Training the Next Generation of Supply Chain Leaders

Ruan focuses on recruiting and training to ensure its supply chain's competitive advantage


The recruitment program, which Mulvenna runs — and funds — through the training department that he heads, aims to bring in about 15 new employees each year and put them on a management track. Ruan derived its target recruiting numbers from an analysis of the company's projected growth and the attrition rate within its own workforce. In addition, the company wanted to limit the number of candidates brought into the program both to ensure the high quality of the candidates but also to ensure that it would have positions in which to place the recruits as they complete their training. "If you develop too many leaders and don't have opportunities to keep in front of them, they're going to leave you," Mulvenna notes. "We're really looking to develop long-term relationships with these folks."

Looking for Leaders

Ruan focuses its recruiting efforts on drawing in students from colleges and graduate school programs, bringing in former military personnel, and attracting transportation industry veterans. Mulvenna looks to recruit students out of the transportation and logistics programs at such universities as Iowa State, Northwestern and Arizona State, although he also considers graduates of general business programs at schools like the University of Iowa. His philosophy, shaped by his own 25 years serving in the U.S. Army as a combat arms officer, is to look, first, for candidates that have exhibited leadership potential, possibly through participation in extracurricular activities such as student government or athletics.

On the military side, Mulvenna leverages his service background and looks for candidates with logistics or transportation experience, but, again, he also pays attention to the types of responsibilities that they assumed in their military career. "I can analyze very quickly, given my experience, whether or not they had actual leadership experience that rises to the level that I'm interested in," Mulvenna says. Finally, Ruan looks at candidates from the industry, including both professionals who have worked in the transportation sector, as well as those who have done stints within the different industry verticals that Ruan serves such as retail, steel and grocery. "We have such a large diversity in our customer base," Mulvenna notes, "that sometimes folks from those customer sectors are a good fit for us."

The recruits accepted into the program go into a four- to six-month onsite training period at a local terminal operation with the goal of becoming a terminal manager. The program is largely task-based; participants have a critical task list comprised of the key skills and jobs that a terminal manager must understand to be effective. The list starts with the driver's duties, and candidates do ride-alongs to understand how Ruan's drivers perform their duties on a daily basis, how they interact with customers, fill out their logs, do their pre- and post-checks for maintenance, buy their fuel and so on. Then the recruits progress up through the dispatch or transportation supervisor function, regarded as the first line of leadership within the company, before learning how the terminal manager ties the operations together. "The terminal manager really hits the foundation of skills that we require: customer service, leadership, taking care of your people, the financial aspects, and the safety and maintenance aspects," Mulvenna says.

In addition to the field training, the recruits also go through a three-week classroom training curriculum that covers the various basic business aspects of Ruan's operations. Run on a quarterly basis in Des Moines, the curriculum is comprised of a one-week leadership and management course to give the students a broader perspective on Ruan's business; a course on effective communication that covers presentation skills and business communications; and a two-day leadership problem-solving and decision-making seminar aimed at helping the recruits understand Ruan's strategic goals and how their own activities align and support those goals. "We're focusing on getting everyone in the company to understand how they contribute to the larger picture," Mulvenna explains. "Because the challenge in any organization is to synchronize the strategic plan all the way to the individuals who are executing it, and for us that means the drivers."

Although Mulvenna heads up the program, he coordinates closely with Ruan's regional vice presidents on recruitment and training. In fact, candidates go through a two-phase interview process, first with Mulvenna, who identifies the talent and does the initial screening, and then a follow-up interview in Des Moines with an operational vice president. The choice of which candidate is placed in which terminal is then coordinated with the regional vice presidents, who are responsible for between five and 15 terminals. "The regional vice presidents are responsible for business development within their regions in conjunction with the sales force," Mulvenna notes. "But they also interact with their terminal managers to lead them and mentor them, and they're going to guide them through those first critical years within our organization. So they have to embrace this program in order for it to be successful."

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