ve done my best, I have adapted, I’ve tried to please, I’ve tried. And there’s just something, a little narcissistic, a little unempathetic, don’t tolerate it forever. Cuz the new world will feel so much better.

[00:30:35] Chris Gaffney: Last question for me, and one we typically ask is about advice you’ve received. And I’ll say if you received a kind of a linchpin piece of advice along the way, let us know. But I’ll ask a different question on top of that, which is, you are along the journey as we are. If you had to give your younger self a piece of advice with the perspective you have now, that would’ve helped you earlier on, what would that be? 

[00:31:04] Charles Fallon: When I was young, I just wanted to get a job. I just wanted to do well in my job. I had this almost extremely blinkered idea of what my career could be, and that I would say to people that actually life is pretty fun. Your career can be really great. I think people should take chances. Failure is really, failure is such a small thing. It’s great to fail and once you start failing a lot, you realize, oh, I could succeed. I can fail all the way to success. So maybe you should just take chances.

In terms of advice, I will tell you this. My boss, Alan Cole, we just finished a great meeting. I felt so good. He looks at me. He said, Charles, you talked too much. I was crushed. I was so crushed. But that was actually the thing that led me to the journey of communication, and I know you’ll get off and you’ll say, well, actually he still talks too much. But I’ve learned to tame myself. 

[00:32:00] Mike Ogle: Charles, thank you for a great conversation and all the advice that you’ve had to share about supply chain careers. 

[00:32:06] Charles Fallon: Really, really appreciate what you guys are doing.