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Job Description of Physical Distribution Consultants

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Over the past five years we have developed a training program that we use to supplement on-the-job training. In the formal training program we talk about communication, letter writing, reading people, understanding situations, and strategizing. Obviously that's supplemented with other educational courses and seminars as appropriate.

In our philosophy, it's right in the fire. There is training, if you will, but through playing a role of lesser responsibility. For example, I was the second or third person on a major project, so I would do unimportant things, things not of a direction nature, on that particular project. You get more involved as you get more comfortable with the environment, writing reports, and the ways of analysis. You take on more responsible positions over time.

We've hired about 90 percent of our people out of industry and 10 percent directly from school.



Question - How do you spend an average day?

Answer - I think about 20 percent of my time and energy is devoted to administration of the firm as a business, including personnel management, financial management, and general management. Approximately 50 percent of my time is involved in project work, dealing with clients or project teams that are working on specific assignments. The remaining 30 percent is involved in developing the business or related activities such as making speeches, and so forth. My schedule varies from day to day, so it's not that mix every day. Last week I was out of the office almost all week working on client projects. This week I've spent most of my time in administration. I think a requirement in any kind of management consulting is a minimum of 50 percent travel. Of the travel activities, 90 percent of my trips are to corporate headquarters of various businesses and the remainder might be out to field facilities or customer locations. At lower levels in the project organization structure, consultants work at plants and distribution centers interviewing customers, carriers, and so forth. Their mix might be half and half. They still spend a lot of time at headquarters locations, which are usually the focus of the project work. It's not the sort of job to get into if you like a lot of structure. You get involved with a new client, a whole new industry, a whole new cast of characters, and a whole new political environment. You finally get comfortable and everyone thinks you're great. After six months you have a lot of friends in Minneapolis. Then all of a sudden you have a new project that's in North Carolina. So, you start all over again. It takes a personality that can accommodate to that sort of fluid situation.

For six months my travel might be zero, but overall we tell our people to look for 50 to 60 percent travel on the average. It's the single largest reason that some consultants decide to pursue other activities. It's a difficult commitment for a young person who is starting a family. Consulting is just a great opportunity to broaden yourself, but there is a bit of a price to pay. For some people the price is not a price at all. Some of the people thrive on the travel and stay over weekends, though we encourage our people to come home. Even on the West Coast you don't stay abroad.

Question - What are your responsibilities?

Answer - Say a company calls and wants to reduce the logistics cost in the XYZ division. First step, we would try to get an understanding of the situation and the company environment in that initial contact. They tell me what they've done, what has worked, and what has not worked. They tell me where they are in the management structure, the size of the company, and the type of products. We find out if they have used consulting before and what they expect from consultants. We try to qualify the lead, so that we don't waste time trying to get into something that is not within our service range or deal with a situation where the expectations of both sides can't be met. If it appears to be something we can help with, we send down several people to learn about the situation. That would take the better part of a day. They would go through what has been done, meet some of the other people, and try to get specific information regarding what we perceived as the problem. The next major step is to develop a proposal. We would either say, "We've now learned this, and here are some ideas, because we don't think there is a need for a consultant." Or we'd say, "Let us prepare a proposal for you because we think we can help you." We would describe our understanding of their situation, what we understand the objectives of the project to be, how we would plan to approach the situation, how we would staff the assignment, the consulting time, and the cost. That document is typically in written form, although often a brief letter along with visuals would then be submitted to the client typically in a second meeting. We try very hard to keep in contact with the client during this process, because situations could change, other people could get involved, financial limitations could arise, and so forth. Say we're talking about a significant effort that would encompass four months' work by two or three people. We would almost insist upon periodic review meetings every two to four weeks. What have we done? Where are we? What problems do we have? Are we still on schedule? Has the scope changed? Typically no study ever goes according to plan. So our philosophy is "Don't surprise the client." The best way not to surprise them is to make them part of the process.

Question - How much time do you spend on your job each week?

Answer - I would guess an average of fifty to sixty hours. It's easier on the road because there you can work evenings, get there early, and leave late without having to worry about commitments at home. Obviously we try to be very realistic and arrange our trips to include "Mondays out and Fridays back." One objective is not to worry about the hours but to worry about the quality of the product.

Probably sixty hours a week. I think when you travel you tend to work well into the evening. Sometimes I'm on the road, and about half of the Saturdays I'm here.
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