Podcast: Advancement in Transportation & Logistics Careers – with MIT Executive Director, Chris Caplice
Hosts: Mike Ogle and Chris Gaffney
In This Episode:
We speak with Chris Caplice. His supply chain career path started in civil engineering, then moved into transportation systems. Chris shares his influencers along with the hard and soft skills students and professionals need to be more successful. He talks about the need for frontline operational knowledge and emphasizes the value of two-way industry interaction with higher education organizations, especially on relevant research projects. He provides his thoughts about how transportation careers are affected by data and greater transparency within the private, contract, and spot markets. Chris also emphasizes the increasing value of team-based projects, leadership development, and continuing education in an ever-changing, fast-paced industry.
Who is Chris Caplice?
Dr. Caplice is a Sr. Research Scientist at MIT and Executive Director of the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics (CTL) where he is responsible for the planning and management of the research, education, and corporate outreach programs for the center. He created and leads the MITx MicroMaster’s Program in SC Management, the first online credential offered at MIT. He is also the founder of the MIT FreightLab – a research initiative that focuses on improving the way freight transportation is designed, procured, and managed. Outside of MIT, Dr. Caplice is the Chief Scientist for DAT Freight and Analytics. In this role, he pioneered the development of the Freight Market Intelligence Consortium (FMIC). He received a Ph.D. from MIT in 1996 in Transportation and Logistics Systems, a MSCE from the University of Texas at Austin, and a BSCE from the Virginia Military Institute. Twice the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals has formally recognized him: the Doctoral Dissertation Award in 1996 and the Distinguished Service Award in 2016.
[00:01:43] Mike Ogle: Chris, welcome to the Supply Chain Careers podcast.
[00:01:46] Chris Caplice: Great. Thanks for having me.
[00:01:47] Mike Ogle: So, can you give us some background? How did you first hear about supply chain and what were a few of your greatest influences, people and situations that got you where you are today?
[00:01:58] Chris Caplice: Yeah, sure. When I got into the profession, the profession didn’t exist, right? So, I finished college in 1984 and so I was a civil engineer and so one of the things I did after I got out of the Army for five years, I wanted to get a master’s degree and I, I got it in civil engineering, in transportation, cause I did a lot of that type of work when I was in the military in Germany in the late eighties. And so, I got into transportation that way. And then I decided during the course of my master’s that I didn’t wanna do construction anymore of the highways, that I was more interested in movement on the highways, and that got me into trucking.
So, the big influences for me was C Michael Walton down at University of Texas at Austin, who had similar experiences and admitted me into that program for my masters. Because there I met Dr. Hani Mahmassani, who’s now at the Northwestern, and he was very influential in, in helping guide me through my masters. And he introduced me then to Yossi Sheffi, who is my advisor of getting my PhD. So, my path went from civil engineering, into civil engineering again, but into transportation. And so, I got into supply chain management or freight transportation. Kind of a long-routed path.
[00:03:05] Chris Gaffney: Chris, you and I first met, I think working with McDonald’s when they were trying to modernize their approach to transportation and it was great that they brought in suppliers, but also great that they brought in folks from the academic side. Today you and the team at MIT are doing some exceptional work, research based, but extremely impactful, industry-based work. Can you tell us about the scope of the supply chain focus at MIT?
[00:03:34] Chris Caplice: Sure. So, I’m part of the Center for Transportation Logistics here at MIT, CTL, and we’ve been around for 50 years. As of next year, we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary, so that’s pretty exciting. And what we do is really three big things. We have education, we have master’s programs, PhD and executive ed. We have research programs that focus on certain areas of supply chain management, from humanitarian freight, sustainability, resilience, all these different areas, last mile. And then the third element in addition to education research is outreach or engagement with companies. We work with about 50 companies, mostly large, international or multinational companies. And so, the idea is we work with those companies to come up with new ideas and drive them into practice. We work with our students and try to grow the next generation of supply chain professionals.
So, all three elements, education, research, and the engagement really kind of tie together. So, what’s really exciting is that all of our projects always have a sponsor, always have a company involved. We don’t do theoretical, pure theoretical work here. And that really helps us have an influence, I think, on practice. So, we’ve had different engagements with many different companies solving problems that they can’t quite find a solution off the shelf for. So that’s found its way from some of the early work we did in resilience. Some of the work that I’ve been doing in freight transportation, contracting and management and procurement and many, many other areas. So, the nice thing about CTL is that we’re not like most other academic centers or departments, is that we have a foot in both camps, one in actual research and coming up with in interesting theoretical things, but also another foot in the practical or applied world as well.
[00:05:11] Mike Ogle: Excellent. Thanks Chris. What are you hearing from companies that you’re associated with about the kinds of hard and soft skills they really want students to develop?
[00:05:21] Chris Caplice: Yeah, that’s really changed actually over the years. I ran the master’s program at first and the big challenge there was that the students were being taught technical things and at that point it was still optimization, simulation, those kind of methodologies, but they were lacking in the ability to work the corridors. So, the soft skills were the big focus for 5, 6, 7 years, getting them to understand how to change people’s minds, how to make a convincing argument, how to present and communicate.
Over the last five to six years, the desire for more hard skills have started being more important. So data science. That piece is becoming much more requested by companies. And so soft skills are always really important. And I had arguments with people. Soft doesn’t mean easy. The soft skills are actually the hard skills. By soft and hard we mean there’s always an answer for a hard skill. For soft, to persuade someone, there’s never AN answer. It’s always been something soft and fuzzy. So short answer is both are critically important, but it kind of changes as things adjust in the market. And right now, the hard skills for data science, data analytics, machine learning is more important. It seems to be more important for the companies that are hiring our students for right now. Overall, they’re both very important, but the harder skills, analytics seem to be of higher importance lately, last five years, and I don’t see that abating anytime soon.
[00:06:42] Mike Ogle: Do you see anything that might be coming on soon that is going to become a bigger issue and the companies just haven’t really been asking for it yet?
[00:06:51] Chris Caplice: Well, a lot of it is explaining the data science and you know what the other thing is. So being able to do and run a model is not the same thing as being able to run a team that does those things. So, I think what we’re gonna find is, it’s a pendulum and so they’re going, Oh, we need someone who can run this stuff and Tableau and machine learning, all this other stuff. But now we need to explain it. And so, I think what’s coming out is a blending of what’s in the core tool belt of any supply chain professional as they move up the ranks.
I think what we’ve added is a whole series of data analytics, but the whole idea of managing data analytics is different. And so, I think that’s one skill that we’re gonna start seeing more of. How do you explain the use of these tools? Machine learning is a great example. Everyone wants to try it, but no one can explain how it works. And so, I think that’s something that really needs to be expanded upon to be that bridge between the pure methodology and the mathematics and how you actually apply it. That’s something I think we constantly stress.
[00:07:48] Chris Gaffney: Chris, you and I came into the professional world about the same time in that mid-eighties and you went to the Army and I went to Frito Lay, so it was guns and butter, but I recall entering logistics at Frito Lay. We didn’t call it supply chain yet, and that was, go work in a DC, go manage drivers, that type of entry into the field and then advance my way on up from there. I have two children who’ve gotten into the world of supply chain in the last five to 10 years. One came in from the operational side, the other came in from the analytical side. What is your advice to those students who are looking to actually step into the field in terms of getting themselves a good foundation and advancing and becoming influential?
[00:08:36] Chris Caplice: Yeah, that’s a really good question. And so, I think a lot of people like getting their grad degree, whether it’s an MBA or even a lot of people coming straight out of undergrad, they wanna start working in the strategic roles. It’s just kind of funny cause they can think outside the box cause they don’t know what a box is. They don’t understand the importance of a box. And so, what I’d like to stress is, I would not follow the career path that I did. I kind of came into this sideways. I came in from getting my PhD. I became interested in transportation. So, it’s a different kind of aspect. I think it’s very important though, If you’re gonna come into this field and you don’t have general management, you need to have frontline operational experience. And so, the way I think about it for me personally is I was a platoon leader. I was an executive officer. I ran frontline operations for five years in Germany. I think someone coming into this industry, and that bypasses that, misses something and it won’t show up in their career for five to 10 years is my reason. Cause will they ever advance up to managing a larger group of people if they haven’t been on the ground floor actually doing the frontline? So, I think it’s very important whether you work at DC you start working frontline and, and understanding that operations that’ll serve you very well as you rise higher up.
Now, there’s always a dual path. If you wanna be on the analytics, that’s fine. That’s a whole separate career path, but it’s hard to make that jump into general management of a function if you haven’t had that frontline experience. That’s my sense, Chris, do you have a different opinion on that?
[00:10:03] Chris Gaffney: No, I mean, I’m biased obviously, because I feel like I earned my keep and one of the things that resonates with me, and I’ve heard it in your podcast and you guys run a great podcast at FreightLine is you have to get into the psyche of the driver, because the driver is a critical resource for truckload transportation. Even all the last mile work that’s out there. And having managed drivers back in the day and understanding that they wanna have a life just like our kids do and they want to go to the ball game and they want to have a reasonable balance.
Understanding what it’s like, and I still go into truck stops today and say, What’s the quality of life of these guys? I feel like that and the warehouse worker and the frontline manufacturing worker, if you don’t understand what that looks like, even in a world of automation and analytics, you’re not gonna be able to navigate the reality that exists in commerce in the U.S..
[00:10:55] Chris Caplice: I agree. I agree. And in fact, we have an initiative here, Dr. David Correll, who’s part of the center here and part of Freight Lab, which is another center, a research lab that I run and co-direct with him. He has something called the driver initiative, and he’s been looking at how do you improve the quality of life of drivers to improve? Because they wanna be more efficient, they wanna be more effective. And so, it’s really growing that empathy. But it’s not just to make yourself feel good. It makes the whole operations go better. So, he made a splash a little while ago, talking about the driver shortage and how it’s really not a driver shortage as much as an efficiency problem. And that if he estimated looking at all of Bob Costello’s ATA numbers, if every driver drew I think 12 to 15 minutes more loaded each day, there would be no shortage. Now, obviously that’s an exaggeration, but that’s what it means. Make them more efficient and drive more than six and a half hours loaded a day, and you can solve this problem. But it requires empathy. It requires understanding what it takes to be a driver, and how do you make that process more streamlined? There’s a lot of interesting challenges there because it’s not just within one company, it’s the handoffs. And they usually don’t pay the price. The receiver and the sender don’t pay the price. The driver pays the price, and that’s not really seen by the other players. So that’s a challenge, but knowing and empathizing with the frontline, I agree with you a hundred percent. It’s very important.
And what’s happening now is there’s much more transparency of that information. Every broker, every carrier has their own, whether it’s internal or shared externally, about all facilities and now that has an impact. We’ve looked at this at DAT and I’ve looked at this here, with what I’m doing at MIT, there is an impact in your availability to get capacity as a shipper and your price that you will pay based on the performance of how you treat the drivers coming in and out. The longer the dwell, the longer the delay, you’re not gonna get those loads. The capacity will go somewhere else if they have an option. Now in a really soft market, they might not have an option, but prices will be higher there. There is an impact that the shipper pays. It’s just not direct.
[00:12:56] Mike Ogle: Corporate relations are one area that’s really become increasingly important to supply chain departments and programs. Can you give us an idea of how you engage with corporations and how they can best engage with schools, faculty, and students?
[00:13:11] Chris Caplice: It’s a really good question. We look at companies and we look at levels of engagement and I like to think of it as a nine box. I don’t know if you’ve ever used a nine box for human resources for personal development. Think of a three by three, right? And so, it’s not an MBA. They only do two by twos. In engineering school, we have to go three by three, right? So, on the horizontal axis is how well is that company engaged with you now? And then on the verticals, how much potential is there to get engaged. And you want to push people to that high, high, that they call it, the nine box in the top northeast corner. But there’s some companies that just want to recruit and that’s fine. We came at a low level of engagement. So, what we do is we classify the types of engagement that we have and they range from coming to recruit students every once in a while, all the way to sponsoring a multi-year, multi-million dollar research project. But there’s some things in the middle where they might want to help with a student project for a class.
I think any engagement that a company has benefits both the students, it benefits us and it benefits them. Cause a lot of companies, they will come in, and this is, I think everyone is guilty of this, if you’re within a company, your worldview becomes much smaller. It becomes that company. And if you’ve been there 5, 10, 15, 20 years, it’s even worse. You get tunnel vision. And so sometimes getting a company here to engage with us, maybe not just a round table that we’re running with other companies, that opens their mind because a university can act as an honest broker. People tend to drop their guard. We’ve had Unilever and P&G in the same room, Pepsi and Coke, because all these companies, they compete on the shelf and all that. They don’t compete as much on the truck or on the supply chain, so I’ve found we’ve had really interesting conversations when you bring typical competitors or like different software companies bring multiples in and you, the conversation rises a little bit. So I think we can add value to the companies, by being that honest broker and find them fresh perspectives.
So, academics benefit dramatically by having companies engaged because then you know what’s real and what’s not. In my main area that I write about, it’s using, how do you procure transportation from a shipper’s perspective. And I’ve done a lot of work using combinatorial optimization, all this kind of stuff. And if you look at the literature of that, combinatorial auctions for procurement in the academic literature, it went into left field. And it has no bearing on reality. And so, I think until you work with companies, are you solving a problem to get published or are you solving a problem that’s really there. And unfortunately, a lot of the top journals, they’re solving math problems and they have the veneer of a business problem. They assume away all the interesting stuff, and they pose the problem as being something that’s more mathematical, but it really doesn’t benefit things.
So, my sense is that all three parties, students, the university, researchers and faculty and the companies all benefit by interacting with each other in different ways.
[00:16:02] Chris Gaffney: I totally see a two-way street there. It’s been great to see the increase in relevant research also getting masters and PhD students into industry over the last five to 10 years. So, I continue to make the case for companies that it’s very much a value proposition for them now, as things have gotten, frankly more difficult in terms of the problems to be solved, that interaction both to get the external view, actually get real challenging problems on the table and bring high quality talent into their organizations. A huge win for companies in this day and age and not just massive companies, midsize and smaller companies are benefiting as well.
[00:16:42] Chris Caplice: I agree. When I got into this industry, I entered freight transportation with a PhD, which back in the day when I worked for a software company, I’d have two business cards, one with my PhD, one without it, because a lot of people said, Oh, you have a PhD, you’re gonna be all academic and not solve real world problems. That’s changed. I mean, back then the only PhD I knew in this industry, that wasn’t currently in academia, it was Chris Lofgren, when he was running Schneider. And only the really big guys had OR, or analytics or whatever departments they wanted to talk about. Every brokerage has analytics resources now. It’s such a core part of the business and it’s really evolved so quickly in the last five to six years, and a lot of the evolution has become, I think because of the iPhone or the, just a smart computer, mobile computing has changed the way that transportation operates in that in the palm of their hand, a driver, an owner operator, has total visibility of the market, not just some of the things that we talked about with how facilities treat you and those kind of things, but availability to loads, availability to see what’s happening, directions.
I was talking to the President of OOIDA, O O I D A, the Owner Operator and Independent Driver Association, and he was talking about when he was driving in the seventies, the first thing they would do is use would bring in a load and you’d stop at the end of the town at a truck stop and look at the map and see where you have to go and ask other people, Hey, is there anything I should know? Those days are gone. It’s hard for us to even imagine that, that now you have direct routing there, and so, so much has changed and so the level of sophistication that I think that’s come in and is in the cab now of an owner operator or small fleet surpasses anything that the largest fleets had five, 10 years ago. And so that’s gonna change the shape of the industry. It’s really interesting to see how the market is going to evolve, because the number of carrier authorizations that happened during the pandemic was tremendous. And the question is, will they go away or will they continue there? And that’s an open question that we’re looking at.
[00:18:34] Chris Gaffney: So Chris, I, do reflect from the beginning of my career till today, my second or third job at Frito Lay when I ran an over the road network and had 60 drivers reporting to me was probably my most enjoyable job because from the beginning to the end of the week, I knew if I won the day, I knew if loads got there on time. I knew if my cost structure hit the budget. I got feedback from the drivers and every Friday I could go home and said I succeeded or failed. And I thought about that as a winnable game. And then as I rose up into roles of larger responsibility in transportation, I actually felt like over that next decade that it became less winnable.
We would put capacity in place and then the demand would swing in a violent way, and then all of a sudden, we had capacity that wasn’t relevant. We were out there in the spot market, and it was actually very frustrating and you’ve seen it had huge misses on fuel and had huge misses on freight budget. It got painful. And so, the last five to 10 years has been the quest to go back to the winnable game if you’re in industry and running transportation. So, it seems to me with a lot of the analytics and a lot of the technology, we’re getting closer. So, what do you see leading companies doing today to make the job of transportation, planning, management, execution, a winnable game in today’s environment?
[00:19:54] Chris Caplice: Well, I think the rules have to change. What is winnable anymore? For private fleet, that’s different cause you’re a little more insulated from the market. But for the for-hire truckload transportation market is relatively unique in a lot of aspects. One is, no one is a market maker. No one can make the market. Even Walmart, one of the largest shippers, they don’t make the market. The largest carriers, they don’t make the market. So, we should stop trying to pretend that we do. And so, the way I like to think about it, and I talk to people about this, I gave a talk at CSCMP about, things I wish my C-Suite knew. And just give an idea of why truckload transportation is a little different. I think of it if you’re surfing and you’re floating in the waves, you’re waiting for a wave. And so, the truckload market is a bunch of waves. They happen every three to four years. Two to four years. We see a cycle we’ve seen for the last 12 years. If you go back you see the markets go up and down, and there’s a constant trend of the annual inflation rate that’s a little higher than it was in the past, but they’re gonna be waves. And so, the question is, do you measure yourself as an absolute? Or do you measure yourself in respect to the wave?
You gotta measure yourself to the market. And so, this raises the question, well, how do I know what the market is? And I would say, right now there’s more information, more publications, more discussions, things written about the truckload market than ever before. I mean, it used to be, you’d have to look at the S&P report that came out maybe quarterly, maybe annually. And now there’s stuff every day you can see and get a sense of it. I’m obviously partial to DAT’s view cuz I helped create it of what the market is doing. But there are other sources out there. And so, I think you need to measure yourself, how am I doing compared to the market? Not, how am I doing overall? Cause I make this point to a lot of shippers. What’s the definition of reality. It’s that thing with which when you stop believing in, it will still happen. And so, if you think you will not use the spot market, you’re gonna use the spot market at some point over the course of the year. The question is, do you plan for it or do you just shut your eyes and hope it doesn’t happen? And so what we’re seeing a lot of times is that now using data analytics in these things is to understand where you want to use which tool, where.
So, you got three big buckets. You’ve got dedicated or private, where you control everything. And then you’ve got contract and truckload contracts. We can talk about those. They’re goofy where it’s binding in price but not in volume or capacity, and that there’s a reason for that. And then there’s the dynamic or spot. And I think shippers, carriers and brokers are realizing where they all fit. And so, there’s certain lanes that you go to, dedicated private, certain lanes that you go to contract. But there, there’s a whole bunch of lanes. Usually 70% of a shipper’s network should probably go dynamic and go to spot because they have less than a load every two weeks. And so, there’s no guarantee, no consistency. So sure, you can get a contract rate during a bid for someone, but chances are one, it won’t show up the next year, or two, the carrier won’t take it, it’ll go to the spot market anyway. So, I think making it a winnable game, you have to set what are the rules now? How do I want to win? And to me that’s how am I doing compared to the market and am I playing in the right game? Right? Because if you go to the spot market with a contract mentality, you’re gonna lose. But if you just say, what, depending on which lane or which piece of my network is there, use the right tool. Then there, it’s a different game. Cause to bring it back to what you raised earlier, Chris, if private fleet, you have different rules, right? You keep efficiency and all the stuff going. For contracts, you just wanna make sure you’re doing the right lanes there. And then for dynamic, those rules are very different, right? You’re trying to figure out how to cover things and get capacity and not spend too much time trying to set up a priority contract there. So, I guess in the short is it’s a very winnable game, but you need to make sure you know where you’re playing baseball and where you’re playing football. And there are two different sets of rules.
[00:23:41] Mike Ogle: And what are your thoughts about team sport versus individual sport?
[00:23:45] Chris Caplice: Well, everything’s a team sport. That’s a really good point. Dedicated is not a team sport. That’s you, right? As you get into contracts, now it’s a team sport, you and a for hire carrier. And then it gets even worse when you go to spot cause you probably have a broker in between. So, as you move from very sure steady state, that’s an individual. You can, you control your destiny as much as possible. As you move to the more sporadic, uh, sets of pieces of your network, then you’re introducing more team players. So, it changes, the rules change as you move more ambiguous and more variable parts of your network.
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[00:24:41] Mike Ogle: What typically ends up separating good from great supply chain leaders is that ability to have a high performing team. You hire, you develop, you retain, top supply chain talent. How is MIT challenging students regarding how to actually work in teams and become leaders?
[00:24:59] Chris Caplice: Grad school has changed since I went through it in the early nineties. Probably for you too as well, Chris. Everything used to be individual, individual assignments, individual homeworks, problem sets, all those kind of things. Now I’d say 90% of the things we ask students to do are team based. And the cynic would say it just means, if you have two-person teams, that’s half the things you have to grade. But the real reason is everything you do in business is team. There’s very little that is totally by yourself. And so, by forcing them to work on this and face the free rider problem, which happens in every team of more than two people, addressing that and getting those soft skills where, how do you get people to work with you and persuade where there’s no hierarchy.
It’s a great learning ground. It’s a sandbox. Because when you come out to business, supply chains, very rarely do you have the hierarchical control of all the decisions you have to make. Usually you have to influence. And so, this is especially true if you’re working with customers or suppliers. You don’t control them directly, so you need to be able to influence them and be persuasive. And that’s something that we try to encourage them to do in their team-based assignments. We have, all of our projects are team based. We have a lot of exercise and engagements like this. Purposely putting very different people together to make sure that they’re gonna be used to doing that and not just, doing a problem set. So, I think that’s very important. Then we also try to expose them to other different types of leaders and give them some touchstones to go to and try to understand what does it take to lead a team. And so, we give them practice and team-based exercises, and then we try to coach them and train them.
But it’s one of these things that leadership. I think it can be learned. The question is, can it be taught, or can you only learn it through experience? And so, we’re kind of believe both a little bit. You can teach some things, you can lead them to being a leader. You can’t force them. So, you try to give them a place to experience, experiment and try out different techniques. And you also give them some things to think about. But you can expose a horse to water. You can’t make ’em drink. So, it’s really at the end of the day are they absorbent, are they absorbing those lessons? And we’re finding that they tend to, and we have grads come back and say, thank you for making me do X, Y, or Z. Because it opened them up to be better leaders.
[00:27:12] Mike Ogle: I think it really takes some time for it to sink in. You don’t know. All you can do is, like you say, you expose ’em to it. They may not immediately drink, but maybe they’ve absorbed some that they don’t even appreciate until later on.
[00:27:25] Chris Caplice: It’s funny, we’ve always had a class that teaches them databases and data management and all this stuff, and students every year will say, I don’t need this stuff. I’m gonna be in strategy. I’m gonna be doing this stuff. It’s the number one course that people complain about and it’s the number one course five years out, they say, thank God you made me understand that. Not because they’re doing it, they’re not database administrators, but they have people working for them who are, and they understand the process that can’t be a hoodwinked. And so, it’s one of these things, sometimes we do know what’s better for the students than what the student thinks they want because we know we have a longer view of what their career might be.
[00:28:00] Mike Ogle: I usually tell the students what we’re enabling them to do is the ability, if you learn your statistics, if you really paid attention, if you know what it means as far as alpha and probabilities, and not to get too in depth in this stuff, especially on the podcast, but, it gives you the ability to call BS, on a situation, for instance, or, you know, less confrontational, to ask the right questions. Where does the data come from? Sample sizes. Where did you get your data? It’s those kinds of concentrations.
[00:28:30] Chris Caplice: And that’s needed more and more because data is so much more available. But people don’t quite understand a lot of it yet. And so it’s, again, it’s that thing we talked about earlier, the translation of the methodology and making sure you’re on solid ground, but explaining it, explaining what it means. Cause sometimes, we see just the opposite. Someone knows the methodology backwards and forwards, but they give you an answer that has 17 decimal places, which means they don’t understand. So, understanding what the real problem is, that that’s a skill that we hopefully we impart to students, but they need to pick up on. It’s not just being an expert in one or an expert in the other. Being able to bridge that gap.
[00:29:08] Mike Ogle: Chris, I’ll let you get to your question here in a second, but, your civil engineering background and my mechanical engineering undergrad, it’s one of those things that was always a pet peeve when I’d see those questions go down to eight digits of precision. And you go, you had no data that was ever beyond two or three digits.
[00:29:26] Chris Caplice: Yeah. But this, this happens and it manifests itself in a bunch of different ways, like, when people do procurement, they use the sophisticated optimization, which is awesome, to do this, they’ll come up with a solution that is so with a scalpel and so precise, and, in operations, it’s a wood chipper. It’s totally different. So think about the whole problem, not just solving that one problem. You gotta have a larger context. And that’s something that’s hard for students sometimes, cuz they get graded. A good student has been graded like this their whole life. To get the right to the 13th decimal place. And so you have to have ’em step back and say, Well, what does that mean? And what are you really telling me? Is it accurate? Is it precise? Yeah, it’s a good point.
[00:30:03] Chris Gaffney: Chris. You and I have been in this field for effectively our entire professional lives, and we have advocated that these are great career paths and we’re starting to see higher quality students come into the world of supply chain study with the hope of going and having a supply chain career. But it’s been really tough for all the people that I know in industry the last couple of years, nobody’s been immune from both the capacity challenges and now the bull whip is switching and flipping the other way. And so, some people might have paused in terms of getting into this field. What do you say are gonna be the two or three biggest influences on supply chain careers as we look forward that would continue to encourage people to say, this is a place to invest your time and intellect.
[00:30:47] Chris Caplice: Yeah. I don’t quite agree with you, Chris. I think this has been one of the most energizing times to be in supply chain because suddenly everyone, including my in-laws, know what a supply chain is. Right? Before this pre-2020, right? People you say, I I’m in supply chain, they’ll say, Well, what is that? And now everyone knows what supply chains are. So, it’s raised the awareness, but it’s also raised the awareness not just to, to the public, to consumers, but also on, in the C-suite, they’ve recognized the importance of it. So, I think, yes, it’s challenging, but what it really did it expose the making of the sausage to a lot of people that just got used to stuff happening. Right? And so, you finally saw how many challenges there were because I try to tell people, this isn’t the first time there was a supply chain disruption. Right? Disruptions happen all the time. They just don’t rise to the level where you’re aware to them because the supply chain is a shock absorber for your company. It’s taking care of those things. We’re adjusting, we’re pivoting, we’re doing those things. But we got hit with a global pandemic that shut everything down. And supply chain still worked. Stuff still happened. We still got our toilet paper. The shelves were empty at the end of the day, but they were always stocked the next day.
I think it’s a great time to be in supply chain, because it’s become so much more relevant. And so, the question is, will more things get glommed onto it? Like what I’m seeing right now, ESG stuff, the environmental, social and governance stuff, which I like to call, anything that doesn’t contribute to profitability is now getting lumped into supply chain and, which makes sense for some things. But for some others, it just, I don’t know, it seems like, hey, supply chains work, let’s give them this. So, we’ll see how that goes. But I think it’s a great time to come into supply chain. We’ve seen increasing number of people taking our online courses. We actually hit our 1 millionth course registration and our supply chain management micro master’s courses. We’re pretty excited about that. And so, we’re seeing more interest. It has risen the visibility of it and it is a challenging profession, but it’s rewarding.
[00:32:43] Chris Gaffney: I would agree with you again. I still think it’s a great place to spend your time and effort, we always aspire to get supply chain at the C table and let the senior execs understand it, have the appropriate investment there, and I do think we’re at that place. So, thanks for that perspective.
[00:32:58] Chris Caplice: Yeah. What’s funny is transportation only gets mentioned in quarterly earnings when it’s bad. No one says, Hey, you know, transportation’s doing great. You saved us a ton of money. Everything’s efficient. It’s always, Oh, we didn’t make our earnings this month because transportation rates went up, fuel! So, we only raise up as a scapegoat.
[00:33:16] Mike Ogle: Back to part of that question that Chris had asked about those two or three big influences coming up in the future, is there something that really hasn’t hit hard yet that you think could make some massive differences in careers in this industry?
[00:33:31] Chris Caplice: Well, we’ll see what happens. So, something we’ve done at MIT over the last 10 years here at CTL, I’ve done a lot of scenario planning and so scenario planning for those who aren’t familiar with it, is where you try to visualize different futures, different worlds, and they’re not predictions of what the world will be. They’re more like extreme solutions or extreme positions. And then you try to position yourself in these worlds and say, Okay, you’re answering a strategic question. How would I design my supply chain if I’m this world or that world? And we did a series of these for the Department of Transportation called the Future Freight Flows Project back in 2010 to 12, and one of the worlds was called Naftastique, and that was where the world would move into global trading blocks, right? Where they’d have a lot of trade within the block, but not between the blocks. Another one was where there’s no borders and everything moved across, that was kind of an easy one.
And I bring this up because what we’re seeing now is we are almost moving to one of those scenarios, and that’s the one where you have closed border trading. And you see a lot of this where people saying, Well, we only want to have supply chains to friendly countries. And so, I think one of the big challenges that might be coming up for people is how do I operate a global supply chain when you have these borders, that are starting to come in and there’s more challenges there. So, I think one of the challenges and opportunities that supply chain professionals are still struggling with is how do I balance having my global reach, having all those available options for me, but still being able to protect my supply chain. So, I don’t think there’s anything new under the sun. I think it’s just what becomes a priority and what becomes more restrictive and the conditions you have to operate under. Because like I said, disruptions have been happening forever. They don’t usually all happen everywhere at once. But it’s just being able to overcome and adapt to those changes is the big challenges that I see supply chain professionals will continue to have to do going forward.
[00:35:22] Chris Gaffney: Chris, I would tell you, I have a huge advocate for scenario planning, and believe it or not, I used that work when I did my first long term supply chain strategy at Coke. We said, Who’s thinking about a long term view of the world? And I think you all and Deutsche Post were the only people who really had a good long view of that. It got plenty of application, at least at Coca-Cola.
[00:35:40] Chris Caplice: I would have to say, uh, UPS is probably one of the leaders there. They’ve been doing stuff in this for years. They did their plan 97, I think was the first one they did with it for their centennial. But yeah, there’s a lot of interesting benefits you can have from doing scenario planning, especially for supply chain people, cause we tend to put our head down and get that tunnel vision, solving the problem, putting out fires, putting out fires, pulling them back and looking at the bigger picture can actually help them in their day to day jobs as well.
[00:36:05] Mike Ogle: And Chris, can you share some examples of some of the best supply chain career advice that you’ve heard along the way? And do you have a couple of your own that you would like to share with people? Whether they’re just getting started in supply chain or they’re deep in their career.
[00:36:21] Chris Caplice: I’m kind of allergic to giving advice like this cause, like I said, I came into this industry sideways. I came in with a PhD, which is not normal. So, I’m in a different sphere there. But I would say the advice I’d give someone wants to end up with being a VP of transportation, VP of supply chain, or leading for a large company, a retailer, distributor, manufacturer, whatever. Then to Chris’s point earlier, get frontline experience. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty early on. But if you go off and listen to the sirens of a consulting firm right away, you’re getting golden handcuffs and it’s gonna be hard for you to make that jump or financially, five, 10 years down the pike, if you’re gonna wanna switch over and take a general management role, if you don’t have that frontline experience and understand working in the trenches.
So, I would recommend people to, don’t jump the shiniest, brightest position right out of grad school or right out of undergrad. Find the challenging, get, get dirty. Don’t think that you have to work for a top tier name to have on your resume. It’s the experience rather than the name of the company. Because I see a lot of that, that people look at the name of the company and say, Oh, I want that on my resume. It’s like, Yeah, but great. Are you gonna get the right experience there? So, I’d say look for the experience, not for the naming glory for these kind of things. But generally, I try to stay away from advice giving because I tend not to follow it, what other people tell me anyway.
[00:37:43] Chris Gaffney: Yeah, I think that’s a good one. I think that solid foundation, you may see your peers, you perceive your peers early in the career getting ahead of you, but in most cases, I’ve seen folks who have that frontline foundation catch up and have that steady trajectory going on.
[00:37:57] Chris Caplice: You raise a really good point. You’ve read a lot of studies about happiness and satisfaction and everything. And usually people, if they’re just on their own and doing their stuff, they tend to be happy. But when they compare to other people, we compare our happiness relative to each other. So, I know, if you’re talking to people who went into some more a financially rewarding field, and you talk to them and you start out as peers and they’re making more money, suddenly you’ll be unhappy because they’re making a dollar more than you. It’s one of these things that human nature, we tend to think in relativeness, and so, we try to say, Oh, what are my peers doing? And it’s a hard thing to do. Just step away from that. Define your own career and what makes you happy and think longer term, not in the short term, what prepares you to be that ultimate position that you want to be in.
[00:38:40] Chris Gaffney: Oh, that’s fantastic. Chris, we’ve talked a lot about the work that y’all do at MIT. What’s the best way for people to get visibility to that? You guys put a lot in the open source. And then are there other resources that you recommend for folks who are working in the supply chain space, whether to advance their career or just to get information needed as a supply chain professional.
[00:39:02] Chris Caplice: Yeah, I think the big mantra is what you alluded to is you should never stop learning. And that’s the big thing that’s happening, the revolution in education. Because up until 2010, I’d say, education, especially at the graduate or even at the undergraduate level, hasn’t changed for like 200 years. You have one person in front of a group of 50 to a hundred, to 200 people talking at them. Studies have shown that after the first seven minutes you stop listening. And then the idea that you, when you go back to school, you have to go for four years or two years and you have to do all these things.
I think the modularization, and the idea that there’s continuing education, is the key thing. And there’s so many places you can go. I mean, the whole idea, you can learn anything on YouTube. So, I think about what I had to do to try to understand something in like late eighties or early 1990s, and it was impossible. You go to the library, you have to find a book, and now you just Google it or you go on YouTube and you can find these things. So, I think the big mantra should be never stop learning. And there’s always ways you can learn something and you have to decide, do I wanna learn this much? And a little bit. Do I wanna learn the whole thing? Because it’s easy now to be able to learn exactly what you need to know to solve that problem. And I think you should always challenge yourself for that.
So, I highly encourage people to go to MITX. Everything that we do for our supply chain management program is free. You can go on there and it’s all the videos are out there for free. If you want credential, you have to pay in all that kind of stuff, but there’s so many other sources out there for it as far as what’s going on. I’m a big fan of Paul Page’s Wall Street Journal, the Daily Logistics Report. I read that first thing every morning and that gives you a sense of what’s going on. But then as far as learning and other things, there’s so many other venues you can go to, if you have a specific skill you wanna up update with, as well as all of our universities do different things where executives can come in for a day, a week, a month, and they can upskill yourselves.
So, I think the onus is on you to upskill your own skills, to be able to recognize where do I need to go? And then there’s always easy paths out there now, that make it easy to do something.
[00:41:06] Chris Gaffney: Well, you said you shy away from giving advice, but that’s fantastic advice and I appreciate the fact that I have spent a lifetime in this space and I’ve learned three or four things that I’ve written down today, Chris. So, thank you so much.
[00:41:18] Chris Caplice: Thanks for having me. I enjoyed talking with you guys.