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Building a Career in Supply Chain Automation

By Published On: June 27, 2024

In the ever-evolving world of supply chain management, automation has become a critical component for companies striving to remain efficient and competitive. As technologies advance, the demand for professionals skilled in supply chain automation is on the rise. This article explores the journey of Brian Keiger, a seasoned expert in supply chain automation, and provides valuable insights and advice for those looking to build a career in this dynamic field. By delving into Brian’s experiences and wisdom, we can uncover the essential elements of building a successful career in supply chain automation.

Getting Started in Supply Chain Automation

Brian Keiger’s journey into supply chain automation began in an unexpected way. Fresh out of college and coaching a summer softball league, a chance encounter with Randy Jennings, a senior vice president of a mobile robotics company, set the course for his career. This opportunity allowed Brian to travel the world, learn about mobile automation, and immerse himself in different cultures. These experiences significantly impacted his understanding of global supply chains and opened up a world of opportunities in the field​.

Another key figure who influenced Keiger’s career is John Hill, a mentor who provided invaluable guidance throughout his career transitions. John Hill’s no-nonsense teaching style and practical wisdom helped Brian navigate various roles and companies, from Transbotics to ConveyCo Technologies. Additionally, the life lessons imparted by Brian’s father about integrity and accountability played a crucial role in shaping his professional ethos. These mentors not only provided industry knowledge but also instilled in him the importance of ethical conduct and personal integrity​.

Building Relationships in Supply Chain Automation

One of the most important lessons Brian learned is the necessity of effective, transparent, two-way communication. Successful business relationships depend on this openness, allowing both parties to understand each other’s needs and work towards common goals. Brian emphasizes the importance of thinking like the customer to better serve their needs and demonstrate unique value. This approach not only strengthens partnerships but also drives mutual growth and success in the supply chain​.

Integrity and accountability are cornerstones of Brian’s professional approach. He advocates for owning up to mistakes and learning from them, which fosters trust and long-term partnerships. Transparency is also vital; suppliers should be open about market observations and proactive in addressing potential issues. By committing to these principles, companies can build strong, lasting relationships that withstand challenges and drive continuous improvement​.

Navigating Career Transitions

Brian’s career has been marked by his ability to embrace diversity and drive innovation. His roles as a commissioning engineer and later in business development and sales allowed him to build relationships with a diverse array of professionals. This diversity of thought and experience has been instrumental in fostering creativity and innovation within supply chains. Embracing different perspectives and ideas is crucial for staying competitive and driving progress in the industry​.

Leadership roles in organizations such as MHI have provided Brian with deeper connections within the industry. Networking with supply chain experts and participating in industry associations has helped him drive change and stay abreast of industry trends. He recommends joining associations like WERC and the Council for Supply Chain Management Professionals to grow one’s network and stay connected. These networks offer valuable resources and opportunities for professional growth and collaboration​. Here are more supply chain associations.

Trends and Skills for Future Success

The future of supply chain automation is heavily influenced by emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. These technologies can enhance efficiency, reduce errors, and provide valuable insights into consumer behavior and market trends. Brian highlights the importance of improving end-to-end visibility and utilizing modern tools for inventory management to stay competitive. Companies that leverage these technologies effectively will be better positioned to adapt to changing market demands and drive innovation​.

Professionals looking to succeed in supply chain automation should focus on developing both hard and soft skills. Analytical skills, customer service, team management, and IT competencies are crucial. Equally important are qualities such as integrity, adaptability, persistence, and the ability to build and maintain relationships. By cultivating these skills and qualities, individuals can navigate the complexities of supply chain automation and contribute to the success of their organizations​.


Building a career in supply chain automation requires a combination of technical skills, effective communication, and a commitment to integrity and accountability. By learning from industry experts like Brian Keiger, aspiring professionals can navigate the complexities of this field and leverage emerging technologies to drive innovation and efficiency. Embracing diversity, fostering strong relationships, and staying informed about industry trends will ensure long-term success in the dynamic world of supply chain automation. By following these insights and strategies, you can pave your way to a successful and fulfilling career in supply chain automation, contributing to the advancement and resilience of global supply chains.

Who is Brian Keiger?

Currently Vice President for Conveyco Technologies, a leading system integrator in warehouse automation, Keiger has 35 years of experience in the Supply Chain industry. During that time, he has acquired extensive knowledge in Order Fulfillment and Supply Chain Logistics including AGVs/AMRs, Conveyor Systems, Storage Systems, Racking Systems, Goods-to-Person Systems, WMS/WCS/WES, Robotics, and more.

In addition to his role at Conveyco, Mr. Keiger is very active in MHI, North America’s leading Material Handling Trade association. Here, he currently serves as Chair of the Mobile Automation Group. Keiger also holds a seat on several of MHI’s Solutions Community Committees. Further, Keiger holds a seat on the Industry Advisory Panel for the National Center of Supply Chain Technology Education (NCSCTE) and also serves on the Systems Engineering and Engineering Management (SEEM) Advisory Board at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In addition to these ancillary roles, Keiger also serves as a part-time thought leader for Global Consulting giant, Gerson Lehrman Group (GLG) and is a Member of the Board of Directors for Queen City Robotics Alliance.

Keiger received his Bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC.

[00:01:37] Mike Ogle: Brian, welcome to the supply chain careers podcast.

[00:01:40] Brian Keiger: Thank you, Mike. I appreciate you and Chris taking the time to invite me today. I’m happy to be here.

[00:00:08] Mike Ogle: So how did you get started in supply chain? What were some of the biggest influences that got you deeper into supply chain?

[00:01:53] Brian Keiger: How I got started, it’s actually a funny story. I just finished college and was playing summer softball league. You know me, I was, I loved sports back in the day when I could actually play it. And I was actually also the coach of the team. And right before the season started during a practice one Saturday, a man by the name of Randy Jennings came up to me and said, Hey, Brian, I really appreciate you giving me a chance to play third base on the team and I really would like to return the favor and I thought this was a bit odd, but I went with it and I basically said, so what did you have in mind, Randy? And he said, how would you like to come work for me? And that was like the last thing I thought he was going to say, but Randy was senior vice president of a mobile robotics company out of Sweden.

And of course, as a young single and ready to mingle person traveling around the world, learning the world of mobile automation, automated guided vehicles, and all that, sounded pretty awesome. So I took it and of course, over the years, it became much more to me than a way to meet people. It actually became a way to connect and learn about the different cultures of the world, which by the way, can also have a big impact on supply chain.

So that’s good knowledge to have. But anyway, just by having a random conversation at softball practice, suddenly I found myself on my way, off and running in the supply chain and material handling industry. So not your usual entrance into it. And as far as the biggest influences, of course, I have to say Randy Jennings ended up being a big influence.

He brought me into the industry. He taught me a lot about the automation process. And he eventually even taught me how people buy, why people buy, what to look for. But, and Mike, the biggest influence on me as far as the supply chain and material handling industry goes was John Hill.

John Hill recently passed, unfortunately, and he left a huge hole in the industry and in a lot of people’s hearts, including my own, but he was a dear friend of mine who always made time for me. Even when he didn’t have the time, he made time, and he had this no-nonsense style of teaching me things.

And he combined that with just practical and simple wisdom. But to me, he was one of the greatest mentors and teachers of our time. He was always there. He led me through each job transition that I had from Transbotics to Swisslog, to Kuka, to Grenzebach, to Stow, Movu Robotics. And even just a couple months ago, before he passed, he was my first call when I was considering moving to ConveyCo Technologies where I am currently.

So he was my go-to guy, my mentor. I never made a move without talking to him. And I learned so much from John and I’ll never forget him or what he taught me. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the one man that taught me the most, and that was my father. He didn’t necessarily teach me about the supply chain, but he did teach me important life skills.

He taught me basically what it meant to be a good human being. And I think that’s the most important thing in life is just being a good human being, he would always look at me when I was facing some major decision. He’d say, son, at the end of the day, all you really have is your integrity. Don’t ever give that away.

And that’s basically been the basis for everything I do in life. At the end of the day, you have to be honest. You have to be ethical, and you really have to follow some defined moral principles in everything you do. And integrity at work, I found out, is about even more than honesty and respect. So, if an organization has a true culture of integrity, that means employees take their commitments seriously. They’re proactive when they don’t understand their responsibilities and ultimately, they’re accountable for the results, which is another big lesson my father taught me, be accountable. And as a result, these types of businesses really thrive in the industry.

So it’s something I’ve carried with me from organization to organization. It’s really important to me. And so, by far, John Hill and my father were the two biggest influences.

[00:06:01] Chris Gaffney: So, Brian, you have worked for a number of players, as you mentioned, significant players in an industry that has evolved very dramatically over the last 25 years. So, you were very fortunate at that softball game that you must’ve been a good coach and made a good impression. We always say you interview for your next job every day, you just don’t realize that it might be on the softball field.

As you think about some of the transitions, whether it be in key roles or key companies. As you look back, what are a couple of those that turned out to be the most critical, most impactful, and what did you learn through that other people might learn when they’re at those kind of forks in the road?

[00:06:44] Brian Keiger: Yeah, Chris. Yes, so now I hold the title of Vice President, Chief Commercial Officer. Before that, I was a Chief Sales Officer. You can see on the commercial side, sales side, I’ve done a lot, but truth be told, I actually came into the industry as a mechanical engineer out of NC State. But in the automation space, when you’re designing technology, you don’t get to be just one thing, right?

So you have to understand every aspect from functionality all the way up to user ability. As an engineer, I had to understand both mechanical and electrical pieces of a solution. And then I had to understand how it would be used and even the environment in which it would be deployed. So all this really helped develop me as a complete engineer and eventually led to the opportunity where I got to travel the world as a commissioning engineer, commissioning all of these solutions that I had been designing.

And of course, that led to an even greater understanding of why these solutions are being deployed and implemented, and also how they could be improved. It took me full circle in my journey and transitioning to a commissioning engineer also allowed me to travel the world, as I said, and help me learn about the different cultures and mindsets that exist in the supply chain. And I, as I mentioned earlier, that’s critical when you’re dealing in supply chain. And it also taught me the true meaning of diversity. I got to see a lot of different cultures; different people understand different ways of thinking. And so, I really got my first taste even back then before it became a big thing of diversity.

And it’s not just about how we differ. Diversity is about embracing the uniqueness of others. Once you understand this, you know better how to serve and meet people’s needs. And that’s really the core bridging gaps and solving problems and supply chain. So, diversity creates that change.

And that change is actually an engine for innovation. So, diversity helped me create an atmosphere in which everyone, I learned everyone could feel welcome and respected, and honestly, there’s no better environment to breed creativity and innovation. And as I found myself networking more and more with such a diverse array of people, I began to realize just how much I love that networking.

I love building those relationships and nurturing those relationships and eventually fostering, even working relationships together. So, this really enabled my transition then over to the commercial side that I’m in today. And there I then began to take on roles of business development, which again was more relationship building and eventually sales.

And by the time I moved into my first C suite role in, I don’t know, 2013, 2014 I’d actually developed some pretty good leadership skills and I actually was able to even take some of those coaching skills that you talked about, Chris. It’s all about, working with people, understanding people and how to work with them.

So, I was able to, to take those leadership skills and find myself on boards, taking different board positions, but also allow me to take on more leadership roles and other organizations, such as MHI, where I met Mike. MHI is one of is North America’s leading or largest material handling logistics and supply chain association.

While these leadership roles were voluntary, they were pivotal to my career because they allowed me to have a deeper connection with the industry as a whole, both on the supplier side, as well as the practitioner. I was able to create a lot of great relationships and I really started driving change from these roles.

I got to dive in deep with a lot of supply chain experts across multiple industries; experts like Laura Maxwell, senior vice president at PepsiCo, Karli Howe, who is now a Senior Director at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. Sherry Harriman just spent some time with her at a recent conference. She was the former SVP at Walmart. Kevin Condon SVP at Target, John Lund, the former SVP at Walt Disney. I think he’s also now at Gartner. Paula Natoli, head of global supply chain at Google. I could go on and on. The list is truly endless, but, and I believe I even spent some time and had a few conversations with you, Chris, back in the day.

So it’s invaluable having all these people in my network and they all had some type of influence on me as I’ve transitioned throughout my career.

[00:09:13] Mike Ogle: So, Brian, one of the things with all those opportunities that you’ve had to meet with so many different people in a variety of roles and plan out supply chains with, wide variety of clients and teams of your own.

You, it must have given you really a great perspective on the characteristics. How do you build out those relationships with the clients? What are some of the lessons that you’ve learned over the years about how do you really make that process work best from the solution provider perspective, particularly the development of some of those soft skills and relationship skills.

[00:11:26] Brian Keiger: Yeah, first and foremost, and this is a life lesson for anybody listening, there has to be an open line of communication on both sides, right? Any successful business relationship relies on effective, transparent two-way communication. So, you have to be able to communicate. Next as a supplier, you have to think like your customer.

When you think like your customers, you’re better able to serve their needs and grow your own business. Understanding your customer’s perspectives makes you a better partner as a supplier, and it helps demonstrate your unique value, and it really enables you. To effectively make decisions with the end customer’s benefit in mind.

So, you have to get into the mindset of your customer, know your customer. And of course, I have to go back to what my dad taught me, right? Do everything honestly and with the utmost integrity. If you fail, take accountability, own it. That’s all the customers really want. They want you to be accountable for everything.

They know mistakes are going to happen. But you have to own it, take accountability, and then take the necessary steps to ensure that you learn from it and whatever particular mistake you made never happens again. So that’s important. And finally, and this is really hard for some suppliers. I know the bigger corporations, particularly where I’ve worked, it was really hard, but you have to commit to transparency. Supplier teams should be completely open about what they observe in the market, the potential impacts of the actions they are taking to offset any negative implications. You have to be proactive, and you have to be honest. That’s the only way to really enable teams to resolve a potential problem and preserve that trust.

And that’s a key part of any partnership is that trust. And it all ties back to accountability that I mentioned earlier. There’s a lot you can do, but I think those are the key things really: communication, know your customer, think like your customer, just be accountable and commit to transparency.

[00:13:24] Chris Gaffney: So, as you mentioned, Brian, I’ve been on the other side of the fence in terms of buying solutions. And again, throughout my career, worked with lots of people and some of them, when they approach this automation space, they’re very well practiced and they understand what they’re getting into, but there’s a pretty good diversity, right?

You may be dealing with somebody, and this is their potentially first large commitment or potential commitment. So, if you want to give advice to your customers in terms of folks who have a really effective process that ultimately gives them the highest probability of getting a solution that delivers and even over delivers.

You’ve seen it, and you could probably walk in and say, all right, these folks are going to be a good customer in our best interest. And in fact, in theirs, what does good look like? And what are some of the watch outs that folks may not realize are not putting them in the best position?

[00:14:13] Brian Keiger: Yeah, Chris I’ve been doing this for 35 years now, and I’ve learned to walk into that first meeting, and usually within that first meeting I can tell whether the customer is going to be a good customer or not. There’s just a lot of things that you can tell. But if I had to go back and give my clients advice there’s a, there’s quite a few things I would say.

First of all, foster relationships at every level. Rather than relying on a few senior executives, relationship building should occur at every level of the team from that junior support person all the way up to the C suite. It really helps when you foster relationships across the entire work stream, it really helps teams to be more able to future proof that partnership and it really allows for a better.

Cross team collaboration between the two companies; a big one, I would say is remember that suppliers shouldn’t just be vendors. So many organizations they’ll treat suppliers as mere vendors. They act like, in some instances, they even act like they own the suppliers, and the supplier should just be at their service, their beck and call.

It couldn’t be further from the truth though. Your part, your suppliers should be your partners and you should work together for the mutual good. Make sure your suppliers feel like a part of your business. It’s really vital to inform suppliers of what’s going on in your company to create that good relationship with them.

Notify them of new processes, change in key personnel, change in strategies but more importantly, listen, just listen to your suppliers and address their concerns as well. You have a lot of concerns sometimes. They have concerns as well. But at the end of the day, if you just talk and you act like you’re all sitting at the same table and you’re all same, part of the same team, you’re not pointing fingers, you’re actually trying to figure out how to solve problems together, and that’s when you truly have a great partnership.

Another one, and I’ve said it a couple of times already – communicate. Then over communicate by over communicating with your suppliers. I think you can really ensure that everyone’s clear on responsibilities and they’re aware of any potential setbacks. You can also align work processes better.

So, I would say start establishing a regular cadence of communication between you and your suppliers and then to maximize the value of those discussions, make sure the content of the meetings is relevant to both parties, make sure it’s rooted in data and make sure it’s centered on, the needs that are, that the customer has and then turn that communication into collaboration.

I think the best partnerships really rely on collaborative problem solving. Like I said, coming together at one table and solving the problem together. Partners and suppliers have extensive communication channels, but they really need to listen to each other productively collaborate on solutions with a lot of flexibility and compromise.

And then, as I mentioned earlier, I said something about being rooted in data. Suppliers really hate it when we don’t get data or we get bad data, garbage in, garbage out, right? And a lot of clients don’t even know how their business runs until the supplier takes that data, crunches it, and brings it back to them in form, a form that they can see what they’re doing on a daily basis, and they’re going, that’s my business? It doesn’t look anything like I thought it did. So, it’s really important to maintain accurate and reliable data. And without that accurate data, decisions are made either incorrectly or they’re made in silos.

So, it’s important to regularly share precise and really insightful data that again fosters that transparency I was talking about earlier. And then I would say, finally, you should look to the future together. The best partners, they propel each other to build and to scale for the future.

If your client, when you’re up to date on new solutions and evolving market trends, you’re better off, right? So, you’re better able to anticipate and address current and future needs. So having that partnership allows you together to not only understand where the market’s going, the trends, but what technologies are out there and staying up to date with what can be utilized to better your supply chain.

So again, setting up your collective and your collaborative teams for long term success is really the best way to ensure that the longevity of such a relationship.

[00:18:22] Chris Gaffney: One follow up, right? Relationships, even good ones, sometimes, things get bumpy, right?

And when there’s a commercial agreement, some people can get, I think it can get pretty nervous about that in terms of giving and receiving feedback in a healthy client relationship in your mind. What does that look like to you?

[00:18:43] Brian Keiger: First of all. I hope we’re making it constructive when we give feedback, don’t tear each other down, use it as an opportunity to bridge a gap, perhaps there was a miscommunication or someone just didn’t do their homework or they didn’t follow through, but, I was always taught by, and again, this goes back to John Hill he said, there’s always more than one person at fault in anything. There’s always more than one thing that caused something to go drastically wrong. And usually, it’s a thread that unravels. So, if someone throws something in your face, be civil about it, come back and agree with it. Yes, I admit, I take accountability for that.

Here’s some things also I’d like to see on your side. If you could be doing that to help me better understand when that thread starts to unravel so that we don’t wait until it’s completely undone before we address it, you’ve got to have that give and take communication back and forth. And you have to do it constructively though.

So I think there’s very much a way to do that, to give that give and take, and then even in a contract. When I go in, and before I even start a relationship, I say, look, nothing’s perfect. Things are going to go wrong. It’s technology. Your car usually has some type of breakdown somewhere along the line.

You’ve got to put oil in it or it does stuff. There’s all types of things that have to happen to have a smooth-running machine. I said, so if we focus on making sure that we do all the risk mitigation up front and do as much as possible to avoid anything happening. That’s a start. And then when those things do happen, we should be in the trenches together, not pointing fingers at one another.

I said, so I’ll go ahead and lay that groundwork up front. That’s the kind of partnership I’m looking for, because at the end of the day, if we’re spending the whole time pointing fingers at each other, nothing’s getting accomplished, right? And everyone suffers from that. So, I think it’s important that, even in the contract, that language has to be beneficial, mutually beneficial for both parties.

And you have to be constructive when you give that feedback, and you have to do it in such a way that you let each other know that it wasn’t just one thing. Probably we need to have a better hold on this and get a better grasp of how to address this in the future. So, give and take, it’s always give and take.

[00:20:57] Mike Ogle: And one more follow up when you talked about being able to talk with people at multiple levels and getting a fuller picture about your client. And there’s all kinds of things that go into the fuller picture that go way beyond the technology and your data and what’s happening, in your supply chain in general, or where you’re trying to get to when you’re talking with people all the way down to frontline employees and going back to one of the John Hill things that I remember him talking about – that he learned more by going out and smoking on the loading dock with some of the employees.

Sometimes then he did the who were At the top of the company do you have a perspective on some of the ways that people can best be able to understand what’s really happening with the company the mood, all kinds of different aspects that that go into that give you the good signs and the bad signs of what might be happening with a client.

[00:21:55] Brian Keiger: Yeah. And so you’re dead on because the communication at upper level and the communication at the bottom level, nine times out of ten, they’re not the same kind of conversation. But you’re a hundred percent right. And that’s why I lead more and more companies to overlook it.

But actually, I have to go back to your old company, Chris – Coca Cola. We did a project with them, and I realized that no one really understood what change management meant. And I was really surprised at that level of a company, but I soon learned that Coca Cola wasn’t the only one – change management is probably the most overlooked aspect of the supply chain from any company out there today.

But it’s probably the most important one because you, again, you have to foster those relationships at every level, Mike, but the ones on the floor, the ones that are making that operation go from day to day, they’re the ones that have to buy in. Those people on the floor can literally make, I don’t care how good the automation is, they can literally make it not be successful because they don’t want it to be successful.

And they’ll find a way for it not to be successful. So, from day one, and it’s funny because we did this at Coca Cola where we went in and there was a lot of pushback. Oh, automation is going to take our jobs. Oh, automation, this is bad for us. And so it was important for us to get in there. We already had the leadership understanding what the benefits were, right?

But those are corporate benefits. They’re looking for ways to cut costs, but when people on the floor here cut costs, they hear cut jobs, right? So it was important to get in there and help them understand what we’re trying to do is create an environment that makes it easier for them to do their job, to enable them, to empower them, to do their job better, to have more value in the workplace than doing the repetitive stuff, but create an environment where they can move into something more competitive wage wise, even.

So, as we got in there, we started having those conversations. And then what they did at this particular plant was they decided to have a monthly picnic, if you will, at lunchtime, and they basically said during this time we’ll have lunch, we’ll bring food in. And we’ll give an update, and we’ll ask questions of all the people.

Everybody will get their voice, their opinions. And the first two were not very friendly. They were all complaining about this. But the more and more that we were able to get in there and explain to everyone. And the more and more we were talking about how it could really empower them, enable them. We weren’t cutting jobs.

We were just adding value to their job, helping them add value, do more value-added jobs. But then also I think it was the fact that we were doing all this over a picnic, food and drink and everybody was getting a free lunch out of it. And by the third or fourth meeting, I think they started associating change and automation with “we get free food and drink.”

I don’t know if that’s just the psychological thing, but it was funny to see, but you could see the change. So, by month six and seven, they were coming in with ideas of their own. “Hey, I was thinking about this today when I was working and how we could use the automation this way too. And we could do this, and we could do that.”

Again, by the time we had that automation, those people were ready to receive it, and they were willing to make it work, and it did. It made all the difference in the world, and I guarantee you, if I had taken that same solution, put it in another Coca-Cola warehouse, and didn’t do any change management, it would have failed.

So, change management to me is really getting down on every level, talking with everybody that’s involved in the process, and making them feel like they’re part of that process. This is not something we’re just going to force upon them, we’re trying to find ways to not only tell them, I’ll put the automation in, but put it in a way and add features that will help them do their job better, make it easier for them and make it more enjoyable.

People talk about sustainability all the time. People are still our greatest assets. So, labor sustainability is something that people overlook. We have to find ways to retain what little talent we have left. And sometimes that is creating a better environment for them through automation. That message just has to get through to them and they have to understand that.

So it takes time to do that. But you have to take that time if you want success in automation. Does that make sense?

[00:26:07] Mike Ogle: And Brian when you had mentioned our time at MHI, where we had first crossed paths, I think I, I learned pretty quickly that you were absolutely a very good networker and very active in associations like MHI and some others, are there some networking tips and advice you can provide for the audience?

[00:26:26] Brian Keiger: Yeah. First of all, I’m going to stress a few things that I’ve already mentioned. Okay. Because they are, I feel, they’re critical to developing those deep sustaining networks with really trusted colleagues. And that is again, be honest, be ethical, just be a good human being. Always be genuine and effective business networks work on trust.

So just be yourself, right? That’s the first thing just be yourself, be genuine. Next, I would say, always have that pay it forward attitude. Don’t just think. What can others do for me? Think instead about how you can support others. What can you offer to others? If you do that, trust me, your efforts will definitely be rewarded.

At some point, it all comes full circle someday. Further. You may want to consider joining a few associations to grow your supply chain network. Like you just mentioned, there’s a lot of organizations affiliated with different industries and disciplines to consider and is a big one that I’ve used over the years.

There’s also the Warehousing, Education and Research Council – WERC. There’s the council for supply chain management program professionals, associations like these, they usually host local chapter meetings, and they have larger national and global conferences. At MHI, you got the MODEX and the PROMAT shows.

Two big ones every other year. Some of the biggest ones in the industry. So, you can meet others working in your industry. You can meet at these conferences. And that also means you can meet practitioners as well. So, both supplier and practitioners, you can really build your network through these organizations.

And they have more membership directories that you can use to expand your supply chain network even more, but I would also say don’t limit your choice of associations to those specifically affiliated with your discipline, like I’m sure Chris went other places other than the beverage shows.

If you do that, you’re really missing out on opportunities to meet individuals who may thrive and bring you into new experiences. You’re also going to miss chances to tap those people and others for referrals. And then there’s also public speaking associations, such as Toastmasters and, other groups, and they usually promote diversity in the workforce, as an example but there’s other associations outside the logistics that you may want to consider. And then you really have to understand that every group of people and event is different. So just bear in mind that the dynamics of networking events and groups of people can be drastically different, even in the same industry.

I encourage people to try out various events until you find that right group of people for you. Then it’s important to stay connected after the events, right? So use your calendar, set reminders, whatever you’re going to do, to ensure you stay in touch with the people you meet; especially when there’s mutual value to be gained from that relationship.

And I think it goes without saying volunteering is a great way to expand your supply chain network. I volunteer here in Charlotte locally, and I’ve met so many interesting people on my walk volunteering. You can volunteer at an association event. You can lend a hand at a soup kitchen, pet adoption event, any type of fundraiser – people at all stages of their careers and across every discipline. They volunteer at many kinds of events throughout the country. So, it’s easy to find one, even if you don’t encounter people in your own industry, you’re still probably going to meet professionals and have a lot of valuable connections.

So volunteer, get out there and volunteer and it’s part of being a good human being, right? But lastly, and Mike knows this is a, it’s a big passion of mine: Support education, establish relationships with students and schools. Today’s students, they’re tomorrow’s executives, right?

They’re the next future workforce generation. So, while it doesn’t really help in the short term, establishing relationships with students taking supply chain courses, especially at colleges and universities, they can really help ensure a steady supply of what I call future professionals in my pipeline.

And even attending career days and forming bonds with the professors; I can’t tell you how many professors I’ve really associated a good bond with, particularly through the College Industry Council of Material Handling Education, CICMHE is what it’s called at MHI; a great group of professors there that I’ve learned and met with throughout the day, throughout my career.

And every day that I’ve met them has been cherished by me because they really involved me in things in education that I love to do. And you can even take things down one step further to the high schools if you want to, career days at high school. And during these events, you can actually explain why students should pursue a degree in supply chain or the logistics industry, and you can even offer to serve as a resource that they can tap into for future information. But above all, and I guess coming full circle, yeah, just be honest and consistent. If your networking efforts are honorable and you’re consistent at it, then you’re ultimately going to create this ever-expanding circle of trusted professional contacts. And they’ll probably become your business referral network and also be your support network. And who knows, you may end up with a few good friends along the way, right Mike? Absolutely.

[00:31:50] Chris Gaffney: Brian, you’ve been at it for a while, as you said, 35 years.

And there’s a fair amount of perspective gained, through that timeframe. As you look forward and say, here’s what I’ve seen. Here’s where we’re at right now. And here’s where I think we’re headed. What are a couple of trends that you watch or are watching? And then I think the corollary to that is, people on your team or people who will be in the field, what do you think the differentiating skills are going to be, they may be some of the same or some new emerging ones that you would like to call out for the audience.

[00:32:25] Brian Keiger: Yeah Chris, the, as we all know, the global supply chain, it’s rapidly evolving, it’s ever changing, especially since the pandemic. There’s just been a lot of challenges and gaps in our supply chain, right? And they’re driving a lot of new trends that we’re seeing. I think some of the biggest challenges facing supply chain operations are obviously hiring and retainment of the people.

There’s a big shortage of talent, skill, a ton of disruptions in supply chain, running out of stock. And of course there’s that ever-changing consumer, right? He’s always changing his demands. I think the consumer changes their mind more than anything. That’s a big problem for supply chains to adopt and adjust.

But to address the supply chain challenges, I think, companies have to reskill and even upskill their workers. They’re having to hire new workers with future facing skill sets that you were talking about. But in addition to these skill-based adjustments, there’s still a need to actually build a more agile, resilient and efficient supply chain itself.

So to that end, we have to embrace some of these emerging trends and technologies like artificial intelligence, AI, machine learning. I think AI is probably the most underrated way of making supply chains much more efficient and error free today. It can be used to refine pricing strategies by, studying and predicting consumer behavior in the response to market changes, it can be used to analyze current trends and patterns and predict future outcomes. It can be used to make improvements in the assembly lines, intelligent sourcing, supply chain tracking, inventory management, and on and on. So, AI, I think is a, it’s a technology that we’re going to have to figure out how to embrace it and not be so scared of it, but also how to use it correctly.

I know there’s a lot of people that fear AI, but, when used correctly and used for the right, in the right way, it can be very helpful to the supply chain. I think we also have to improve end-to-end visibility. This is a big one for me. Supply chain visibility, it’s really key to optimizing these complex processes that are developing out of the pandemic as we’re getting more and more automation deployed into the field.

I think having a clear view of where the goods and products are in the supply chain, at any moment, helps reduce those disruptions that I spoke of it. It also helps increase efficiency and improve the inventory management. And this also includes supplier readiness and lead time forecasts.

Essentially, end-to-end supply chain visibility is going to help maintain clarity and gain alignment across all the distribution channels. So that’s a big one that we have to keep an eye on. And then, further, I think we need to actually track inventory better using more modern tools.

I’m still amazed at how many places I go into that still use paper and pen. I can even go back because I remember my first encounter at Coca Cola. I was surprised and this is going back a while, but it gives you an idea, even in today’s age, you wouldn’t think of it, but Coca Cola would load up a truck, drive out to the store and, Pepsi did this too by the way, the same way – pull up to the door and say, you need any of this stuff? Nope? Okay. Drive to the next one. You need this stuff? Nope. And then at the end of the day, they had all this product they had to go back and restock. So again, tracking inventory, understanding how to set those orders ahead of time and it goes back to the visibility as well.

It’s just an essential aspect of modern warehousing, and there’s a lot of advancements in technology that’s transforming the way that it’s managed. The next frontier and inventory management is full automation, or at least a much smarter warehouse. And I think e commerce is only becoming more complex as these channels continue to proliferate and warehouse inventory technology is really working hard to keep up.

That said, a smart warehouse doesn’t have to be your hyper-automated Amazon style operation, right? Many businesses have started making their warehouses smarter just by using simple automation technology to streamline their operations, whether it’s an automatic billing to reduce all the paperwork that I talked about, or computer aided generated pick routes to optimize your picking efficiency, there’s lots of steps that distributors can take to automate these commonplace inventory tasks and often without having to make this a really large investment. Also, I think we need to streamline the processes, and I think that’s going to be a big part of the future – warehouses streamlining processes. It can lead to a lot better resource utilization. It can reduce inventory holding costs. It can even minimize, on the backend, the transportation expenses and all of this, of course, leads to the number one thing, right? We’re all trying to achieve customer satisfaction; a streamlined supply chain ensures a timely delivery of products. It reduces those lead times and minimizes order errors, which create countless number of returns. All that means a happy customer. And that’s what we’re all trying to achieve at the end of the day.

I think it’s also important to stay open minded when it comes to these emerging trends and supply chain technology. We have to find ways to, to leverage them to address these vulnerabilities that we’re finding. And disruptions like the pandemic, war, and now geopolitical events, these are causing a lot of obstacles for the supply chain, but with the right strategies and solutions, I do believe there’s a way forward.

As far as the skills you mentioned, yeah, when you look at hard skills, I’d say probably most important . . . if you have analytical skills, definitely customer service skills, some team management, project management skills. And of course, any IT or computer skills you can learn, they’re all going to be hugely beneficial for you.

As far as soft skills, I’ve mentioned a lot of these already: communication, teamwork, time management, creativity and of course, leadership’s a big one. So those are the skills I think that are going to bring you to the forefront. But that said, I think there’s also qualities that companies are looking for, not just skills, but they’re looking for certain qualities.

And this goes back to my previous conversation as well. Qualities like integrity, loyalty, sincerity, the ability to adapt, adaptability . . . they’re looking for persistence and someone with patience. These are qualities that if you have in conjunction with those skills, you’re going to go a long way in the supply chain.

So just, if you have any of those, just keep working on it and eventually you’re going to find your way to success in the supply chain for sure.

[00:38:48] Mike Ogle: And if you haven’t seen those or use them yourself, then observe them and others and be a good observer. And start to adopt what you can but do it sincerely.

Exactly. Exactly. And Brian, we typically like to close with some of the best advice that you’ve received over the years. So, you had, a lot of good general qualities that you had mentioned in the previous question, but are there some specific pieces of advice that you’ve received over the years from others?

And then are there some of those that you’ve learned yourself as well that you like to pass along?

[00:39:25] Brian Keiger: Sure, Mike, most of what I’ve shared with you today has been based on the advice of my mentors and fellow colleagues, and if I’m talking about giving advice too, how do you be a successful supplier?

Things like investing heavily in training and onboarding. It goes, it can go a long way in helping your client adopt new technology. And like I said, if they buy into it, if they adopt it and make it their own, it’s going to be truly successful. So, the more you can invest in training and creating training programs for the end user and practitioners as well that helps a lot.

Also, I would say focus on upfront time investment, really know your clients’ operation, again, going back to what happened to Coca-Cola, involve the operators and users in the solution design process so they buy into it. And I see a lot of startups in the industry today. I would like to say one thing to them because I see this so often and it goes back, again, I hate to keep going back to John Hill, but like I said, I learned so much from that man, but we had this thing that we used to call the ripple effect. So many startups today, they’re, they have their one little solution that they think is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but what happens when you throw a rock in a pond, it makes more than just a splash.

It has a ripple effect. And so it’s really important that when you’re going to put automation in, that you understand that ripple effect. You understand the impact that your solution is going to have on the upstream and downstream processes surrounding that, that solution you’re putting in.

Because at the end of the day, if you’re just pushing the problem, or if you’re creating other bottlenecks and problems elsewhere by putting your piece in, then you really haven’t helped the customer and you really haven’t solved anything. So again, understand that ripple effect and really learn your customer’s operation and learn the impacts of what you’re doing, what it’s going to have on their operation.

And then you can truly be a full-service customer in the end for your clients. And then of course, all that said, it’s my father’s advice that’s going to, that’s always stayed with me and will probably stay with me forever, because while we have to learn these, all these things that I’ve said to succeed in this world and in the supply chain as a businessman or a businesswoman, at the core of it all, we must first learn to be a good human being.

And I just must reiterate that because that’s the one thing that my father truly drilled into me at the end of the day, all we have left is our integrity. We just don’t give that away. And if I can add anything to his words, I would say, expand on that: I would just say, be authentic, be real.

That’s the only way you can truly have an honest, transparent partnership with another company. And also focus on the journey, right? I think there’s such a push in society today to be perfect. And you have to be perfect right now. It’s a social media driven world. And I think the pressure to be perfect is greater than ever.

And, unfortunately, our strive to reach perfection spawned a lot of new businesses and they’re lining their pockets with this, but at what cost? I think as a society, we use the term “perfection” too lightly and truly no, almost nothing is a hundred percent perfect. And in my opinion, this is a good thing.

We should learn to admire the beauty in the imperfections. We should use our goal of perfection as a journey to better ourselves. And it’s funny because now that just brought to mind, if you’ll indulge me a little bit more, the late Vince Lombardi said it best. I think he said, “perfection is unattainable, but if we constantly chase perfection, we might just catch a little bit of excellence.”

You see the process of striving for perfection is valuable in itself, regardless of whether we achieve that perfection. The pursuit of perfection actually can push individuals to work harder, be more disciplined, and continuously seek self-improvement. And I think in this sense, the journey towards perfection can be just as important as the destination.

So again, focus on the journey, not so much on the destination. The journey will take you where you need to be.

[00:43:40] Chris Gaffney: So, Brian, I’ve got one unscripted question for you. If you think about that young man. Who left NC state 30 odd years ago. If you could have whispered in his ear, seeing what you’ve seen and you have received tremendous advice, but if there’s one, one more thing you would tell him as he embarked on that journey, what would you tell him?

[00:44:07] Brian Keiger: Don’t take any shortcuts. Don’t bypass anything just because it’s easy. It’s those moments in the valleys that helped me appreciate when I reached the summit, right? It’s those hard lessons in life that made me the person that I am today. And I love the person I am today. If you don’t like who you are today, there’s something wrong with you.

But yeah. Don’t take the easy way just because it’s easy. Don’t take the shortcuts, live life to the fullest. And I think I did that. There’re only a few times I can think that I probably took some easy ways out, that’s life, but yeah, I’d still do the same thing. I’d give the same advice over and over again.

Don’t take any shortcuts, take life, take the bull by the horns and just live life and enjoy it and appreciate what you have. Everything you have. So yeah, that’s probably it.

[00:45:00] Chris Gaffney: Excellent. Brian, I appreciate not only your perspective and I learned a fair amount of things, but it’s clear that you’re passionate about this and that means a lot to our audience.

So thanks for the time, your story, your advice, you hit right on the mark of what we like to be able to offer to our folks out there and hopefully they can take this and apply this themselves. So thanks so much.

[00:45:21] Brian Keiger: No, I appreciate you guys for having me on. I always love to be able to share my stories and my advice whenever I can.

And I always love to hear some advice. Don’t ever shy away from giving me advice. I love to take whatever I can in life. So, thanks for having me.

[00:45:36] Mike Ogle: All right. Thank you very much.

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