A Conversation With Valerie Bonebrake, Senior Vice-President, Global Supply Chain Services, Tompkins Associates & Advisory Board Member of Georgia Tech

 

LQ: What motivated you to get into the supply chain and logistics industry?

Valerie Bonebrake: I came up through the ranks, entering the industry through truck rental and leasing.  As a result of the growth of de-regulation dedicated fleet services, I was fortunate to be part of that growing industry.   As new services and opportunities developed I was able to be a part of them as well.  I also have a background in operations and business development, so was able to leverage my experience into positions of increasing responsibility.  I was also willing to take some risks, such as relocating and taking on new roles.

LQ: What are some of the challenges in the industry?

Valerie Bonebrake: Unfortunately, the recession has caused companies across many industries to make deep cuts in staffing across a wide range of disciplines, including supply chain and related logistics roles. This has resulted in career setbacks for many talented people and greater competition for available jobs.  Also, although it is changing, there is still a lack of “C” level supply chain executives and corresponding authority and recognition of the importance to an organization of an effective supply chain.  On the positive side, as industries reach the bottom of their recessionary cycle, the need for effective planning and responsive supply chains will increase, and innovation will drive even greater performance.  I believe the companies with the best supply chains will recover faster, and recognition of the importance of the role played by supply chain professionals will create even greater opportunities in the future.

LQ: What are some of the new trends in the industry?

Valerie Bonebrake: Cloud Computing and Software as a Service (SaaS) certainly come to mind.  The future for applications supporting global supply chains will become increasingly available through this emerging delivery vehicle. It has always been important to keep abreast of the latest trends in supply chain software, and that has not changed.   I am seeing more recently about the role of the CIO and the current window that exists for technology professionals to play more significant roles in driving business strategy, not just technology strategy.  This doesn’t mean that everyone has to be a technology expert, but greater collaboration, exposure and opening one’s mind to new ways of doing things all aid in the development and delivery of new technologies supporting global supply chains.

LQ: I understand you attended Georgia Institute of Technology to obtain your master’s degree in international logistics.  Can you tell me about your experience?

Valerie Bonebrake: The program was the perfect complement to my experience as a logistics service provider and to my desire to increase my knowledge of the global marketplace.  We traveled to several regions: the Americas, Europe and Asia, visiting multiple countries along the way.  We experienced a deep dive into the economic development, trade policies, logistics infrastructure, labor and education, and industrial evolution and growth of each region. We had the opportunity to visit multinational companies and to work with them on a variety of supply chain challenges they posed for us.  We worked on global projects in small teams, which allowed for real depth into business opportunities and the chance to improve our teamwork and collaboration skills, as well as allowing us to tackle and solve problems. I completed my degree in August of 2008 and I can tell you that I am going through withdrawal—missing my wonderful classmates and the EMIL staff and the opportunity to travel with them around the world. The good news is that the friendships and experiences transcend the physical program and I now have a great network around the world to tap into.

LQ: What attracted you to the EMIL program versus other programs (faculty, practical learning, travel, flexibility on the job while attending, etc.)?

Valerie Bonebrake: I had long been a fan of Georgia Tech, having worked with many of the logistics graduates and faculty over the years.  The global aspect of the program interested me greatly.  Additionally, the ability to complete my degree while I was working full-time was a huge benefit.  Lastly, the class is made up of peers and professionals with significant experience, so the learning is not just from the faculty, guest lecturers and sponsoring companies, but from other students as well.

LQ: How have you benefited from the EMIL program? How has your company benefited from your experience with the EMIL program?

Valerie Bonebrake: I recently had the opportunity to make a career change and have moved from the ranks of logistics service provider to consulting services as Senior Vice-President, Global Supply Chain Services at Tompkins Associates, a global supply chain consulting firm.  Tompkins is global in scope, as are the many clients we serve.  Our whole focus is supply chain, so my EMIL degree is the perfect complement to my working experience in global logistics. Companies today have tremendous challenges as well as opportunities. There is no doubt that the EMIL program broadened my view of the world and my ability to think strategically—and globally—as I work with clients across a broad spectrum of supply chain initiatives.  It was clearly a win-win situation.

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