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Future of Supply Chains Interview With Thom Campbell

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Capacity CSO Thom Campbell recently sat down to talk with Dustin Mattison from The Future of Supply Chains outlet. Dustin's interview with Thom is transcribed below, but you can also watch the video on the importance of experience and passion in supply chain management here.

Dustin Mattison (DM): It's nice to speak to you today, Thom, and today I'm looking forward to hearing your views, specifically about passion and having a passion for your clients' business. This is especially important in the service industry, so can you start by providing a little background and maybe a short story about your experience?

Thom Campbell (TC): Sure. Thanks, very much, Dustin, and thanks for the opportunity to speak with you. My background prior to going into supply chain and logistics in the past 15 years was in finance. I worked for Morgan Stanley for about 10 years, and I worked on both the investment banking side and the sales-and-marketing aspect of the business, as well as corporate governance.

I had a university classmate, Jeff Keaton, who is a civil engineer, and he and his father have designed warehouses—in his father’s case, since the mid-’60s. Jeff went to business school with our CFO and third partner, and they came up with the idea to start a third-party logistics business, which we did, and it’s called Capacity; it’s at CapacityLLC.com.

We offer third-party warehousing and order-fulfillment services, shipping orders to e-commerce consumers, EDI retailers, and anybody else the brands we work with wishes to ship to. We work with beauty, apparel, corporate clients ranging from ADP to Berkshire Hathaway, to Tarte cosmetics, Korres Natural Products, Weleda, and some other brands in various categories and verticals.

DM: Can you talk about why you believe it’s important to have a passion for your clients’ business in the industry?

TC: Well, we tried very hard to create a best-of-breed offering. The things we focused on, naturally, over time are fairly predictable. They’re technology, the people, the structure, and SOPs that you create around a supply chain process and service-oriented business.

One of the things we think really does distinguish a great provider from a good provider is that passion for a client’s business, for creating excellence in everything you do, and really, truly caring about your clients’ business, because of the amount of control you have over their success, or lack thereof, is unlike almost any other industry.

You are literally touching every product before it gets to their customer, whether it’s a retailer or a consumer, so you’re enormously aligned with them. Those brands that we get excited about are extremely passionate about their business. I have worked with George Korres from Korres Natural Products for almost 10 years. George is an admirable ambassador for his brand; he just loves the family and the Greek history of pharmacology that he comes out of.

The products that they create are truly innovative and truly interesting to their consumers and their retailers. We want to mirror that passion.

Thomas Campbell, CSO Capacity LLC

If we’re not aligned on the level of an intense commitment to delivering something that’s really excellent and really different, we’re not going to be easy to distinguish from our competitors. There are a lot of people in our space doing what we do, and it’s a very fragmented industry and it’s difficult to distinguish yourself because a lot of people really compete on price. They compete by having a lot of square feet, a lot of people, a lot of assets. That isn’t our business model.

We’re really interested in a non-asset-based value-added offering in which we can touch the product at whatever level of detail after the manufacturing stage to rework it for new channels, to repurpose it for anything from HSN to QVC to create gift presentations, to create sets, to create assortments, to do anything you need to do to your product once it’s in your warehouse so that you can help your business succeed.

Fulfillment Partners - Capacity Engineers in front of Tabelau data dashboard

Thom Campbell on Career & Passion

It was a little bit inadvertent to be honest with you. I was not passionate about the capital markets. I am not ashamed to admit that I enjoyed my time in finance very much and I learned a great deal, but I’ve learned a lot more owning and operating a business.

One of the reasons that I was attracted to supply chain is that I had been in what I like to call the method business of finance; you’re operating at a fairly abstract level.

I found that the things that I liked about finance the most were the relationships; either the relationships with really sophisticated institutional buyers like Yale University or Harvard, or individuals who had come up in the Louisiana oil fields and made their fortune or had sold a waste-carting business on Staten Island and made their fortune that way. I really like the people. I thought that aspect of finance was the most compelling to me, and the stories behind those people’s success are really what excited me.

In supply chain, I saw a way to get closer to some of those stories and to actually become part of the story.

I think that it’s very difficult to get passionate about something that’s abstract; maybe if you’re a high-end mathematician or physicist, you can do that, but I am not such a professional. I’m much more engaged by and with people, so finding people who had products that they wanted to get to market or to their companies is something that has really created that passion over time. It’s not something that you just spontaneously combust, and all of a sudden, you’re afire with passion; it’s more something that you have to learn about yourself over time.

What I came away from my career in finance thinking was, as long as I can engage with people whom I genuinely want to work with and with whom I share a set of values, I can do just about anything and enjoy it. I don’t think that supply chain is just about anything; I think it appeals to a very data-focused, kinda geeky subset. But once you figure out it’s you, it is a very compelling platform for exploring relationships with people.

DM: Do you have any recommendations for other budding supply chain professionals who want to zero in on their passion for the field?

Sure. If you already know that you’re in that unique subset of professionals that is supply chain-focused, I think you’re well on your way. Most of the supply chain professionals I know are really passionate. I used to have employees at Morgan who would move to other firms for what I considered relatively small incremental financial benefit. I have seen people in supply chain who stick with a company they really believe in for 10, 15 years.

There’s an incredible dedication to it. If you have already got that you’re on your way. If you are interested in figuring out what your passion is, I think you need to get exposure to as many different areas of supply chain as possible. There are a lot of high-value-added opportunities, and there are a lot of fields that are viewed as more commodity offering.

For example, freight forwarding is viewed as a bit of a commodity offering, but, in fact, it’s incredibly value-added. If you cannot develop really strong relationships with your customers and your carriers and, most importantly, execute, you’re going to have a very hard time differentiating yourself. Discovering your niche in any industry is really critical. If you’re looking for a niche in supply chain, I think you want to look at the broadest possible range of activities from X works or postmanufacturing all the way to the point of delivery to the customer, and think carefully about what aspect of all of that appeals to you most.

For example, I used the example earlier in finance. One of the things I really liked in finance was working with private clients or smaller institutions because they had a little bit more personality. Some people I knew really enjoyed working with the large institutions; they liked the big numbers, they liked the big deals; that are what got them up in the morning and fed their passion.

I think it’s just important to get the exposure to the different sides of the business and the different legs of transportation for manufacturing to customer so that you can figure out where your passion lies.

DM: Thank you, Thom Campbell, for sharing your views today on both supply chain professionals and how they can develop a career based on passion in this sector.

TC: Thank you very much, Dustin, I really appreciate the opportunity.