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How to Identify a Physical Distribution Consultant

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In order to be a consultant in physical distribution (or any other area), there are but two things required. The first is a business card that identifies you as a consultant, and the second is a "consultee." Thus, there is only one step in the consulting career path, the position of consultant.

Physical distribution consulting is a specialized field, and^ number of companies have focused exclusively on the PD area. As in other areas of consulting, the size of consulting companies varies from one-man shows to corporate bodies of hundreds. As a field, PD consulting appears to be "hot" and growing, along with the management interest in cost control and logistics.

The nature of the consulting work is similar to any consulting situation and consists of six general steps, as follows:

  1. client contact-initial interest and sales

  2. preliminary investigation-talking to the people with the problems

  3. analysis, preparation, and delivery of a proposal

  4. execution of the proposed program

  5. analysis and delivery of recommendations

  6. flying to next job
While there is only one step in the career path, there are actually three levels of responsibility in many consulting firms. The junior level of responsibility consists of minimal design, minor client contacts, and executions of program detail. Senior responsibility entails more control over program design, client contact, and presentations. Partner responsibility adds administrative duties over the consulting firm itself.

A consultant job requires excellent problem identification and solution skills, excellent communication skills, and a certain capacity to step aside and let go when a particular job is complete. In addition, travel was identified as a major component of the job, often requiring a consultant to be on the road 50 percent or more of the time.

Question - What got you interested in this field?

Answer - The potential in the marketplace, to develop a consulting firm to address the financial aspects of logistics. It's a very interesting function in business that hasn't been very well defined or developed. Sales and manufacturing finance have been established for fifty years or more. This is a function that is coming out of the fog into its own, and top management people are starting to say, "We have someone who manufactures the product, and someone who sells the product, but who's really responsible for moving the product through the system?" What usually happens is that it's spread all over. It's a whole function that is coming together. It becomes a fascinating opportunity to work with a company and to get involved in a lot of different things.

Question - How did you get into distribution consulting?

Answer - I got an M.B.A. in finance and went to work in finance in product development. I then went to work for a large consulting firm, which is now a competitor of ours. They did a lot of different things for marketing and finance, among which was physical distribution. I got involved there in some physical distribution projects and became interested. I find that my knowledge of numbers and the ability to balance all the aspects of a logistics problem in terms of numbers were important assets to me. A lot of people knew a lot about trucks and trains and warehouses, but I was the one who helped them interpret the financial impact of the alternatives that they were conceptualizing. Later on, a number of us decided to break off and form our own firm, because we felt that this area of distribution and logistics was a major business opportunity, that it ought to be addressed, and that we were the people to do it. I don't have any formal training in physical distribution, but I have an awful lot of experience.

Two things led me to consulting. First, I tend to be much better at perspective, at concept utilizing broader issues. Second, the people aspect drew me. Engineers are often working on the drawing boards. I enjoy working with people and trying to integrate things with the human aspects. So, those two things led me to consulting. My desires have come true. That's exactly what consulting has been. Still, there are very different types of consulting. Some consultants are very successful and do very well by being a specialist in a particular area, whether it is barge shipping or mechanical control, corporate strategy or marketing. You have two giant career paths, one is as a specialist and one is as a generalist. I'm much more comfortable as a generalist.

Question - Would you explain your organizational structure and where you are in that structure?

Answer - We have several kinds of specialists. We have transportation and distribution professionals, who, for the most part, have industrial training such as running warehouses or dealing with carriers and company transportation departments. They know transportation rates, structures, costs of operating private fleets, and how to deal with the railroads and the carriers. Then we have another group of people who are classic systems people. They can design systems, manage the effort to program them, and train clients' people in their implementation. Then we have a group of people who are operations research people. They support our analysis of logistics opportunities and alternatives by applying planning models and analysis tools. We have a whole product line of models that we use with clients to analyze problems, and for continuing use to look at distribution systems. Then we have people who are generalists and project managers, people like me. We are more or less the senior people of the firm. We generally conceptualize the project, manage the client relationships, and apply specific tools from within one firm, depending on the requirements of the project.

There's almost no project that goes on here that doesn't involve the skills and support of at least two people. So we're not a loose confederation of "one-man bands" who just run around "doing their own thing." We rely heavily on one another. There has to be a lot of interplay, mutual respect, and group performance, and you can't hide behind an organization structure.
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