People, Process and Technology (But Mostly People)

arch thomasonExecutive Viewpoint

Over the past 15 years, Sunland Logistics Solutions has grown from a small, local company with 75 total employees—most of them temporary—to a national third-party logistics provider serving Fortune 500 organizations in warehousing and transportation. We now have 14 sites and a high-performance team of about 1,000.

Wondering how that happened? I’m a pretty simple guy: I boil it down to people, process and technology, with people at the top of that list. Having the right people, in the right roles, at the right time has been key to our success. It’s true whether it’s workers driving forklifts, or the global 3PL leaders who took a chance and joined us in Greenville, SC, as we set a path toward growth.

Back in 2008, I’d been in business development with Sunland for more than a decade. It was a challenging time, and we were losing money. I decided to put all of my chips on the table to buy the company. But I wasn’t prepared to lead. I didn’t have any real experience as a CEO. It was a big risk.

We said years ago, gathered in the basement of a hotel, that we wanted to build a great 3PL. That means being a place where opportunity exists, where people want to work and where customers want to buy. So, we set out to discover what was truly important to us and what core principles would be critical to our success long-term.

Then and now, it begins with safety first. The goal, ultimately, is for people to come to work and to go home safely to their families. It’s our top goal every day and we continuously focus on it. Things are always changing, and each of our sites, across 11 states, have a different risk profile. So, safety is the first thing we talk about at every daily standup meeting, every weekly meeting and every monthly meeting. We always have a safety moment.

Second, we value servant leadership. We shifted the company from an old-school command-and-control style to servant leadership, to the extent that we listen to the team and give them the resources they need to be successful. So many times, corporate doesn’t know what is happening on the floor. There are competent people at every level of our organization, and the ones on the floor know what our customers need better than we do. We need to support them however possible.

The third component is that we’re a learning organization. It’s been my experience as a leader that, boy, we can learn from failure. It can be tough. But it’s critical, especially in supply chain and logistics. So many things are changing so fast. We’ve had to learn, especially during and since COVID, to keep adapting. Our business has changed fundamentally, and we’ve had to pivot. The marketplace is very dynamic from a labor perspective, from a warehouse space perspective, from an equipment availability perspective and from an IT talent perspective. From our viewpoint, we’d better be out front on these things. As Jack Welch says, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” We believe it’s very important to learn and to grow, especially from our mistakes.