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A-List Insights: Adrian Gonzalez (Part 1)

Welcome to A-List Insights!

A-List Insights is an interview series where we talk with industry thought leaders and experts about different topics surrounding logistics and supply chain – gathering their insights and experience firsthand.

Thought Leader: Adrian Gonzalez

Part 1 of 5

In this segment of our Insight Series we feature Adrian Gonzalez, a trusted advisor and leading industry analyst with more than 20 years of research experience in transportation management, logistics outsourcing, global trade management, social media, and other supply chain and logistics topics. He is the founder of the popular industry blog Talking Logistics; founder and president of Adelante SCM, a peer-to-peer learning and networking community for supply chain and logistics executives and young professionals; and founder of Indago, a market research service that brings together a community of supply chain and logistics practitioners who share practical knowledge and advice with each other while giving back to charitable causes.

Adrian is a frequent speaker at industry events and conferences, is regularly quoted in industry publications, and is a recognized LinkedIn Influencer with over 250,000 followers.

This is the first of a five-part series interview with Adrian. To provide context to the current climate, the entire interview was conducted in late March 2020, in the midst of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

Part 1: Industry Changes, Importance and Appeal

You’ve been around this industry for a long time. How has logistics and supply chain really changed in the last 20 years, or do you even think it has?

It’s changed significantly from all different angles. That’s the thing that makes this industry great and exciting and fun is that it’s always evolving. When I first started, if you look at it just from a technology side, back then we were talking about desktop applications and client/server applications, and things like software-as-a service was just beginning. People were just starting to talk about it, but in fact there was a lot of resistance early on from companies and IT departments because they were concerned about security and other things. Some software vendors were concerned about it too because it was a completely different business and revenue model. They were all used to getting these nice big multi-million dollar checks for software license and implementation fees.

Fast forward to today, and we’ve moved away from desktop and client/server applications and license fees and so forth, to software-as-a-service, cloud applications, mobile applications…so from a technology standpoint, we’ve seen a big transformation. If you look at it from a delivery standpoint, five-day delivery was the standard years ago and everyone was happy with that. But now the expectation is next-day delivery and that’s become the norm, with same-day delivery just around the corner.

We’ve also seen robots and more flexible automation systems being used in warehouses, as well as the convergence of business models between 3PLs, software vendors and consulting firms. You now have 3PLs offering their own transportation management systems, and visibility solutions and other technologies, while some software vendors are providing managed transportation services, so the line is blurring between ‘what is a 3PL?’, ‘what is a software vendor?’, and ‘what is a consultant?’

On the people front, 20 years ago if you would have said ‘data scientist’, everyone would have said ‘what are you talking about?’ That’s not something you would have seen people hiring for in the 3PL industry and in logistics departments at shippers. Today, however, “data scientist” is probably one of the hottest jobs in the industry…at 3PLs, manufacturers, retailers, and software companies…so that’s another aspect that’s changed a lot over the years.

The one sure thing moving forward is that we’ll continue to see change across all these fronts…technology, regulations, people, and business model fronts. And if anything, that change is accelerating, which is what makes this industry both exciting and challenging.

You started covering the industry as an analyst with ARC Advisory Group, is that correct?

That is correct.

And your career has obviously evolved since then, but you’ve always remained in this field of logistics. Now you just told me earlier that your background is actually engineering and you actually began your career as a product engineer. So why logistics? What has kept you interested in this field for so long?

That’s a great question. I’m going paraphrase a comment I heard a young professional say a few years ago. She had just received an award as a promising young professional or something to that effect, and when they gave her the award, she said a few words. She said ‘As I was thinking what to study and what career to pick, I wanted to get into a career and an industry where I knew every day was going to be different, where there’s a new opportunity and a new challenge.’ And that’s certainly true of supply chain and logistics. And I thought she really nailed it, because that really is so true! There’s always something going on in this industry.

Look right now. Even though it’s all relatively negative and challenging news going on with the pandemic, this is something we weren’t talking about three months ago, including myself. When thinking about predictions for 2020, none of us were talking about this — even those that recognize there are risks in the supply chain and that risk management is important.

When you look at the way things are unfolding, I laugh because if you would have said ‘Hey Adrian, if you had to predict if there’s a flu-like pandemic, what item do you think will spike in demand?’ I would have said medicines obviously, flu and cold medicines…people are going to be blowing their nose a lot so maybe tissues? I don’t think I would have thought of toilet paper!

But here we are. People are afraid of being confined to their houses and there’s this irrational fear of running out of toilet paper, and thus demand has spiked.

Three or six months from now, it might be something completely different. Hopefully better news, but there’ll be things to write about…things that supply chain professionals are struggling with or new opportunities that emerge out of all of this. So number one is there’s always something happening, always a new challenge, and a new opportunity that people have to navigate through, and that’s exciting.

Secondly, it’s the people. You hear this a lot about supply chain and logistics: despite all the technology and all the cool stuff, at the end of the day this is still a people business. I’ve had the opportunity to work with, over the past 20+ years, a lot of great people — at clients, at technology companies, at 3PLs, at manufacturers, at retailers — a lot of smart people. It’s great to see the industry come together when things like this [pandemic] happen. When you look at the role supply chain and logistics people play in the overall economy, in our everyday lives, and you get to meet these people, it’s just a great community to be a part of. I’ve made a lot of friends and met a lot of folks that have taught me a lot, and I’ve learned a lot just from interacting with them.

Look for Part 2 of our “A-List Insights” Series interview with Adrian Gonzalez where we discuss transport sustainability.

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