“Your podcast had significantly helped me learn about other areas of supply chain outside of trucking and grow my career. Thank you for all the work that you do” – Erica Howell
So, when I started my Women in Supply Chain Series on the podcast, I never could have imagined the support it would receive and how many amazing messages I would receive from all over the world about how much other women relate to the powerhouses that I am featuring in this series.
Well, Erica is one of those women and she emailed me and said, “I recently found your profile and more importantly, your podcast because of a comment you made on a LinkedIn post. I wanted to send you a thank you for the work you do and the value you bring to me and the industry. I’ve been listening to the podcast on Stitcher. I’ve been trying to learn more about supply chain big picture to bring my clients more value. Your podcast had significantly helped me learn about other areas of supply chain outside of trucking and grow my career. Thank you for all the work that you do,” and so because of that email and because she reached out, and I just loved the energy that came from that email, I am so glad to be introducing you and featuring Erica in the main blog of my Women in Supply Chain Series.
interviewee-text interviewer-text”>So, Erica, first of all, I want to say thank you for all your support and I really appreciate you trusting me to tell your story and your journey to success today.
Erica: Thanks, Sarah, I’m really excited to be here.
LTSC: Awesome, awesome! So, let’s get started. Why don’t you give us a glimpse into your journey? Who is Erica? How did you get into supply chain, and what are you doing now?
Erica: Well, Sarah, I got started in the industry about 10 years ago as a customer service representative at a trucking company. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I knew that I could figure it out. I was a single mom at the time and I need to support my two-year-old son. That initial job helped me truly understand trucking 101 operations and the markets. Today, collaborating with shippers, creating scalable e-commerce solutions at Schneider. I really see it as an opportunity to shape the future in an over-dimensional and final mile logistics. Most people don’t know that a couple of years ago, Schneider got into the final mile field, becoming the largest asset provider by acquisition. For me, it’s a really exciting opportunity to help shippers create massive success.
LTSC: I love that, it sounds like you are just so passionate about what you do. You started out in the career not really knowing what it was and what you are going to be doing, and now, you’re just a passionate about it. So, how did that come about?
Erica: Well, throughout life, I’ve been someone who sees myself as a fighter. No matter what challenges come our way, I believe we can figure them out, and in trucking and logistics, there are always problems to solve. No day is the same. I think it was a lot for me about proving to myself that I could learn the different pieces and help my customers to achieve a different future then they even realize is possible.
LTSC: Awesome. So, as a woman in the industry, what does it mean to hear from other women in supply chain? I mean, you mentioned in your email to me that that was something you enjoy, the Women in Supply Chain Series, so why is that? What does it mean to you as a woman in supply chain?
Erica: Sarah, the women you interview don’t sugarcoat their stories. They are genuine, they share their struggles, and I really dig that. You get each “superwoman,”to openly share their struggles. Every woman in this series could have chosen to be a victim at some point in their lives, but instead, they share with you and the listeners or readers how they took control, made it happen, conquered their mountains and created their own success. I think the vulnerability that is shared establishes a connection with the readers and listeners. It’s super relatable.
LTSC: Yeah, and sorry, but just to jump in there, the authenticity, right? I try to keep the episodes really authentic and I hope that comes across, and I think that’s really what gives it dimension.
Erica: It does. You ask great follow-up questions and really probe, and I think there is a trust that the women and people you interview are willing to give you in sharing their stories in that authenticity. The general nature of the conversations, and then these women’s ability to be vulnerable. It’s super powerful.
LTSC: Absolutely! So, you talk about climbing mountains. I love your analogy of what some of the stories have meant to you. Let’s talk about your mountain – what were some of the challenges that you overcame and how did you overcome them?
Erica: I think there are several mountains I’ve had. I had some challenges in my childhood with my parents and things weren’t always easy to come by. So, I learned at an early age to own whatever the problems were and make it a choice. We can choose to accept things as they are today, or we can decide that things are going to be different. Then, we go out and make it happen. When I got done with high school, one of the challenges I faced was I had a scholarship for college or I could stick around and take care of my four brothers and sisters. I chose to forgo college, work two full-time jobs, and take care of my siblings because that was most important to me. I look back at all of the opportunities that I was given. Any successful person I have talked to, really, they look back at those choices that they make as pivot points in how they define themselves in their lives. I think it’s such an important distinction because we all get those opportunities every day. There are bad circumstances that happen to all of us. We can choose to make the best of the situation or we can choose to look at ourselves as victims of circumstance, and accept things as they are.
LTSC: Wow, I love how you have put that and that is such an important piece to your story, right? You chose family first, and I think with a lot of women, when I talk to them in this series, there’s always that question of work-life balance, or maybe in your case, sort of school-life balance, and at some points in the career, I think it was Kristy that said this, you focus on family first. In some points of your career, you focus on career first, and I think that the example that you have just given is a very beautiful example because you had that choice early on and at that point in your life, you chose the family first.
Erica: Yeah, and I think we go through different seasons in life. Sometimes, we have to put work first, other times, it’s family. We may not be able to spend as much time with family, especially as we grow our logistics or supply chain careers, but understanding that it’s okay. I heard a woman speaker and I can’t think of her name right now, but she talked about how we need to remember not to feel guilty. Either one that we put is our priority, whether it’s work or home, women have the tendency to feel guilty or that they owe that other part of their life something. We need to realize that it’s okay to go through different seasons of life.
LTSC: Yeah, and it’s all about choosing that perspective, like you were talking about, right? You can choose whether to be the victim or you can choose whether to look back on that as a pivot point, and something that boosted you, either in your career or in your family life.
Erica: Yes, you are exactly right, and I try to learn from others’ experiences. I’m a big reader and I listen to a lot of podcasts. Listening to the people that have “made it” in their career, they have become successful. They all define themselves by their ability to overcome those challenges when the odds seemed insurmountable. That perspective and gratitude that they have is so important.
LTSC: Absolutely. So, I mean, you’ve grown your career, you’ve started in this industry fairly young, so you are a young professional in trucking right now, and I think that it’s really important to take a look at it, not only from a young professional standpoint but also from an employer standpoint to really get an understanding of what that next generation, what that young professional is looking for from an employer. That traditional thinking has stopped in its tracks, whether it’s technology, innovation, but we don’t talk about culture and workplace enough, and that’s not necessarily a diversity conversation, but it’s just the workplace conversation. So, I want to ask you, as a young professional, what are you looking for in the workplace and what are you looking for from your employer?
Erica: Yeah, you are spot on. Things are different now, and we’ve seen such rapid change over the past decade in what employees expect, some of the generational impact, and it goes far beyond diversity. For me, I want authenticity. It’s one of the reasons I chose my current company and that I’m still here, but there are a lot of companies that don’t live out the values that they claim to have, and you are seeing the impact of that in their struggle to find employees. Every company and individual has challenges like we were talking about earlier. If a company takes feedback seriously and acknowledges those opportunities for growth, their employees, especially young employees, will engage in driving that improvement and that change. It will be organic. Instead of having to invest in outside sources coming in to fix the company or address culture, they really can get their employee engagement in shaping that better future. Simultaneously, that drives employee loyalty.
LTSC: Yeah, and I struggle with this a lot because I hear about the talent shortage, not necessarily from the young professionals, obviously, but I hear it from the top, the C-suite, those executives, we have a talent shortage; there’s not enough talent out there, and I struggle with that because I think that there is a lot of talent, and I’m not sure if it’s because a young professional isn’t portraying it properly or if the employer is not looking for it properly, – and the reason why I say that is because jobs are changing. Again, I’m going to say tradition is thrown out the window. We need technology people on our supply chain teams. We need supply chain professionals with technology backgrounds, we need so many different ways of thinking to be able to move the business forward and to keep on top of everything that I’m not sure where that gap is. So, I want to pose that to you: where is that gap? What are your thoughts on this?
Erica: Have you ever listened to Simon Sinek?
LTSC: I have heard of him. I’m not sure where from…
Erica: He’s an author, motivational speaker, and a consultant to companies. He talks a lot about culture and leadership, how employers are quick to write off an employee, but they wouldn’t do that with their own child. He talked about how organizations need to own the fact that there are differences between the generations and how the millenial generation really grew up having things easy. They had things handed to them. They grew up with the internet, having cell phones, so they are used to that instant gratification, but that if we, as leaders, take a different approach and how we address the different types of employees in our organizations, we can make a difference and tap into those talents that aren’t being presented right by the younger generation.
LTSC: Absolutely. So, what would you say then to an employer or what would you say to a young professional? Is there any tips that you would throw their way as a solution to this discussion, this big discussion that’s happening right now?
Erica: Getting through to employers, it’s about being genuine and authentic in seeking feedback. A lot of employers are quick to look for their customers to give feedback and to make changes based on customer feedback, but how often are they looking for that feedback internally from their own employees? It’s not always very often that these organizations seek out that feedback, and then pose the question back to your employees when they have a concern and ask them, “Well, how do you think we should solve it?” Allow those employees to take ownership of how they go and change the organization. Having that mindset and allowing young professionals to impact the future of the organization will be monumental in creating that loyalty and helping drive the success of the culture going forward. For young professionals, my advice would be, there are no shortcuts or easy buttons. I think sometimes, it’s that mentality of instant gratification, they want it and they want it now. Instead of expecting your results instantly, ask your leaders and other successful people in your life, “Hey, can you help me figure out the path of how I can get to this outcome? What are the things that I need to do or what can I act on starting today to make that outcome possible?” We need to do the hard work. Serving those around you is so important in making yourself successful. If we are interested in serving those around us in making others successful, our own success is just a byproduct. We need to listen to different perspectives and be open, not silo ourselves into one mindset because then, we stop growing.
LTSC: Yeah, and I’m going to add two things to that that I think are vital to what you just said, and one of them is listening. Make sure you actually listen, take notes, really listen to that feedback, and number two is take action because it’s important that you get feedback, but you cannot be paralyzed in action. You have to be able to put 1 foot in front of the other and start putting those things into action every single day. Doesn’t need to be everything all at once, but it does need to be one thing.
Erica: Yeah, and I think for millennials and some of the other younger generations, they have heard people say so much but do very little.They want action and like you are explaining, even little actions go a long way. Maybe the organization makes some mistakes when they are trying to get to that end result, but sharing that struggle with your employees and saying, “Here, we tried this. Here is the intent. This didn’t quite work out the way we had planned, but here is where we are going to tweak it. We’re going to try it differently and still go after that outcome.”
LTSC: Yeah, opening up that to a communication, but one of the things that I am going to throw in there too as a young professional, if you don’t know how to do anything or you don’t know how to do the thing that your leader is asking you to do, you have enough resources around you, YouTube, Google, that kind of thing, don’t ever go back and say you don’t know how to do it.
Erica: So true, and I think it’s easy to say, “I don’t know how to do it,” but we have more resources available to us today at our fingertips than at any point in history. Organizations also are very supportive of their employees reaching out to other resources in the organization, and for a young professional, hey, reaching out to others in the organization gives you a chance to get mentors, people who take you under their wing that can help you build your success in the future.
LTSC: Yeah, and not even internally. I would even say utilizing LinkedIn a little bit more. I think that LinkedIn is underutilized by a lot of people, and in my case, it was underutilized for a long time, and now that I’m in this space, I can see how much it can really make or break a career, and I think that getting involved in LinkedIn, getting connected with other people, bringing the value to those people that you want to have a connection with, engaging, commenting, liking, sharing, sharing valuable information that you come across I think is super, super important for anybody’s career.
Erica: I agree. Why do you think it is that people are reluctant to get engaged with the LinkedIn community?
LTSC: I’m not sure. I think people are hesitant because they are not entirely sure what to do with it because Facebook is one thing. You can block people, you can have your posse on Facebook and you can post whatever you want, and its private and nobody can see it et cetera, et cetera. Instagram is more pictures, it’s more your thoughts, whereas LinkedIn is professional. So, where is that line? What do you put on there? But it’s work as well. That’s the other thing about LinkedIn. LinkedIn, there’s a lot more work than the other two because LinkedIn is articles and thought leadership pieces, right? It’s positioning yourself as a thought leader in your industry, but the people that put in the work on LinkedIn, those are the ones that are maximizing their exposure and getting most out of the platform.
Erica: That’s a great point.
LTSC: Yeah, so I really think that internally, it’s great because you have access to those people and you already have a commonality, but I think that LinkedIn is that platform that you can network with anybody globally around the world and position yourself as a thought leader in your career, but it takes –
LTSC: You have to be willing to put in that work. Yes, consistecy, but I mean – and you don’t necessarily need to write articles, but if you’re commenting on people’s posts and you’re commenting with really thoughtful answers or thoughtful comments, or asking questions, I think that people are going to look at you a lot differently than if you’re just going through and liking everything.
LTSC: So, let’s get to the next question. I want to talk to you about the trucking space. I don’t actually have a lot of people on the show, I don’t know why, but I don’t get to talk about trucking a lot. I’ve been out of sort of that realm for a little bit, so I want to sort of find out from your perspective, I know that Ellen Voie and Women in Trucking and making a lot of really great strides in the trucking industry for women. Your answer doesn’t necessarily need to be around women and diversity, but I just want to see what’s going on with the trucking space and what would you like to see more of in the trucking space.
Erica: Yeah, in the trucking space, I think we are in an extreme time right now. Last year, the capacity struggles put drivers in charge of the market. This year, the markets softened up and shippers are now in control, and there is this pendulum that swings back and forth that changes the dynamics in the industry. That creates a lot of strain on relationships between shippers and carriers, but you also have a lot of disruption and innovation happening. It’s very exciting to see all of this unfold in front of our eyes. I feel like we are in the time of Thomas Edison, the lightbulb, and all of these new technologies are coming out that are going to change the industry forever. I don’t know that we really recognize it because we are in the day-to-day, but that innovation is going to continue to push people. It’s part of the reason I say we need to listen to different perspectives. We need to talk to people in the industry on LinkedIn like you were talking about earlier, but really understand what everyone is seeing. Identify what’s working for others. Irina that you had on your show, I think it was a few months ago, but she talks about this a lot too and she shares great valuable content about best practices, but doing more of that in the industry will help all of us as we figure out things like final mile logistics and e-commerce. I don’t think anybody has it completely figured out, but the more that we can collaborate and share information, the better off we all will be.
LTSC: I would absolutely agree with that because I don’t think anybody has it right. I think people are constantly learning, constantly trying new things, and that is the way that it should be, and it’s going to be like that, I think forever because the knowledge base is changing so quickly that things are changing so fast, and we need to keep up with it, we need to keep ahead of it, we can’t stay behind it. So, I think that we are constantly going to have to adapt to change and people are going to have to be comfortable with change.
Erica: Yeah, and it’s interesting. Now that I’m in the final mile side, I have noticed that there are companies out there and retailers that are frozen. They are not really sure how to do e-commerce and final mile logistics, especially with over-dimensional freight. They are afraid to take that risk. They’re worried about implementing a plan that doesn’t get the right results. I have cautioned companies to be careful that they don’t freeze because they are so scared to make that decision or believe that it’s too much risk to even try to go into e-commerce. I think if companies keep that mentality, they are going to be left behind.
LTSC: Absolutely. I would definitely agree with that. Okay, so now, before we wind down this interview, I want to know what’s next for Erica? What are you looking forward to in the future of your career?
Erica: Well, I’m really excited with where I am at today and being a part of the e-commerce world, helping shippers figure that out in the future. I love the leadership skills that I have learned. I’ve got a great leader gave me some great advice a while back about making time, making time for myself every morning, doing positive self-talk, as silly as it sounds, but really helping to invest in myself to build up my confidence. As women, I don’t know that we do that enough. So, I continually look for ways that I can improve myself, continue to learn – I’m a part of Toastmasters [0:27:27] which has been great. It’s a great resource for any listeners to help them in the industry, networking and build confidence as they grow their career. I’m not really sure if I’ll end up going into leadership or a different area of trucking or supply chain, but I’m excited to see what the future holds.
LTSC: Awesome. Well, I’m excited to see where you are going next, and self-talk is absolutely a necessary thing for everybody to do. I don’t know if you listened to my most recent episode with Denise MacDonald, but she talks about meditation and self-talk, affirmations. I do affirmations every single morning when I’m walking the dogs. I do my affirmations, and it is critical to mental health. So, I’m glad you brought it up and I’m excited to see where you are going, and I just appreciate you coming on the blog and sharing your story today, Erica.
Erica: Thank you, Sarah, I really appreciate all you do for women and supply chain. I think the stories that you share really help all of us become more successful and understand that our challenges are not just faced by us.