WSI has benefitted from a large team of forward-thinking, dedicated individuals since 1966. As the logistics industry has grown and shifted, our leaders are constantly adapting to it. As the names of our leaders change and new faces appear at our headquarters, we are always committed to the same goal: provide the best service to our customers. 

In this interview, Jesse Jones shares his story about his start at WSI in 2018 and his path to becoming the VP of Operations in 2021, succeeding Bill Lindeke, who retired earlier this year (you can read our interview with Bill here). He provides us with his personal experiences at WSI and what it takes to be successful as a senior leader in one of the United States’ top third-party logistics firms.  

Q: We did an interview with Bill Lindeke a few weeks back, and he seems to be pretty excited about having you follow in his footsteps. How was that transition? 

“I definitely have some big shoes to fill. Bill did a fantastic job, and I know he was extremely popular across the company. Although the transition occurred during a pretty busy time, the team has been very helpful in getting me up to speed. And it was also beneficial for me to get to spend an extended amount of time with Bill and get his perspective on a lot of our initiatives and challenges we’ve been facing.” 

Q: So, tell me about what your role was before you rose to the VP of Operations. 

“I actually started at WSI back in 2018. My initial role was serving as our Network Lean Coordinator, which entailed working with all our sites and cross-functional teams to identify improvement opportunities and lead efforts to initiate the projects, track the results, and make sure that follow-up was happening as appropriate. We have a corporate goal of half a million dollars in lean savings every year and part of my role was making sure we were hitting that target.  

After about 7 months in the Lean role, in January of 2019, I took on the responsibility of leading the Pricing team, which ended up being a great learning experience for me. 

Since most of my background had been in supply chain and operations, joining the Pricing Team was a great opportunity for me to get a better understanding of our sales process and the many variables that need to be reviewed and analyzed when pricing and evaluating our business.” 

Q: Explain a little bit what the expectations are for you as VP of Operations. Every company works a little bit differently, so can you walk us through your responsibilities?  

“At a high level, it really comes down to four things:  

Safety: We tell our employees all the time, ‘Nothing we do is worth an injury.’ And we mean that. In any manufacturing or warehousing environment, time is going to be spent on safety. And that time can either be spent upfront, really trying to be proactive: putting measures in place to keep people safe, having consistent communication across the network, and establishing best practices. Or it can be spent on the back end, dealing with negative results and consequences, which is the painful follow-up that has to happen after an injury or serious accident. We’re really trying to focus on proactive measures as much as we can. 

Quality: It really comes back to WSI’s legacy of Condition, Count, and Time™ and is a   matter of getting the product to our customers damage-free, in the quantity they asked for when they need it. It’s really that simple. 

Productivity: When we talk about productivity, it’s really a matter of working with our teams to make sure that we’re doing the work that happens at our sites as efficiently as possible. We really need to understand our customers’ requirements and their volumes and make sure that our staffing levels and other resources match up with the work that needs to be done.  

Cost: For us to maximize our profitability and ultimately fuel the growth cycle; we need to focus on controlling and reducing our internal costs. This includes looking at what’s in the scope of control for the operations team, which is our labor, our equipment, and any purchased goods and services. 

We need to remain laser-focused on these four things all the time.”  

Q: Can you walk me through some of the roles and responsibilities of the people who are working on your team right now?

“On my team, there are three traditional ops directors – Maria Madrigal, Donn Pierce, and Billy Vance – who are responsible for our operations in California, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, and the Fox Valley (WI) 

We also have one what I would call “hybrid safety-operations director”, Ryan Hannam, who is responsible for several sites in Wisconsin and also leads our corporate Safety Program,  

Tom Keenan, who leads our customer service group, 

Dewey Bates who leads our transition team,  

Tara Pohlkotte who leads our lean program, 

And TJ McCarthy who’s our WMS and process lead. I’m truly thankful for the opportunity to work with a very talented and dedicated group.  

Q: Recently, we had a big team meeting about the future of fulfillment services. We identified several areas that we really would like to grow and improve on and highlight for our customers. You did a really great job of staying focused, staying organized, and helping steer the conversation in the right direction to come up with the next steps. Can you tell me about how you prioritize your time and the tasks that your effort is being put into?  

“I try to stay in touch and aligned with the rest of the senior leadership team to really understand what our goals and priorities are from a company standpoint. From there, it’s a matter of organizing that information, sharing it with the team, and honing in on the targets and initiatives that fall within our scope of control. 

Our goals and the work that we do are typically tied to the four components I talked about earlier: safety, productivity, quality, and costs. We set objectives in all four of those areas and establish metrics and targets that keep us moving in the right direction in terms of what our corporate goals and strategies are.” 

Q: In those four areas that you’ve identified, what’s the one that you’re most proud of right now?  

“It’s definitely our safety record. By far, it’s our top priority. And if you look at our safety results over the past five years, the ultimate metric is our OSHA incident rate, and that’s improved every year. That’s a trend we should all be proud of and something we will strive to continue over the next several years.” 

Q: What is another area that you would identify as a priority for driving growth and development as far as WSI’s vision to be the premier 3PL provider in North America? 

“Obviously, we need to stay focused on all four areas. But, when it comes to driving growth, it’s really about speed and flexibility when taking on new accounts, which probably falls under productivity. If we want to continue to grow, that’s our biggest opportunity.” 

Q: What are your biggest hopes for the company and how do you play a role in that? 

“My greatest hope for the company is something we’ve been talking about for quite a while now, and it’s really around growth. We’ve talked about a stretch goal of doubling our revenue; I’m confident that we’re building the internal capacity and capabilities that will be required to grow our business exponentially.  

As far as my and my team’s role in achieving this stretch target, it again ties back to our four key focus areas. It’s not only a matter of meeting and exceeding our annual objectives, but we need to be raising the bar every year. And during my initial three years here, we’ve seen exactly that. Most of the targets we’ve set, we’ve exceeded. And instead of using the same targets for the next year, we can, and we continue to, bump it up and really challenge ourselves to continue getting better.” 

Q: What do you think is the greatest challenge in your role right now? 

“I think it’s really a matter of resources right now. Number one, at our facilities, in the current environment, we’re having a difficult time hiring employees. We’re clearly in the middle of a major labor crisis –and every industry seems to be struggling to find employees. So that’s a huge challenge at the tactical level. 

Then, thinking about it more strategically, there’s just a lot of work that needs to be done. That’s when it comes down to resource allocation. And I think, in some cases, we might have to make the decision to bring on some extra resources to help with some of those things. But most of those questions are really around who’s going to do what.” 

Q: On the flip side, what do you see as your greatest strength? 

“I think our greatest strength is our people. I know that’s kind of a generic answer, but I think we have a great combination of smart and dedicated people and what I would describe as ‘diversity of experience’. We have a lot of folks that have been with WSI basically from the beginning. They’ve really seen it all when it comes to our business. On the flip side, we have people who have some very valuable external experience. All of that diversity is very helpful when we’re setting our vision and strategy, problem-solving, and sharing best practices across our network. That’s why I say it’s our biggest strength.” 

Q: Fun question: What did 10-year-old Jesse think he was going to be when he grew up? 

“So, believe it or not, I actually thought I was going to be an NBA basketball player and there’s a story behind that. Although the height gene passed me by, my dad is actually very tall. He played professionally over in Europe for a while and when I was growing up, I spent a lot of time in gyms, either watching him play or coach. So, for most of my youth, I was convinced that I was going to be as tall as my dad and with all the practice I was getting, it was only natural that I’d be in the NBA. I guess the unfortunate thing here is that I’m still waiting for that growth spurt – maybe 2022 will be the year!” 

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