A Conversation With Molly DuBois, Vice-President, Transportation, C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc.

Questions for LQ’s Executive Interview Series have been prepared by members of LQ’s Board and friends of LQ.

 

LQ: Companies continue to outsource critical supply chain functions and business processes. What do you see is the future to managing these critical relationships so that true partnerships evolve? (Kate Vitasek, Founder, Supply Chain Visions)

Molly DuBois: Trust, commitment and open communication are critical to business relationships, both when times are good and when times are challenging. Dedication and exceptional service are things that we as a company spend a lot of time talking about, and we believe our service commitment differentiates C.H. Robinson from other companies. It is important that we continue to create value and to improve upon our services to meet our customers’ overall objectives.

From a logistics perspective, there are long-term relationships between our shippers and our contract carriers, and our role is to engage with both.  We are continuously developing our relationships. Having the right people to develop those lines of trust to maintain constant communication is extremely important: we would not be in business if we did not have solid, long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with the 50,000 contract carriers we work with—we are dependent on their profitability and success. We view these relationships as a key ingredient to our long-term success.

We know the current market is especially difficult for many carriers and shippers. It’s vital to our company, and to North America’s supply chains, that the trucking community remains healthy. We work hard every day to find ways to help our contract carriers and shippers so that they can be successful and grow their businesses. Our overall goal is to make sure we all succeed in the long run.

LQ: In these tough economic times, what do you see are the most important things a company can do? (Kate Vitasek)

Molly DuBois: In this environment, everyone is looking for opportunities to create greater efficiencies and cut costs. Our business model continues to add value, improve efficiencies and invest in the long-term success of our customers, contract carriers, employees and communities. It’s about being responsive, flexible and visible, and about having a sense of urgency in everything that you do. Also, you can’t sacrifice or skimp on the things that you do well. It’s about continuing to maintain the same service and value that you’ve always brought to the table—even during tough times. Above all, you must be true to your word.

LQ: What members of your management team (if any) are involved in your long-range planning? (Ellen Voie, President, Women in Trucking, Inc.)

Molly DuBois: C.H. Robinson is decentralized and entrepreneurial in nature. We all have a stake in the company’s success. Therefore, our support in each other’s growth and planning must always be focused and unselfish. As a management team, we are open to any and all ideas our employees have; we believe that we have been successful for more than 100 years because of our people. They are motivated and dedicated to continuing to build customer and carrier relationships and identify new business opportunities. While the current environment is uniquely difficult, we remain confident in our long-term growth goals and opportunities because of the strength of our people, our business model, our market potential and our performance-driven culture.

LQ: American inventor Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”  Is this true of leadership?  Or is leadership ninety-nine percent inspiration and one percent perspiration? (Kate Vitasek)

Molly DuBois: I honestly think it’s both. I don’t think that [merely] inspiring is going to get you everything you want. Sometimes we work very hard and don’t always see the results we expected to get. So it is a combination of inspiring, and then working hard, as individuals and as a team, to make things happen. Through the great leaders that C.H. Robinson has had in the past to the leaders of today, our employees continue to set high standards for service. The combination of leadership and our employees’ ability to think strategically and then act has helped make us successful.

LQ: As a leader, how do you strategize for the future, and what role does envisioning play for you, or within your organization? (Diane A. Mollenkopf, PhD, Associate Professor, Director, PhD Program in Logistics, Department of Marketing & Logistics, University of Tennessee)

Molly DuBois: A lot of our vision is built on interacting and engaging with the business. We listen to what our employees, contract carriers and shippers tell us, which in turn helps us strategize for the future. Of course, things continue to change and force us to re-evaluate our priorities. Having a flexible business model, and being able to quickly adapt to changes in the marketplace, is key. There is more volatility today than ever. We feel great about the strength and depth of our team and the continued effectiveness of our business model.

LQ: As women strive to get ahead, do you have any tips in an era when training budgets are being curtailed? (Tom Nightingale, Vice-President & CMO, Con-way Inc.)

Molly DuBois: In the event you find yourself in a situation to take part in an event with little budget, consider paying for it out of pocket.  If you believe it is the right investment, then you should feel confident that you will reap the benefits. I believe that if you choose to invest personally to gain additional education, join industry associations and community organizations, or attend conferences, it is well worth it. There are also many steps you can take to get yourself ahead that don’t really require a budget. One thing you can do is find a mentor—formal or informal—who is going to champion you in your efforts.  Seek him or her out to provide you with open and honest feedback on your abilities and plans.

Finally, just play the part; go out there, get involved and get exposure to new areas, knowledge and experiences. If you perform with confidence you will show that you are eager and willing to do what it takes to get ahead. What’s important is to be creative and innovative. Find new ways to meet your customers’ and managers’ expectations.

LQ: Are you mentoring or do you have a mentor?

Molly DuBois: Throughout my 16 years at Robinson I have been fortunate to have many strong mentors that have helped me in my career. I felt so strongly about the value of mentoring that a colleague and I developed the Leadership Networking Circle, an informal group mentoring program. The C.H. Robinson Leadership Networking Circle is an internal peer-networking program designed to help develop and support women and nurture leadership. It encourages and assists women participants to increase their business interaction, develop relationships that align with our values and culture, share best practices, and focus on individual development. We are pleased that the program, which has been running for four years now, has shown great success year after year; on an annual basis, about 12 to 15 women participate. Employee engagement and retention is extremely high among the participants; their self-confidence has increased; and several of them have been promoted to management roles as well as various leadership functions.

There are also individuals whom I seek out within my current organization to assist me with my continued development.  I also engage with a group of women outside of my company on a regular basis. These women work in my local market and are highly successful. I have found this is a great way to share experiences and seek insights and ideas on how to continue to focus on our development and careers.  Additionally, I have had the opportunity to spend time with many of our employees, sharing stories and offering advice. 

LQ: How do you select mentors to help you in your logistics career? What advice do you have for selecting mentors? (Pamela Benkert, General Manager, WW Operations and Vice-President, Consumer Digital Group, Eastman Kodak)

Molly DuBois: I have had several informal mentors throughout my career, and have taken every opportunity to learn from them.

Some of the key characteristics I look for in a mentor are credibility, experience, a successful track record, and a willingness to give back to others.

I have been fortunate to work for managers who recognized my drive to succeed through my work ethic and desire to make a difference, and they made a point to invest time in my development. This has been a great help in the past and continues to be today, as I appreciate the importance of having a champion.

I have been able to reflect on a lot of advice that has been given to me throughout the years. One of the greatest pieces of advice I received came from one of the members of our board of directors who was speaking to a group of women at our organization two years ago, and her advice was: “play the part.” I have done just that at C.H. Robinson, and from that have found many new opportunities. I didn’t wait for somebody to tell me how to move forward; I stepped up, did the job and “played the part.” It required me to take risks, and I had to believe in myself when I wasn’t sure whether anybody else would. I realized that I would make mistakes, but I had to learn from them and move on.

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