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December 17, 2017
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The thankless life of a logistician

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Logistics and supply chain managers get little recognition for the important work they do. Yet without logisticians, commerce would come to a halt.

Sometimes, you come across things in places where you'd least expect them. I was reminded of that during a recent vacation. Standing in line at a beach concession stand, I spotted a woman wearing a shirt that read as follows: "I'm a Logistician. I solve problems you didn't even know you had in ways you can't understand." It probably meant little to the other beach-goers. But those of us in the field know the words to be true.

Logistics and supply chain management are not something you hear much about outside of work. Aside from the occasional supply chain bottleneck caused by a business disruption (like the West Coast port slowdown) or natural disaster (the tsunami in Japan), it's rare to hear such references in our everyday lives.

That's why it has often been said that no one goes into this profession for the glory. Logistics in particular can be thankless. If you keep things running smoothly and consistently, it will likely go unnoticed. The highest compliment you'll receive most days is that your phone didn't ring because all of your company's products and assets were where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there. You don't get a lot of public praise for making those things happen each and every day. Most people, in fact, have no idea that without logisticians, commerce would come to a halt.

A logistician's work is dauntingly complex. There's the relentless pressure to cut costs, which means doing more with less. And more than likely, you'll be expected to accomplish that without sacrificing customer service—in fact, you may even be expected to see that service improves. It's a profession that requires a highly advanced management skill set.

That's particularly true for logisticians whose primary focus is distribution center (DC) operations and management. In large part, that's due to the rise of e-commerce. In the United States alone, e-commerce has grown by an average of 15 percent in each quarter of 2013 and 2014, almost double the rate of growth in total national retail spending, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In other words, Internet sales are becoming pivotal to a retailer's success. For companies accustomed to doing most of their business through traditional retail outlets, competing successfully means rethinking their DC operations and logistics networks, many of which were originally built to serve brick-and-mortar stores.

These retailers compete not only with other traditional retailers, but also with online pure-plays like Amazon.com. In 2013, Amazon posted higher sales than the next nine online retailers combined—mainly by using its extraordinary product-delivery capabilities to wallop the competition.

Although few people understand what you do and how you do it, the basic facts remain unchanged: Logistics plays a critical role in your company's success. And as the market grows increasingly tumultuous, you must still toil quietly and efficiently behind the scenes to come up with solutions to problems that most people don't understand or even know they have.

Mitch Mac Donald is Group Editorial Director of AGiLE Business Media.

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