Takeaways from Food Shippers of America 60th Annual Conference

“A Changing Environment Demands Changing Strategies” – that was theme of the Food Shippers of America 60th Annual Conference held earlier this month in San Antonio, where more than 950 attendees (including food shippers, consignees, carriers, 3PLs, and technology companies) gathered to discuss emerging trends and leading practices in the industry.

It was a theme echoed throughout the event, starting with the morning keynote presentation by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III, the US Airways pilot who back in January 2009 safely landed an Airbus A320 on the Hudson River after the plane collided with birds shortly after takeoff and both engines failed. Talk about a sudden change in environment and the need to change strategy!

Captain Sully discussed many topics during his presentation, but I’ll just highlight a few points that resonated with me:

  • Captain Sully’s definition of innovation is “Change before you are forced to.” It’s a simple definition, but it says it all in mind. Innovation is about being proactive and always questioning the status quo versus being reactive and complacent.
  • Focus and prioritization are critically important in a fast-changing environment. “There’s often not enough time to do everything, but choose to do the few things that are the most important and do them well.” That was certainly the case for Capt. Sully and the co-pilot after the plane hit the birds and the engines failed. They only had a couple of minutes to determine what to do (and what not to do), and by focusing on the most important tasks, they maximized their chances for success.
  • Captain Sully stressed that although he gets all of the attention, the successful landing that day was a collaborative effort by many people: the co-pilot, flight attendants, passengers, air traffic controllers, airport personnel, the ferry captains who came to the rescue after the plane landed, the police and paramedics who assisted passengers on shore, and many others. Collaboration enabled by effective communication and trust – it’s the foundation for accomplishing great things.
  • The unexpected will always happen, which is why problem-solving and analytical skills are so important, and why you must make ongoing skills development and training a priority.

I underscored many of Captain Sully’s points in my afternoon keynote presentation, Past Performance is No Guarantee of Future Success: Why Innovation Matters in a Fast-Changing World. I won’t go into all the details here, but in a nutshell, I made the case that companies can’t succeed “despite” any more – that is, despite having poor visibility and control of their supply chains; despite having outdated and inflexible IT systems; despite not taking a holistic perspective of their end-to-end processes; and the list of “despites” goes on. To keep up with the rapid pace of change – in the competitive landscape, customer expectations, technology, regulations, risks, and more – companies will need to transform their processes and organizational structures much more quickly and frequently than in the past.

I then outlined several attributes of Successful Companies of Tomorrow:

The first day of the conference also included two excellent panel discussions: “Are You Really Being a Shipper of Choice?” and “Receivers: Which of the 3 Cs Will You Choose? Chaos, Confusion, or Cooperation” (see the agenda for all of the panelists). It’s impossible for me to highlight all of the topics discussed during the sessions, but if I had to boil it down into a single takeaway, here it is:

There is a growing awareness by all stakeholders – shippers, carriers, and consignees – that the only way to effectively balance and address their respective challenges and needs is to communicate honestly and frequently with each other. Not everybody is doing this yet, but more of them are certainly “walking the talk” today than in years past.

A quick aside: My favorite quote from the first panel session came from Derek Leathers, President and COO at Werner Enterprises: “Drivers talk to each other and spread info about problem shippers and receivers faster than Twitter.” Put differently, word gets around very quickly if you develop a reputation for being “a shipper or receiver that annoys carriers and drivers,” as panel moderator Mike Regan from Tranzact put it.

I wasn’t able to attend the second day of the conference, but from my experience, the event was a great venue for learning and networking, especially for transportation professionals. If you’re a food shipper — or a 3PL, carrier, or technology company serving the industry – this is a “must attend” event. So mark you calendars for next year’s conference (February 28 – March 1, 2016 in Palm Desert, CA) where one thing is certain: the transportation and logistics landscape will have changed once again.