The Supply Chain industry has been changing quickly and dramatically in recent years. Fresh perspectives and innovative solutions are a must as we move forward in this new environment. Great leaders, in business and in life, learn from past experiences, absorb wisdom from other respected leaders, and aren’t afraid to think outside the box. WSI is in a uniquely privileged position. New leaders are making an impact at the organization while still benefiting from the wisdom and guidance of seasoned industry experts loyal to the company’s mission.
In this interview, WSI’s retired VP of Operations, Bill Lindeke, shares his insights on leadership, continuous improvement, and what it’s like working for one of the nation’s largest 3PLs. Bill retired earlier in 2021 after a careful transition with emerging leaders, Jesse Jones and Peter Davis.
Q: Now that you’re retired and closing that chapter in your professional book, what’s the synopsis? What has your career been like?
“I got my BS in Business Economics from UW Eau-Claire, then continued on to get my MS in Production Management from UW-Madison. I started my career at Kimberly-Clark in mid ‘84, and they started their supply chain folks in mill positions, mostly doing production planning. I worked at Kimberly-Clark for 27 years in a variety of roles.
I decided I wanted to make a company change back around 2011. I had worked with the WSI folks as they managed Kimberly-Clark’s DC in Jenks, Oklahoma. I joined WSI in 2011 as the VP of Sales, did that for a few years, then transitioned into the VP of Operations.
I retired about a month ago and I’m going to stay on part-time to work on projects.”
Q: What made you want to work for WSI?
“I wanted to work for WSI because I liked the way WSI treated their people. It’s important to work for a company where you enjoy your work AND the people you do it with.”
Q: What are your biggest takeaways from working for WSI?
“First, I’m very proud of the evolution of the safety culture. I think we’ve moved from having a very good safety mindset to now having outstanding results commensurate with our culture. Our number of incidents and our severity rates are significantly below industry averages; we’ve accomplished this by encouraging our teams to report everything, even if it seems insignificant, and then acting to remedy the issue.
I am also very proud of our improved financial reporting system. When I first got here, WSI had a very robust financial reporting system, but we did not have a system that spoke to the sites and asked, ‘How are the sites doing?’ Now, we’ve got significant reporting capabilities that will break down revenue and expenses by site and by customer. This allows us to act on improving our quality and customer service, as well as handle changes in scope with customers.
Finally, I’m excited about making WSI a desirable place to work for younger generations. We want to be able to provide more than a wage; we’d like to provide a career, not just a job. We’ve got to walk the talk about people being our most important asset, and I think we do a good job of that.
I’m excited about making WSI a desirable place to work for younger generations.“”
Q: How did the transition go from stepping down as a VP and “passing the torch” on to Peter Davis and Jesse Jones?
“Well, the company is growing, and the business landscape is more complicated. I think that to thrive and continuously improve in areas that are still pretty new to WSI, we must work as one team. Peter and Jesse are very well suited to lead in a team-based environment.
Jesse and Peter are doing a nice job adding the resources necessary to succeed with our expanding portfolio of services and a wider variety of customers. I think that their ability to listen and work together is going to be paramount to success. Both have proven to be good collaborators.”
Q: One of WSI’s challenges is also its greatest strength. I hear a lot that what customers love about WSI is that we are a fully integrated logistics provider. We can help with several different parts of the supply chain so that if a customer has a lot of moving pieces and they want it all under one roof, we can do that. Do you feel that we have made improvements already (with expansion)?
“We certainly have grown our business, technology platform, and customer base vertically and horizontally over the past few years. For example:
- The fulfillment business is expanding rapidly at several of our sites, commensurate with our growing capacity and capability,
- We built a Greenfield site in the Midwest last year to take care of the expanding needs of a major Agri-Chemical company,
- And we are currently installing a new, state-of-the-art Warehouse Management System across our network, improving our ability to add value and better deliver on our promise of ‘Condition, Count, and Time’ to our customers.
I believe we have grown with purpose. I think a real strength of ours is we move heaven and earth to take care of our customers. In order to assure we can continue to grow, we need to make sure that WSI is attracting top talent. Good people deliver good results! To that end, WSI is improving its succession planning and career development processes. We’re planning for the future and we’re planning for growth.”
We have grown with purpose.“”
Q: With what you just mentioned in mind, what do you believe is key to good, organic growth?
“Whether it’s organic or through acquisition, sustainable growth requires an ‘eyes wide open’ view; be very practical and assess not only the opportunities but the potential problems and making sure you have a contingency plan in place… We do a nice job with that.”
Q: Something we’ve heard from many customers is that they really appreciate WSI’s “make it happen” attitude, and we do have a motto of Absolute Reliability. Do you have any example of a time(s) where you have just “made it happen”?
“There are three or four distinct examples over the last eighteen months where we’ve had a customer call us and say, ‘One of your competitors, who also works in our system, has made a mess. Can you help us clean it up?’ We see ‘doing anything for our customers’ as a sort of mantra around here. ‘Absolute Reliability’ has been a tagline of WSI’s for 50 years, and that’s how we live it.”
Q: Do you have any advice for future leadership?
“I think if we’re going to grow in a more complicated environment and ‘spread our wings’ from a service and commodity expertise perspective, it’s crucial that we retain high-quality employees. Whether they drive a lift truck or are a CEO, you cannot underestimate the power of highly motivated people. Our ability to provide processes and support to keep people engaged is going to be crucial.”
Whether they drive a lift truck or are a CEO, you cannot underestimate the power of highly motivated people.“”
Q: Before we go, is there anything else you want to add?
“I would like to thank everybody that’s put up with me for the last ten years. Coming to WSI was easily the best career decision I’ve ever made.”
Q: Quick: What’s your favorite kind of music?
“I’m a big ‘Rush’ fan.”