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A-List Insights: Nick Najjar (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: Nick Najjar

Part 1 of 6

In this segment of our Insight Series we feature Nick Najjar, Director of Distribution Planning at Land O’ Lakes, Inc. Nick has been a supply chain professional with the company since 2010, holding several positions across the logistics organization on the network design and analytics, transportation, and warehousing teams. Prior to his current role, Nick led transportation operations and procurement for all three Land O’ Lakes’ business units, and was responsible for enhancing the customer experience and championing innovation and visibility initiatives in the transportation space and last mile logistics.

Nick has been a speaker at the Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference, the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals Annual Conference, and has been interviewed and featured across several industry publications including Logistics Management, The Global Cold Chain Alliance’s Cold Facts, and Freightwaves.

Before joining Land O’ Lakes, Nick served 5 years as a US Army officer, completing combat tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This is the first of a six part series interview with Nick. To provide context to the current climate, the entire interview was conducted in early May 2020, in the midst of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

Part 1: Industry Appeal and Importance

Tell me a little bit about your background in logistics and why your interest and career are in supply chain.

It kind of happened in a roundabout way. I did the military between college and where I am currently at Land O’ Lakes, so it happened in an accidental way. My educational background is political science and because I knew after college I was going into the military, I just studied something that I liked and I was branched as a logistics officer in the Army. So, I did that for 5 years, liked what I did, deployed a couple of times, and decided 5 years of that was going to be enough. I wanted to work a civilian job and move home here [Minneapolis].

As I was going through the separation process, things like operations management and manufacturing were where my military skills were most translatable. You gain leadership and management skills in spades very, very early in your career in that environment, so I knew that’s what I had to parlay to a civilian employer. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going to do it, whether it was going to be in manufacturing or in a warehouse somewhere.

As it happened, it was a very limited job market at that point – it was 2010 coming out of the recession. I ended up getting a job as a transportation operation lead at Land O’ Lakes and the rest is history.

I like the business that we are in, food and agriculture. It’s never been more apparent to me how essential they are than in the midst of the COVID pandemic where we’ve renewed our perspective on what businesses are truly essential. I like the culture of our company. I love the people. And I’ve been constantly challenged with different parts of the business through the supply chain.

I started in transportation as an ops lead, started to take on a little bit more and more over the course of a few years there…I took on some of the transportation procurement, a mode of the transportation procurement team…took some time as an analyst, and then moved over to do some other things.

I moved on to our strategy and network design team to do predominantly work around transportation simulation, working with tools like Llamasoft and routing optimization modeling tools, and developed the transportation costing strategies and modeling strategies that we now use as commonplace and have evolved since. I did that for about a year and a half, and then made my first foray into warehousing.

There was actually a network consolidation that we had proved out on some of the analytics work I was involved in, that I had the opportunity to go implement as project manager. It was an M&A consolidation and a network consolidation in conjunction with a warehouse move, so I was able to model it on the analytics side, prove out the efficiency and savings, and then go over and actually figure out how we were going to operationalize the darn thing.

After the project, I stayed in Dairy Foods for another two years and managed our warehousing operations team. In 2018 I went right back to transportation and led the transportation team from 2017 to 2019. In the middle of last year [2019], I jumped to the planning organization and took over our finished goods and inventory management planning team as of last August. So…multiple stops…both in the different functional areas of supply chain — predominantly at this point transportation and warehousing — a foot in analytics, and now getting deeper and deeper into planning.

So, I’ve been across all those functional areas and, from assignment to assignment, had the opportunity to work with each of our three business units, being: the core dairy foods business; Winfield United, our agricultural services and crop inputs business; and Purina Feed. If the question is what keeps me engaged, it’s largely the ability to work across all three business units for our company, and getting to continually touch a different piece of supply chain.

Look for Part 2 of our “A-List Insights” Series interview with Nick Najjar where we discuss the unique and shared challenges of enterprise food manufacturers.

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