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- Improving logistics services through direct connectivity
- Process optimization and technology to improve efficiency and customer experience
- Challenges of relying on outdated technology
Chris Jamroz is the Executive Chairman of the Board and CEO at Roadrunner. Chris is a highly experienced executive focused on creating shareholder value through active executive management of portfolio companies in transportation, logistics and cyber security. Before coming to Roadrunner, Chris served in executive roles at Emergent Cold, STG Logistics, and Garda Cash Logistics.
Brian Glick 00:04
Welcome to Supply Chain Connections. I'm Brian Glick, founder and CEO at Chain.io. On this episode, we're going to do something very interesting. We're going to talk about how to resurrect the fallen giant. Our guest today is Chris Jamroz, who is the executive chairman and CEO at Road Runner and Ascent Global Logistics, since we recently had somebody from Ascent on the show with Morrow, and you can go back and listen to previous episodes we're gonna spend today talking about Road Runner. As a little bit of background to this, and we touched on the show, Chris joined Roadrunner at a very difficult time in their history. And we're going to learn quite a bit about what it takes to approach a company that may be at the end of the road, no pun intended, and bring them forward into the future. So I hope you enjoy the episode.
Brian Glick 00:59
Chris, welcome to the show.
Chris Jamroz 01:01
Thank you very much for having me.
Brian Glick 01:02
So let's just start with a little bit of background, tell me a little bit about how you got into the industry and why.
Chris Jamroz 01:09
It's a bit of a convoluted path, right? It's an immigrant from Poland, I know ran away from home when I was 15, nearly 16. And then through France, England, Canada, and I found that ended up in my beloved United States, which has always been a dream of mine. And since then, I started in investment banking with, you know, some sort of mainstream firms. And then incidentally, as a banker, I was asked by one of our clients, investment banking clients, whose company was kind of in a bit of a technical bankruptcy to see if I could step away from being an advisor and consultant and actually be an honest operator. And he kind of he paved the path to an honest way to make a living as he phrased it. And I walked in and, you know, from having a corner office on the, you know, top floor of one of AAA buildings in Toronto, and managing a franchise, major franchise of investment banking, I worked. Then I got an office tucked in at the mezzanine level of a warehouse overlooking a bunch of armoured trucks, and then P and D routes. And that's how my adventure with logistics started turning around armoured truck businesses and then becoming effectively a logistician.
Brian Glick 02:22
So I've seen executives who go in and they'll do a turnaround that they will fix up and then they just end up doing another one in a completely different industry. And they see they don't care about what business they're in. But you've stayed in this space. So what was interesting to you what made you stick around in logistics?
Chris Jamroz 02:41
I remember when my undergrad there was a visiting professor that came and asked if anybody knew what logistics meant. And obviously, being a keen student I was I was the handler is the ability to think logically. And he said, Well, funny. You should say that because actually is exactly the opposite of moving freight. And I was most confident I just could understand like, how like, this makes no sense. And I think I kind of found my niche. And this is number seven, Roadrunners number seven on my resume, all of them were sort of wounded puppies to a certain degree, then I've developed this sentiment and love for aspect of movement, I, you know, I'm a kind of a high energy person myself, I love the kinetic energy and movement, right. And I'm fascinated. And I've always been fascinated, like, why and how those things that you know, some, you find a textile in Far East that you want to use in a factory somewhere and then produce and sell it in the market far far away, and how that complex supply chain gets executed. And how many things can go horribly wrong along the way. It's been sort of a bit of a passion of mine for the last, you know, decade and a half.
Brian Glick 03:53
Wow, as someone else has been in the industry a long time, I will tell you that. Behind every shipment that arrives is a million mistakes that were made along the way, every single time. So I get it. I think we all get excited about the same thing. Well, you said you like wounded puppies, but some might argue that this last one was more like a dying bear than a wounded puppy. Why would you for those people who don't know Roadrunner when Chris Jordan is coming off of the back of, let's say some very tumultuous times. Why would you take on that challenge?
Chris Jamroz 04:27
Listen, first of all, as I mentioned to you...
Brian Glick 04:29
How insane Are you?
Chris Jamroz 04:30
That's a very fair question. So first of all, you know, I'm a Polish guy in Chicago and rode around in Chicago, and so it's trucking. So that's a par for the course number two. I think the most famous last words any Pollock says before they die is you think I can't do it. Hold my beer. So this is how I got roped into this. It's definitely was the most challenging turnaround I've ever done in my life. And this, as I mentioned is number seven and all of them required some sort of divine intervention. And to ensure successful well being in the past, so this has been particularly humbling. I've never seen anything as broken across every part of the organisation, every functional area and vertical, every layer. But what I did see was just an immense unbreakable spirit of the people. And I saw the relevance of the OTL industry, which is I have to admit is unlike anything I've ever seen before, I couldn't believe that you could inflict so many wounds upon yourself, that 30 alginate, the entire customer base in salt, everyone with your service, and yet have customers come in every day and entrust you with the cargo. So the need and the relevance of the LTL space was just so profoundly visible to me that I felt this business and definitely the people deserve the chance to give it ourselves the best shot and see what we can make out of it. And at the end of the day, I never believe it's the people's fault is always the leadership failure. So I think we fix that. And you know, we've been busy for the last three years. Oh, my gosh.
Brian Glick 06:03
So when you come in and everything's broken, and I'm sure we've even though this people are great, their spirit probably wasn't that high, kind of where do you start? Like, how did you start thinking about fixing it?
Chris Jamroz 06:15
But Roadrunner was a sort of a roller blot as David Ross, at that time of Steve Hall. Nicholas told me that, you know, he said, like, Chris, if you touch it, and it lives for another 60 days, that's about 30 days more than anybody would give it. And, you know, it was, you looked at the very complex structure of mergers and acquisitions and predominantly acquisitions that have not been merged in any way, shape, or form. And you start paying attention to, you know, what is the core of the business and, you know, you're very familiar with the centre and the centre was nothing but a group of sort of three PL look like logistics businesses that we sort of piled up together, and we spun out as a private business that since then, as you know, has been extremely successful. And then we started looking at an appealing of delay and delay and the layer of businesses that may have been acquired just doesn't belong with the LTL premise. And we want it I want to, really, my vision was to get to the pure LTL play and just say, Okay, if this is that remarkable LTL business, and by the way, I didn't really know what LTL meant, at that time. Now I do, which means less than likely to go perfect. And then, since then, we've got to the course is just stripping like the layer for layers paint by the festing furniture, so think businesses, and getting to the core of what it is, which is, you know, that direct trucking business point to point which is kind of amazing. And that in itself, which was not an easy process took us nearly 910 months to get to the bottom, it just it gave the breath of fresh air to business because there was no further distractions, and people can focus on what Rhonda used to do very well, which was you know, transport freight in a very check of trustworthy and confident passion.
Brian Glick 08:02
So I don't want to turn this into a roadrunner commercial. But I am curious to ask this question. So you peel everything back. And now you've got this LTL core? What did you guys look at and say and this is why Road Runner is the LTL company that people should move their freight with, like what became what's the value prop after you take all that other stuff away?
Chris Jamroz 08:24
You know, there was an interrupt running. And that step was going to the customers going internally to people and asking, Okay, what do you think we do here stupidly, and boy, did they give us a list and when we look at the lesson, we scrutinise these items in we kind of set aside exactly what we're doing. You just we couldn't be doing this in the worst possible way that we were when we started to sort of untangle the mess we were no longer breaking down pallets because that's somebody along the way I thought that'd be a great idea to increase cube utilisation you know by breaking down pilot freight and you know, customers love that when they give you a pilot and they just can find it scarcely across 15 terminals across two countries and so forth. So we kind of started on doing the mistakes and empowering the people who have been in the fabric or the DNA of the company for you know, in many instances for decades and they did remember the original premise of the business and then you know, we started investing in upgrading our talent and building processes and in creating feedback loops and saying okay, what went wrong this time? And we've gone through a lot of this and customers have patiently on with us through these and yeah it's just always about building the process the driving comfortability in kind of trying to see you know, listening to the people listening to your customers and they will tell you what they want it to do and they will definitely be very vocal about things they do not want you to do.
Brian Glick 09:53
Yeah, I would imagine getting up and on that listening to her every day and hearing it was probably a mo rationally, not the easiest thing in the world.
Chris Jamroz 10:02
I've heard, I've walked into any customer that looked at the two years was just basically sitting out being yelled at. But you know, counsel with the territory, right? If you own it the business the way we do, which we do own it, in a kind of both psychological and economic sense, you do want to listen, and you do want to take responsibility, because a lot of customers always will bet on an underdog, they will bet they will favour a fallen angel, as long as they feel that there is a real sense of contrition, if there is a sense of, you know, commitment to get better. And it's not just an empty promise. And you know, it's not another Wind Bag of, you know, hey, under new administration, this time, this stuff will not make you sick, then if you kind of commit to systemic improvements, if you commit to making things and to us, it was you know, you asked me a direct question, what is the value proposition that was to see the point of, you know, a bit of an undeserved market, right, you have, you know, first of all, it's a market that has not experienced a new entrant in the last 35 years, 36 years this year, with some, you know, incredible barriers to entry, which are, you know, a little bit tough to comprehend for a newcomer like I was, because at the end of their phone, it's just, well, you just have a truck, it's a lot more complicated than that. It's cost prohibitive to try to replicate the national footprint of actual terminals. But the end of the day, you do have a number of phenomenally well run carriers who offer regional national service and etc. But what we did notice that even the best in class people, they do not connect the points, different points in the country directly, what they do, they route the freight through a very well executed network of hubs and spokes and through shuttle services. And that is great. And people do extremely well. But it does not necessarily serve folks who needed that kind of direct, you know, straight shoot connectivity from LA to Chicago, LA to New York, Seattle, to Atlanta, and so forth. And in this business, as we now know, less than likely for everything to go perfect. What you do have, every time the forklift touches that pallet or the power needs to reverse that through that 125 feet of crosstalk, something goes wrong. And if you reduce those number of handles and repackaging and re handles you reduce the risk of freight being damaged, or things gone missing, etc. That's what defined Roadrunner This is what was our go to market strategy, go with us, we're going to do it directly. We're going to run teams, we can run non stop, you're not going to have a hub and spoke. And you know, if you want to get from LA to Chicago in one day, give it to us on Friday, we're going to have it at your point of delivery by Monday morning. And that's effective, what we committed to, we continue to execute and gradually overcome the scepticism and the hesitation from the customers have all heard it before. They all have seen numerous executives stand in front of them promising the different things but its commitment to that, you know, the sense of contrition and commitment to systemic data driven processes and strict execution. I think that's what's kind of winning for us in the market.
Brian Glick 13:04
You just said the word data in front of a tech CEOs and I have to ask, I would imagine that when you apply a different model, the tech in the marketplace probably doesn't fit very well then what have you guys had to do on the tech front to make this reel?
Chris Jamroz 13:20
So it's funny because for a sub segment of the broader industry, right, when you think about LTL, being like 10% of the truckload industry or so, you would imagine that, you know, whatever the players are carriers do within that narrow band market, it's would be very similar. No, every carrier is distinctly different. And if you tried to apply a lesson that may have worked beautifully extra carrier, what? Well, then you're going to be standing. And there's going to be a beautifully mushroom shaped cloud brewing behind your back because it would have ended up in tears. So you're correct, you're absolutely correct. There's no off the shelf solutions. There is nothing that can be standardised in those this is such an archaic industry, my good lord, people still deliver your piece of paper. And you know, there's this big push towards electronification of the bill of lading. Just imagine just the low tech of the low tech of industry. So what we did, we brought in a bit of a psychopath with a strong background in artificial intelligence working with NASA working with utility companies or enforcing the American energy grid through utilisation of artificial intelligence, and I saddled him in the seat of head of technology and operations. And I asked him to fix it now. He's my younger brother. So there was an ulterior motive to put in there.
Brian Glick 14:41
So you don't like him very much.
Chris Jamroz 14:43
I do love him. But I've been waiting for the opportunity to get back in for a long time. And it came in the form of a beautiful Roadrunner. So he effective started to build everything internally. We also engage a lot of partners right and looked at certain systems that may have been used successfully by our carriers with a very high degree of customization, we've developed our own machine learning algorithms to an extent off of the artificial intelligence which you know, feeds of, you know, statistically viable data set. So we can feed in this as much data as we can, as we increase the volume of our business and the scope of our and breadth of our reach with customers. And so we kind of really looked at things that really mattered. So first, we build the processes, because technology in itself is not a solution, right? It's just if you have a poorly orchestrated process of none of it at all, you're going to just make things go wrong a lot faster with no manual intervention. So you always sit down south or want to reduce the labour intensity of the task, or sometimes that Labour intensity is your safety net. And if you get rid of yourself of that, then you can wake up to a lot of disasters. So we've avoided that. But we've focused on designing the processes, we're looking at the enhancing enablement, and the throughput efficiency of this process, we put our doc automation across our network throughput doc scanning across. First of all, there was just bit of the catch up to the best in classes, there's nothing particularly innovative, it was just huge difference for Road Runner, which was still kind of completely paper based model when we inherited and then subsequently went to kind of getting stopped, there is a lot more sexy, such as you know, creating our whole now app, which is, you know, by functionality, ranks and beats will prefer that, and it provides, you know, our drivers with everything they need to do with self dispatching with picking out the lanes that want to run and seeing how much they're gonna make effectively just having full documentation, the complete, you know, business office of a trucker on the road in the palm of the hand. And that was probably the most significant one from pure technology perspective, but then, you know, reinforcing a lot of things from, you know, cybersecurity that we all have to be vigilant about, we know, the stakes there. And everything else that includes, you know, that we can start executing things like, you know, today's announcement of guaranteed service and the ability to kind of, you know, route parallel services and deal with any claims that, you know, hopefully we'll won't have any but you know, if it needs to be fairly effective, so a lot of sort of first, you know, catching up, and then kind of focusing things. And you know, the one thing that we are the most proud of now is our route Max dispatch software that's being rolled out nationwide and effectively shaving, you know, gazillions of man hours of manual planning, of pickup and delivery routes, doing this through algorithmic functionality, so that a lot of exciting stuff.
Brian Glick 17:41
When you took over Road Runner, it was too much stuff, too many acquisitions, all of this noise, you get it down to the core, there's always a temptation, when you're being successful to then go, start getting bloated, again, everyone has a new idea, right? rates are down now. But when rates are up, everybody's a genius, right? And everybody wants to go have a new idea. Let's go buy that. Let's go expand, oh, well, we can do this, why don't we just buy an airline? Right? Like, all these kinds of things? How do you guys maintain that discipline to not end up back as a kind of bloated monster,
Chris Jamroz 18:15
I think that ones have not quite healed yet. You know, the scars are still fresh, the humility is profound. The customers do remind us, you know, that we always as good as the last piece of freight movement have we ever executed? You know, I always say that everybody loves to pick up the meaning because they just such a phenomenal operator. But you know, nobody gets fired for hiring all dominion, right? Oh, the mean, could, you know, probably mess up, you know, hundreds of freight moves. And you know, it'd be met with just, you know, people shrug it off, we mess up once. I mean, this is just escalation all the way to my inbox within, you know, 15 milliseconds. So I think that we need to have the benefit of time as I think we sort of the sense of mishaps past needs to be fully recycle. I think we are kind of one for economic frayed cycle away from getting a fear of arrogance kind of walking in or overjoyed of creativity, to be modelling our kind of crisp grip on the reality that we collectively have today.
Brian Glick 19:19
So that's a question I sort of like to ask everybody, which is, if you could fix something industry wide, as opposed to inside your company. What's the thing that is holding us all back? In your opinion?
Chris Jamroz 19:33
I think dominated technologies, I think is even electronification of the bill of lading which is you know, there's this holy grail that all eyes are pinned on that and kind of understanding that we are all part of a supply chain, the provides room for just anybody to be as good as we all want to be. You know, there's always this little petty competitiveness urges that I see a tonne flare up and such a wonderful industry but with limitations that we have, which is why can't we just get on well together and collaborate and put collective intellectual horsepower to the benefit of the customer for, you know, simplification of doing business with us as a collective. And, you know, there's some very notable initiatives right now through the digital Council. And we obviously passionate about that, but it's just, you know, what I think is missing is that kind of a win win mentality on your invitation that is just you know, that we could be part of the tide that raises all the boats. And, you know, it's quite inspiring to me, particularly as a newcomer, who I've never been burdened by decades and decades of rivalry, and some historical context, etc. And maybe I'm oversimplifying that but I truly believe that working together as an industry on kind of fixing certain idiosyncrasies could benefit customers and kind of simplify unnecessarily complex and complicated supply chain.
Brian Glick 20:57
Awesome. And I guess counter side to that or the other side, what has you excited, what gets you out of bed in the morning,
Chris Jamroz 21:04
the sense of the momentum that we've built and we accelerating you know, today for Roadrunner to offer guaranteed service? Who would have thought Who would have thought, you know, when I go back to all the folks who kind of wide eyed when I announced that, you know, Roadrunners The new station, or the new home base, who would have thought that the company would ever be functional, or capable of delivering service forget about on time, but guaranteeing and in a way that it's a full guarantee, right? It's like if we do something we do it, like we mean it. I mean, it's like, if we don't deliver, it's not just a little thing that you get back, you just move your freight for free with us. So those kinds of things and opening new markets, and seeing partners come up to us and asking us to help them and join forces and opening new markets and new lanes, and new customers calling us and say, Well, you know, three years ago, I was a never Road Runner, and now I'm becoming your ambassador. Those things are just so positive. Because you see the momentum, you see the positive changes, see that people are walking taller around the office and becoming not the only one wearing the Road Runner branded garment, the corporate propaganda you see the folks kind of, you know, just proudly displaying the roadrunner logo, the new logo, which is fantastic. And on the social media posts on the weekends, you kind of see that we winning the battles for the hearts and minds of our own employee cohort, winning the customer battle, we're getting better. It's just exciting stuff for logisticians like me who like to think logically,
Brian Glick 22:36
that's how you got me fired up enough that I'm about to go open up another browser tab and then go to apply for a job. So I have to see what's out there for me. I don't know how qualified I am anymore to actually do real work. But let's see what we can figure out you to code. Again, it's pleasure having you on and you know, we'll put the links to Road Runner and all the details in the announcement in the show notes. And again, just thanks so much for being here.
Chris Jamroz 22:56
Thank you so much for having me. It's such a delight to be your guest today. Thank you.
Brian Glick 23:02
Thanks so much to Chris for sharing all of that insight. You know, it's not common in this industry, to be able to talk to someone who is so open and obviously passionate about what they're doing and wish Chris Roadrunner all the best. We'll have some links in the show notes to the announcement on their product offering as well as the Road Runner in general, and I look forward to speaking with you next time on supply chain connections.