Q&A: Tim Gomez, CEO of Dixon Ticonderoga
June 24, 2014
Earlier this year, Logistics Management Group News Editor Jeff Berman conducted an on stage interview with Tim Gomez, CEO of pencil manufacturer Dixon Ticonderoga at the NASSTRAC Shippers Conference and Transportation Expo in Orlando, Florida.
Berman and Gomez had an insightful conversation focused on myriad aspects of how Dixon runs its supply chain and logistics operations, many of which were featured in the October 2013 edition of Logistics Management, which featured Dixon Ticonderoga as the 2013 NASSTRAC Shipper of the Year. Other topics focused on moving from logistics operations to the CEO’s office, which Gomez has done at his company, global exporting, and what shippers need to do to get their voices heard on important industry-related issues, among others. A transcript of the conversation is below.
Logistics Management (LM): In recent years, the concept of logistics as a career path continues to gain traction. What’s more, in some cases, like yours it has paved the way to a C-Level position. Given your experience and rise through the ranks at Dixon Ticonderoga, what in your opinion makes logistics a good launching off point for the C-level?
Tim Gomez: Having worked in Fortune 100 Companies the better part of my career I cannot really speak to it as a launching point. However, I feel it is a very good launching point for small-to-medium-sized companies. I say this because in smaller companies you tend to be more flat with your management layers and especially so in a company that requires heavy logistics such as Dixon Ticonderoga Company. Usually in a situation like that there is one primary person that becomes mission control for the company where as everything funnels through that person in order for the company to achieve the necessary results. When that situation happens for an individual it is a terrific opportunity as a catalyst to ones career because you get to know the business at the most intimate level. Over time the results tend to get attributed to that person due to their leadership…BUT……reality is a person in that type of position has to also be an excellent communicator, team player, strategist, and focused on common goals and results. Bringing that all together still requires a strong team in place to support the execution. It would be wrong for me to say I got this opportunity because everything funneled through me. It would be correct to say we implemented a plan as a team where as I simply helped aligned our strengths to exploit the opportunities so we could get better in the near term as well as long-term potential.
LM: As a follow-up, how do you view logistics as a career path? Are things moving in the right direction in terms of getting more people interested in it or does more need to be done? In other words, what is working well on this front and what is not working well?
Gomez: I remember in the late 90’s a heard on more than a few occasions we were referred to as a dying breed. I think that mainly stemmed from the thought that manufacturing was drying up in the USA going to low cost countries. I never really agreed with that thinking and took a more philosophical approach. I feel logistics professionals of today had to evolve…and by the way, they have done so. Logistics profession has become more of business managers of the Value Stream. Meaning they are more closely linked to supply and demand than any other function I can think of in a business. They have to have an eye towards what is required of the customers, they have to have an eye towards inventory on hand, and then they have to have an eye towards planning with suppliers in order to ensure the incoming logistics match up with the demand side. A lot of organizations have made this adjustment and so have the logistics professionals I’ve encountered but for sure in 10-to-15 years ago what I describe was very fragmented across industries.
What I think is not working well at the moment is IT solutions that can link this all together. Instead ERP systems are sorely behind schedule to keep up with the dynamics I describe. It may exist but it hasn’t been accepted yet. I see a significant gap to orchestra the logistics to be real time, cloud based for the mobile and on the go type business, and a lack of a common platform to make it easy to do business with across customers.
LM: One of the main objectives of this conference has to do with advocacy, with NASSTRAC fully committed to getting shippers and their carrier partners actively involved in getting their message out to Congress to fully communicate the myriad issues impacting freight transportation, supply chain, and logistics, whether it be highway funding, HOS, among other things. As a shipper, what needs to be done more effectively by shippers and carriers to further push the dialogue ahead in a constructive manner to get things done?
Gomez: I cannot speak from a carrier perspective but being in an industry such as pencils most people don’t know it, but we are highly regulated with Anti-dumping duties. I spend a great deal of my time chasing competitors and customers that tend to play in the gray area of Trans-shipments. The U.S. government does very little proactively to create level playing field for those playing by the rules so for me I am supportive of a more collaborative effort between shippers and carriers to keep our goals aligned.
LM: When we spoke before the conference, you mentioned how Dixon Ticonderoga is focusing on global exporting, with a major facet of that being driven by acquiring global companies, while still thinking very “domestically” as a company a lot of the time. You explained that Dixon is crossing into a new transition now and looking globally to export to countries like the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Australia, China, and Korea, which is something Dixon has not done before. That said, what do you have to do to prepare for that next step as an evolution of the company as it becomes a truly global company with a presence on every continent? Also, how do you tap into the strengths of the NASSTRAC community to help identify what makes sense to be successful in these places in the next five years?
Gomez: This is a very good question. I can talk very candidly about our past and present but our future potential we are just getting started. Like what we did with UPS with our “White Board Planning” efforts a few years back, we need to do it again for exports. Our brand is becoming more global with our distribution and we have to become better with exporting from multiple global manufacturing locations. It is a work in process at the moment and we are at the starting point. I’m sure our NASSTRAC partners are going to help rescue me from this new predicament. I’m not too proud to say we are definitely going to need help.
LM: In regards to your presentation at the conference, you made a lot of great points about what Dixon needed to do in order to turn its logistics operations around. One of those points had to do from reducing its core carrier base from nearly 15 to 4. Can you please explain what led to this decision and how things have improved from both an efficiency and cost management perspective?
Gomez: Common sense will tell you if there at too many hands in the kitchen nothing gets down in a timely manner, which ultimately leads to higher costs as well. You have to streamline, simplify, and go lean to reduce the waste in the process. Working with fewer carriers allows you to better align your resources to support service levels and ultimately align your demand and supply chain to cut inventory, labor due to better scheduling, and becoming overall more predictable with your service levels.
LM: A major theme of the October 2013 Logistics Management cover story featuring Dixon Ticonderoga as the NASSTRAC Shipper of the year had to do with the processes the company needed to change in order to better effectively link its Mexico City-based production facility to transportation. Can you please walk us through that situation and explain the steps taken to streamline things for the better?
Gomez: This project really speaks volumes to me about the trust I’ve gained in my partners at UPS. When we did our White Board Planning a few years back they helped me recognize where we could take advantage of the strengths of my carrier partners on the inbound and outbound freight. The end result they unselfishly agreed to was that Old Dominion was better set-up to serve my purposes for what we call our “Inbound Freight Milk Run.” I gained a tremendous respect for both these organizations because their genuine interest in providing a solution to us was the biggest priority. It’s hard to build trust without experience and for sure they have earned ours.
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