Supply Chain Now
Episode 458

Episode Summary

“Our founder thought very big from the very beginning. And so, we’ve sent 50 million books (or will shortly) but there’s something like 600 million children in Africa. The needs are great for the future.”

– Patrick Plonski, Executive Director of Books for Africa

 

The last six months have been difficult for everyone, but while people and organizations in developed nations think they have challenges, those difficulties – while very real – pale in comparison to the impact felt in developed nations. With less resources, infrastructure, and technology, there are fewer options for overcoming the societal disruptions of the pandemic.

Books for Africa is the world’s largest shipper of books and computers to Africa. They send high quality books to schools, libraries, and universities across the continent. In addition to being an important humanitarian mission, the organization faces significant logistical challenges, such as shipping 20 tons of books to a library in Africa and then coordinating with people on the ground to distribute them to other schools and organizations in the community.

UPDATE: Books for Africa just reached a major milestone, sending their 50 millionth book!

In this interview, Patrick provides an update about Books for Africa with Supply Chain Now Hosts Greg White and Scott Luton:

· The operational changes he and his team have made to simultaneously increase their volume and keep costs low

· How content is moving from hard copy to digital format and how Books for Africa is working to leverage that opportunity to put more books into people’s hands

· How he has learned to handle criticism from people who disagree with his organization’s mission and priorities without letting it knock him off his path

Episode Transcript

Amanda Luton (00:00:05):

It’s time for supply chain. Now broadcasting live from the supply chain capital of the country. Atlanta, Georgia heard around the world. Supply chain. Now spotlights the best in all things. Supply chain, the people, the technologies, the best practices and the critical issues of the day. And now here are your hosts.

Scott Luton (00:00:28):

Hey, good morning, Scott Luton and Greg white with you here on supply chain. Now welcome back to today’s show Greg, how are you doing? I’m doing great. That’s all I have to say. Let’s get into this. Okay. I hear this story. It’s amazing. People should hear it right now. Absolutely. So today’s episode, if you’ll afford me the opportunity to tee things up just a little bit further, because this is one of our favorite series. It’s one of the series. We get the most feedback around. It’s our logistics with purpose series powered by our dear friends over at vector global logistics. And we truly do spotlight leaders, organizations that are on a Knoll noble mission, changing the world in some way, shape or form and today’s episode. We’re going to be continuing that trend. We’ve got a great story teed up. So stay tuned. As we look to increase your supply chain leadership IQ, one final programming note, Greg, if folks enjoy this episode, where would you direct them to go?

Greg White (00:01:22):

I don’t know the beach. Let’s try supply chain, radio.com or wherever you get your podcasts. That’s right. Or YouTube and subscribe. So you don’t miss a single thing, including conversations like this, where we’re going to be featuring let’s go ahead and introduce our first off our third co-hosts here today. The one only Enrique Alvarez managing director with vector global logistics, Enrique. How are you doing? Hey guys, how are you doing? I’m great. Thank you very much for asking. It’s always, always fun to hang out with you and catch up even this virtual world that will even I’m excited. I mean, it’s going to be a really good show. We have an incredible guest and with really, really good news that he’s probably going to share with us at some point, so happy to be here and thanks for having me. You bet. We’re really appreciate what y’all do.

Scott Luton (00:02:13):

Deeds, not words, you know, that’s one of our favorite mantras that we try to live back here. I live by here at Spotify now, and you and vector are really Sterling examples of that. And, and you know, Greg, what we love besides the story we’re about to hear, we love the fact that our featured guests is a repeat guest. So one we’ve had a trace rebate guest. So breaking records here. First repeat guest on the logistics with purpose series. We are featuring today, Pat Plansky PhD, the executive director with books for Africa, Pat. Good afternoon. How are you doing? I’m doing great. Thanks guys. Welcome aboard. Hey Pat. Nice to see you during your appearance with us

Greg White (00:03:00):

Pat, it was over, it was, it was several months back. We really got a lot of feedback around folks that weren’t real familiar with with the mission and, and, and what you do. So we’ll talk about that momentarily and this big piece of news you got, but Greg, we really want to kind of dive into Pat story little bit first, right? Well, because there aren’t a lot of people and also Pat, because you’re the new guy at books for Africa. And maybe you can tell us a little bit, a little bit about your time and your role there.

Pat Plonski (00:03:33):

Yeah. Well, I thank you for that. I’ve been here. Yeah, 17 and a half years. That’s relatively new books for Africa has been around 32 years. So I can’t take credit for everything. We all stand on the shoulders of giants, you know, for better or worse. I’ve been here a while and hopefully clean out, stuck in my ways, because in the logistics world, in the international development world, things change and they can change fast. So you have to know when to rely. I think upon things that are tried and true that you’ve been doing since the beginning, your basic mission. And I think you also have to know, Hey, things are changing. We need to change with it. And that very often involves logistical changes to do things more efficiently, to do things better, to, to extend your impact.

Greg White (00:04:23):

Well, I’m not pitching, but you’re working with the right people to do that with Enrique and his team. I’m sure you know that. So tell us, you got us, you got a shiny new office or you’re working on one now as, uh, but tell us a little bit about what is a day in the life now of Patrick? Well, that’d be different,

Pat Plonski (00:04:42):

Right? Just, you know, like everyone else. So many of our staff are officing from home. So, you know, you, you get to see my home office here, which is in the process of transitioning into an office. And so we’re sort of, when I go into my regular office, I see there’s less and less stuff there. There’s always a, my colleagues have removed computers and tables and it’s like, wait, this place is starting to look empty. So as we all go to our home offices, you know, who knows how long we’re going to be here, home officing, we do still have our warehouses in both Minnesota and Atlanta that are fully functional and those are, are staying the same. Although everyone there is using, uh, masks and, and, you know, using, uh, protocols for protection. Um, and there’s for volunteers in those warehouses than there were previously. So, you know, I think we all have to change with the times and you know, you have to stay nimble in this business or you will get left behind.

Greg White (00:05:43):

So tell us a little bit about how, you know, who you interact with, or maybe formerly interacted with. I know there are people who still see people face to face, but yeah. Tell us a little bit about some of the interactions. And I think people principally get what books for Africa is about, but maybe a little bit more about your mission and how you execute. It would be helpful for folks as a wise man, once said, people can’t donate. If they don’t know you exist.

Pat Plonski (00:06:14):

That’s right. Yeah. No one ever donated any thing to any organization. If they didn’t know it existed. Right. Official actions. When I came to books for Africa 17 and a half years ago is they told me, well, you know, books for Africa is the world’s largest shipper books to Africa. And we had sent 8 million books at that point. And I said, is that really? And they said, well, yeah, we have to be, there’s no one else doing this. And I said, well, that’s what we lead with. Right. You know, if we’re the biggest shipper of what staff are, then, then we go with that. And so we do. And, um, in, in the last 17, 18 years, we’ve picked up every single country in Africa. So books for Africa is the world’s largest shipper or books to Africa. We sent almost 50 million books and we’ve shipped to every single country in Africa.

Pat Plonski (00:07:03):

And, uh, we’ve been doing it for 32 years. So what’s a day in the life look like for that, we’ll, COVID not withstanding, you know, we’re communicating and connecting with people all over the United States, all over the world. Sometimes the money for a project to ship books to Africa will come out of, let’s say London, the coordinator might be in California. And of course the recipient is in Africa. That’s a very common thing where you have the one person coordinating a project to send a container of 20 tons of books, but the money is coming from somewhere else. And of course the recipients are in Africa. And so, you know, we sort of figured out how to work. Um, just using communications technologies, basically the internet, emailing people, that email chains, things of that nature, people though, like to connect in person. And so that’s always helpful in terms of raising money, establishing connections and contacts.

Pat Plonski (00:08:02):

So it does this job does require going to Africa, going to where the donors are and going to where the, you know, meeting with the right people who are putting together these projects a little bit challenging to do that in this COVID environment. So we’re trying to cope. Um, I think it it’s while communications technologies are good and helpful, there’s no substitute for face to face. So I’m looking forward to the opportunity to, you know, meet people face to face, whether it be in Africa, whether it be in our events, fundraising events, conferences, you know, I usually a couple of times a year go to Washington, meet with African ambassadors, you know, meet with large scale partners, maybe us USA ID, the U S government, things like that to use the technical term. I think we’re along as best we can. Right. Uh, that’s kinda my view it, but my, my view has always been the same. We want to live to ship books and other day. And so we are shipping. We’re not shipping as much as we used to, but because of the impacts with COVID and impacts on fundraising and partnerships and the ability of recipients in Africa or inability to receive books, but we are still up and rolling and, uh, kinda like a lot of those restaurants that are closing and may not reopened, you know, I don’t want that to be me. I want to keep us going. We wait until next year. Hopefully when things are better,

Scott Luton (00:09:34):

You know, going back to the, um, interpersonal meetings as, um, you know, I think back to my manufacturing days when we were solving some complex problems or had some disagreements or, um, you know, all the, all the issues that come up when you’re, when you’re taking care of business, a lot of them via phone and email, and then the complex issues, we really wanted to get something done, grabbing people around a table and, and get through some of those most complicated multiparty challenges. And that, that was like some of the secret sauce industry. And as for as many great stories that we hear of companies adapting with the times and going, you know, working from remote and adapting technology, lots of good stories there, but at the end of the day, uh, you know, when I met Enrique just a week or two ago, Greg and, and we’re kind of repositioning a studio stuff and, and we’re used to seeing an office full of folks and, and having those little small conversations and grabbing a cheeseburger at station side, you know, the, kind of the touches between the touches that really power relationships. We’re really missing that right now. So Pat, and some of your answer there, I heard some of that and, um, you know, we want to help as much as, as we can to, as you put it live to ship books another day, cause we’re all missing out on those little daily or weekly interactions.

Enrique Alvarez (00:10:56):

Well, on the, on the, the truth of the matter is that there’s kids at the other end, right? So there’s always a recipient in Africa waiting for this book. So I think that something that we have to always keep in mind as we work with organizations, like Patrick’s, it’s, there’s just no other way of doing it, right. It has to have, it has to get Dawn, uh, for, for not only the sake of, uh, the organization here in the U S but the sake of all those, uh, people that they’re helping. So it’s yes, definitely whether you Patrick or not.

Scott Luton (00:11:27):

Wow, that’s a big thing we’ve heard in this serious logistics with purpose series is that the mission, the need never changes. I mean, we might be in this pandemic environment and all the change that brings, but the need on these noble missions, Greg, that that does not change. Right. You know, as Enrique said, people still want to read. Right. And I know that people want, want to donate either money or books or,

Greg White (00:11:54):

Or whatever. It’s just the logistics of it are extremely difficult in this time.

Pat Plonski (00:11:59):

Yeah. Especially, yeah. Especially for schools and children trying to learn, and that there’s been a lot of changes and there’s a lot of people that are trying to adapt, but I feel like schools in particular are one of the, the more impacted. And so, uh, anything that we can do to continue helping education all over the world, but in this particular case in Africa, I think that’s something that should be priority for, for,

Greg White (00:12:24):

So, yeah. So I think that’s, I mean, I think that’s a really good point. Patrick. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about how things have changed from a, from a donations and from a logistics standpoint, what have you seen as the biggest impact

Pat Plonski (00:12:40):

As Enrique just said, schooling is so important. Education is so important at all levels, all, all across the world. And so, you know, we think like now a lot of kids are going back to school and they’re having challenges. There’s difficulties that they’re experiencing, you know, this is the richest country in the world. And, and it’s like, well, how are we going to do this? You know, and they can’t get together. Can we do it online? Would that be successful, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Well, you know, here we are, we’re the richest country in the world. Having those challenges, imagine a continent of Africa where there’s less resources, but exactly the same sorts of challenges with COVID and, uh, you know, even less resources, whether it be books or whether it be computers or, or, you know, cell phones, there’s just, there’s less of everything.

Pat Plonski (00:13:30):

And so, you know, we think of our challenges here. Imagine in the developing world, how much worse it is, it’s just unimaginable. And so the needs are always greater in the poor where things are poor. That’s just, uh, that’s a given in terms of what we’ve experienced here with COVID, you know, some of it is just issues, like getting things cleared from pork. So I think we can get books, palletize and loaded onto a container, a 40 foot container, get that put onto a truck and get that, uh, moved to, uh, Savannah or Charleston and get it on a, on a mayor ship, let’s say, and get it moving across the ocean to Africa. I think a lot of our challenges are well, okay, is there anybody, will the port be open to receive it in a COVID environment? Will the agent of our recipient be able to go there and be available? You know, when the emails were sent, where if the person who supposed to receive it as ill, do they even know that the container is arriving? All of those sorts of challenges that are, are so important, you know, when a container and it’s the, it’s the port, uh, things have to move fast or else the bills pile up fast. So some of those challenges, the ports have been open, but sometimes

Enrique Alvarez (00:14:52):

The folks who are there to receive the books are not available. We’ve had a large project that we were working on in Ethiopia that closed up. So we were about halfway through that contract. So there’s about eight containers of children’s books that are going under that. And it was, you know, because of money issues related to COVID. So, you know, all of those sorts of things are out there. You know, again, we just have to keep powering through it and find work arounds and make it happen.

Scott Luton (00:15:27):

You touched on a lot of the logistics behind the operation, Pat, and I’d love to have Enrique weigh in on some additional perspective there, because in Reiki, I know that you are involved in a lot of things going to Africa, to South America and all the, the international expertise you you’ve got to know to Pat’s point to move things fast. So it doesn’t sit there in port. So speak a little more to, to some of the magic behind the

Enrique Alvarez (00:15:55):

It’s more relationship driven. We all know that logistics is a very relationship driven industry. And so it really is about you’re as strong as your weakest partner, basically. And I know that’s a cliche sometimes, but that, that is true. And it just became even more evident now with we had coronavirus specially in, uh, regions of the world, like Africa, where some of these things are still happening in person. Like, uh, I, here, you can probably tell X release and you can actually accept certain emails, but, but there, you have to still kind of get the physical documents in certain countries and, and someone has to take those documents and take them to the port and get that specific stamp that clears the document. So it’s, it just brought like a completely different level of complexity. If you actually take those human interactions out of the equation, you’re like, well then how, how are we going to get those stamps?

Enrique Alvarez (00:16:48):

I mean, someone has to be there and stamp it. So it’s it, God’s more interesting and challenging and fun. And I think that just the, the answer to your question is like, well, how do you do that? It’s, it’s, it’s, it’s really always been the same answer, right? She’s just partner with a strong team, uh, good people, strong partners, and, and you’re as strong as, as your team is. And, and that’s where the culture plays a big deal. And that’s way, that’s where the, the strategy behind, uh, the companies is so important. I think it’s just more evident now when, when things are not as, as easy as they were before, which just kinda like funny because they have never been about easy when it comes to logistics or shipping into Africa, but now they’re even how they more challenging.

Scott Luton (00:17:34):

Yep. I think Pat used the term clunky. Yep. And I mean, I think that’s a good definition of logistics in the best of times. Right. And then you have spotty lack of availability people

Greg White (00:17:50):

Or of assets or of facilities. And in some cases, maybe even recipients is, as you were just talking about Pat, and you combine all those in any kind of mix at a particular time and it, it creates a lot of difficulty.

Pat Plonski (00:18:06):

Yeah, absolutely. You know, and, and here’s the thing, you know, an international, I liked this program’s name logistics with a purpose because, you know, a lot of times people think international development is all about something and that’s something, you know, speaking with people and, and, and, you know, fundraising or those, those things that you think of when you think of international development. But a lot of international development, what I found in my 17 and a half years is just doing the little things, what I would call the nuts and the bolts and doing it well. And so that is something like, can you move cargo from Atlanta, Georgia to, to across Ghana efficiently? And what is the most efficient way to do it? Can you, can you, uh, establish a scalable model? Can you, how do you collect books from all over North America, get them into a warehouse, get them sorted and, and ship them and be able to have the predictability of what that price is going to be.

Pat Plonski (00:19:08):

So that at the end of the day, you were able to pay your bills across the spectrum. Those that’s really international development. That would be the same with, uh, something like, uh, you know, if you’re distributing, uh, soft drinks or, or if you’re shipping soybeans or something like that, those basic logistical issues of moving something from point a to point B, collecting it, calving the predictability and what the product is in our case, the product is books and having the recipients and know what that is, and, and receive it in a, in a way that works for them in terms of meeting expectations a lot. That’s really a lot of what international development is, and it’s not what people normally think of. They think of something completely different, and those other things are important. Yeah. You have to meet with ambassadors, you have to make sure whatever, you know, there’s, there’s language issues and there’s, uh, all kinds of things, uh, you know, working with cultures and respecting cultures, all very important, but even more important than probably I’m gonna say 75% of the job is the basic nuts and bolts of running an organization.

Pat Plonski (00:20:22):

And that would be the same as any organization and the logistics element of being able to ship internationally. And how do you get it done? Well, you know, what I quickly found out is a freight forwarder and a good freight forwarder is very important. And outsourcing in general is important, not just with a freight forwarder, but different elements where, you know, if we can outsource, uh, you know, fundraising, if we can outsource communications tools, if we can tap into some of the same things like YouTube or Facebook, where everyone is working on those platforms, we can do the same thing they’re doing. The only difference is we’re working in international development and you know, other people are doing their thing. And so I think just basic organizational parameters and, or, and just organizing it efficiently, cheaply and predictably is really what determines whether you live to ship books and other day or not.

Greg White (00:21:21):

Mm. So much there that you just shared. Pat and Greg, I bet what he shared makes you think of the same quote that it makes me think of from a Dominic was wrinkles. You want to share it, no product, no program, right. And you know, another person moving goods in Africa for philanthropy as well. So, and, and, you know, the complexities of Africa are substantial, not the least of which being logistical. There are so many governments and there are so many factions even within the governments and the stability of the governments is in question in some countries and things like that, that just complicates it even further. So I’m curious, because you talked about the delivery of these books. And somehow I think I had imagined you just, you just throw open the doors on the container and kids, or people come up and grab books, but I met, it has to be more organized than that because they’re not all kids’ books. Right. And there are different reading levels and they’re prereading levels, and there are sophisticated and, you know, and thoughtful and scientific books in this as well. So just out of curiosity for a lay person, how do you organize a shipment like that?

Pat Plonski (00:22:38):

Yeah, well, again, I started in 17 and a half years ago, and the way it worked is whatever came in the door is what went out the door. And as books were donated and came in, they were boxed. They were palletized. And when you hit 20 pallets or whatever, you’d call the truck and you’d send it in and you send it to the next person on the list. And so I looked at that and I said, well, now wait, does this make sense? Like, if we were selling shoes, wouldn’t we

Greg White (00:23:08):

Good example, you don’t sell, you don’t send me a painter, a size 12 to the pigment.

Pat Plonski (00:23:12):

It was quickly. Yeah. That was reminded, well, we’re not selling shoes. And I said, okay, I know we’re not selling shoes, but it’s the same principle that the customer has to get what they want into the grid, to the extent that we can provide them with what they want. They will be more excited about it. And we’ll get more people who will fund the deliberate. Again. That was one of the basic things. When I came into the organization that we changed was we made it more predictable and we of looked at it from, you know, how do we take the strengths of the for profit model? Um, the, for profit model is, you know, the customer is right. You give the customer what they want. You give them predictability to the extent that we can do that. And we also went fall. You, you know, we were sort of running it like a cottage industry in, uh, uh, donated warehouse space, which was comparable to a church basement to nothing against the church.

Pat Plonski (00:24:09):

Basements. I spent a lot of time there, but it’s really small. And in this case, everything went up and down this ancient freight elevator. And finally it dawned on me that this donated warehouse was costing us a lot of money because it was limiting capacity. So we rented a, a larger warehouse facility and we increased the volume. And by increasing our capacity, we were able to lower price and send more books to Africa, to more people and increase the different types of books. So that, yeah, so that is, if you’re a university, you get university books and you can decide if you want business, you know, how many of those books should be business books versus geography, books and whatever. But then we also needed to know when to say when, because sometimes, you know, there are things that the customer or the recipient will ask for, but they’re not gonna pay any more for it.

Pat Plonski (00:25:03):

And it’s like, well, can we provide that? If there’s additional costs to provide, let’s say book with selection by title. And what we found is everyone would ask for books with selection by title, but nobody wanted to actually select the titles and no one would pay more for it. So as a result, we only do that for certain recipients. We’re willing to do that. So that’s kind of where the business model comes in. You just have to be aware of that. You know, what are the things that you can provide? I once said to a partner, this things, we can do this things, we can’t do this things that we can do, but there’ll be an additional cost to it that still holds true today.

Scott Luton (00:25:39):

Value add versus non-value. And I love how you described that, Pat. All right. So before we, Rica is gonna walk us through some really big news and have Pat share some really big news, but just prior to that, going back to kind of, uh, Pat was talking about using a freight, uh, expert and moving freight internationally and Enrique, it reminded me of the story on a previous episode from one of the great coffee companies that we brought on, and the gentleman was bringing, was making one of his first big shipments and bringing it up from South America. And it landed in the port and in Florida, wherever that was, and he was not using any assistance. And so his, he expected that price to be here and be able to just kind of pop in and pick it up. But all of a sudden he had big problems and, and the price went way up and, and, and he remarked that it was the most expensive bag of coffee beans he’d ever brought on. So, because he had what we all have, which is this, this blonde spot. Right. But I love these stories because it really, whether we’re talking, you know, Pat used the example of the shoes or your certain things, or the clunky definition, it really paints a perfect visual of, of some of the gaps we have as business leaders. Alright, so Enrique, the honors are all yours and Pat, so walk us through this big announcement.

Enrique Alvarez (00:26:59):

I’ll definitely let Patrick make the honors. But, uh, but before that, I just wanted to say that, uh, what Patrick was saying before, and just the fact that books for Africa is shipped to every single country in Africa. It’s just something that he just mentioned it very casually, but it is incredibly hard to do. And, and people that know logistics and that listened to your show, Scott and Greg, they must know that it’s just, uh, it just, uh, an incredible milestone and itself. And you were also talking about the books and the ma the metric for success for you as, as, as books. How many books are you shipping for Africa, but I just that you mentioned it, and it’s really hard probably to measure the impact those books are having on the kids and the people at the other end. But just some of the changes that you’ve mentioned on this episode are incredible.

Enrique Alvarez (00:27:52):

If you could measure the impact, which is at the end of the day, what you’re going after. Cause I’m sure that you’re just not going after shipping books for the sake of shipping books, but you actually want those books to be read. And, and you want those books to teach something and you want that teachings or those learnings to impact the community and the countries and the world in general. I think that’s incredibly, incredibly exciting and I, and it’s humbled. So I would being, working with books for Africa, Patrick, and his team for many years. Now, we have learned a lot of things. And as you guys clearly saw in the last few minutes, not only about logistics, but how to run a business, how to manage people, how to, so, uh, so I just want to thank you Patrick, for, for that. I, I know that you have an amazing team and then it’s the reflection of a great leader and, uh, Erin and Brad and Carol and Rachel at the time and Jeremy and Travis. I mean, I just do you just have a really, really good team and I’m sure it’s because of you, and I’m really proud and happy that we are helping you and your costs, and there’s a big, big milestone coming up. And so OLED you tell everyone what it is. I don’t spoil the surprise, spoil the surprise, but, uh, thank you once again for doing what you’re doing, you’re really providing a lot more than just books. You, your leadership and example of your team. It’s really, it’s really a bigger impact for sure.

Scott Luton (00:29:17):

Thank you, Enrique. Yeah, we’re, we’re, you know, uh, vector global logistics is our premier freight forwarder. Uh, they haul the vast, vast majority of our freight to Africa and have done so for many years. So we appreciate that. Uh, before we worked with vector, we used to switch freight forwarders every few years. And, uh, what I discovered is a gaseous share a lot easier when you keep working

Pat Plonski (00:29:42):

With someone who knows and will work with you. And so we appreciate that. And so, uh, I don’t know how many millions of books vector has called on our behalf. I’m gonna say, it’s gotta be an excess of 10 million books, uh, that they’ve hauled, uh, for us. So we appreciate that. You know, we’re very excited cause we’ve been shipping books to Africa for 32 years and high-quality books that, you know, I like to say, hopefully we don’t want to just send junk. We don’t want to send things that are laying around. We want to send high quality books. So we actually recycled probably 30% of what comes in the door because it’s not useful in Africa. And we do a lot of surveying of recipients. In fact, if you go to our website right now, we just loaded up a new story on books for africa.org, about a library, one single library in a community at Ethiopia called Ned gel over the course of the last seven years.

Pat Plonski (00:30:37):

There have been hundreds of thousands of people that have used that library. And so it’s just amazing, you know, the impacts of restocking one library because they actually measured the number of people that are coming in the door, male, female, you know, the types of books they want and everything. And so that’s just one library in one country and on one whole continent. So the impacts are enormous and, and, uh, just even for one library, but what we’re very excited about is that over the course of 32 years, what we’ve done is, uh, we have sent about 48 and a half million books. And by the end of the year, we’re going to send our 50 million for book. And, uh, yeah, but 17 and a half years ago, we had reached about 8 million books. And that was a lot. Now we’re creeping up on 50 million books over the course of 32 years.

Pat Plonski (00:31:32):

So by the end of the year, we’re going to do that. That book is going to go to Ghana and it’s going to leave later this year, it’s going, we’re working with the Ghana’s ambassador to the United States to designate the recipients for those books and vector global logistics. We’ll be hauling that container again. And they’ve, they’re very close to Ghana and do a great job in Ghana. So we’re appreciate their help on that. Yeah, that book is actually that the 50 million book has been designated. And just yesterday, our founder, Tom Warren carried that book from the Minnesota state Capitol several miles to our warehouse in Saint Paul, Minnesota. So it’s now there and it will get boxed and it will get sent in a truck to Atlanta. Think of all the logistical steps that will get processed in Atlanta. And it’ll get loaded into a, into a box that box will be loaded into pallets. Those pallets will get loaded into a 40 foot sea container. They’ll get trucked to Savannah. A ship will pick them up that container and it will go to a crock on it or on a late night, very smart logistical friends always correct me. It’s not a cry. It’s own a it’s like, yes, yes, yes. I know.

Pat Plonski (00:32:46):

So then it’ll go and be distributed in one of our recipients as designated by God as ambassador to the United States. Then that will be the 50 million, the bookend. We’re very excited about that milestone. When, when books for Africa was created, its theme was to end the African book family. I don’t think hardly a single book had been sent when that sort of, that tagline had been established. So our founder thought very big from the very beginning. And so, uh, we’ve sent 50 million books or will shortly, but there’s something like 600 million children in Africa so that the needs are great for the future. So 50 million is great, but there’s still a lot of kids who need books and adults too. And over the course of 32 years books, uh, you know, they don’t last, they need to be re replaced. And so even places that have gotten books need new books, we’re now in the business of providing other things, digital tendons, just well, computers, laptops, hard desktops, and also tablets. Um, so, so can you,

Scott Luton (00:33:54):

It’s a little bit more, so, you know, one of the things that we’re looking to spotlight a lot more, especially since we’re, you know, it’s tough to really understand it until you experience it. I think as a human and of course with the lockdowns here in the States and a lot of the remote remote working, but also remote learning, I think one of the big topics has gotten my attention at least is the need for ax, the need for access to technology everywhere. Right? Of course, we’ve heard a lot here in the States about a wifi access for years, especially as you go from three G to four G four G to five G and, and some of the earlier archaic technology, eventually ceases being used. And some folks are still using that technology. But when I hear things like laptops and some of, some of the computer equipment that you need in this day and age, not just to learn, but, but in some cases to survive, can you speak to the need for technology and access for technology and, and the scope of what you do

Pat Plonski (00:34:53):

In addition to the 50 million or almost 50 million books that we’ve sent, we’ve also sent about 3 million digital books and those digital books, as I said, they’re on, they’re loaded onto the hard drives of laptops or desktops or tablets. And we are seeking to increase our offerings there. We’re working a lot with world reader, which is the premier provider of digital content in the developing world. And actually we’re working with them in Ghana on a project. And I always believe in giving the people what they want. And so if people want hard copy books and a lot of people still do both in the United States and in developing world, we provide them with hard copy books. But I think we also need to have other offerings if we can, if we can, if we can add value, we should do that. And so we do think we can add value by providing computers and tablets and providing the digital content that goes with it.

Pat Plonski (00:35:54):

We’re not a technology company per se, but to the extent that we can add value and do that in a cost effective way, we want to do that. And we have been doing that. So the interesting thing is even here in the United States, the richest country in the world, 80% of the books that are read are still read in traditional hard copy format. If that’s what the people in the richest country in the world are doing, that’s what people in poor countries are doing as well. Uh, I think the differences, you know, smartphones are used a lot for maybe just in time information news articles or, or short reading short items, the Kindles and E readers are coming more into prevalence, but still a lot of, a lot of people want hard copy books too. So, you know, this is where the market decides. I believe the market determines, you know, in, in international development, you know, you ignore market conditions at your peril.

Pat Plonski (00:36:51):

You, if you’re running a nonprofit, whether it be domestic or international, and you’re aligned to market conditions, you are going to be in trouble. So we do look at the market conditions. What is the demand for books? What is the domain for books in different categories? What is the demand for technology? Can we provide technology in addition to what we’re doing, those are all the questions. You know, I’ve been asking that question for about 15 plus years because, you know, we thought, well, when the ebook comes out, that’s the end of the road, but it hasn’t proven to be the case. And so we’ll, we’ll keep providing hard copy books as long as they’re useful, but also seeking to add value through digital content. To the extent we can.

Greg White (00:37:31):

It hasn’t quite been the CD eliminating that the cassette tape, right. Folks still love getting a hard copy and, and consuming it. All right. So, Greg, I know we’re also curious about a couple of other initiatives that books for Africa is involved with. Well, we talked a lot about the demand for books and your desire and goal, and I think it’s an, it’s a noble one to meet the demands or requests or requirements of your recipient base. And I know one of the, or a couple of the topics you’ve been working on are agriculture and girls empowerment. So can you tell us a little bit about those programs and, and I think that’s a great opportunity to talk about how you focused some of your initiative,

Pat Plonski (00:38:20):

Those sorts of initiatives. What we sort of asked ourselves a number of years ago is how do we do some ad-ons, you know, what would enhance a shipment of books? And so computers were one way to enhance it. Law libraries were way we work and get a lot of law books from Thomson Reuters and created this law initiative. I grew up on a farm, uh, here in Southern Minnesota. And so, uh, had some background with agriculture and agriculture is big business in Africa. And so we created this agricultural and natural resources initiative, which provides, uh, books in those categories. Those are sort of like an encyclopedia Britannica, except their agricultural and natural resources books. We purchase them brand new because they had to be about tropical and subtropical, agricultural topics. Also a number of vocational topics, things like wiring and construction trades and things like that, sort of traditionally in the education world, they, they are along with agriculture and natural resources.

Pat Plonski (00:39:25):

So we sort of created an initiative there and, you know, we, we purchased those books and then we provide them for anyone who can, who wants it and can provide reimbursement on those costs. So we just sent two of those yesterday. There’s either today or yesterday, I have to, uh, we sent enter today to The Gambia and yesterday to Ethiopia, we sent a law library today to The Gambia. And, um, I think it was yesterday, two of those agriculture libraries went to Ethiopia, again, demand driven if you don’t want it, don’t take it if you do want it, and you can get a little extra money it’s available. I think to provide some opportunity for people to make decisions is a good way to gauge demand. And if there’s, you know, some of the things we provided just weren’t in demand, we did have an initiative with tablets.

Pat Plonski (00:40:18):

We were providing, I think a 50 or a hundred tablets. And the cost was $5,000. And didn’t have a lot of takers on that. You know, that was too much money, but providing one or two computers, we do that very often or 10 computers, that kind of thing. So again, supply and demand, providing offerings, seeing what people want seeing it, what can they afford to pay for that or not books Africa, because not the only organization that ships books to Africa. The thing is a number of organizations used to do this and they went bankrupt. They couldn’t do it. They couldn’t keep the ball rolling. And I think about that a lot, some of those partners provided fabulous product, but the problem was there wasn’t anyone who was willing to pay for it, or are there some, their suppliers were not able to keep them going or the supply dried up. And so sometimes the question isn’t are you providing the very best product out there? The question is, are you providing a good product that people are willing to pay for that has value with the recipients? And that’s what I’ve learned in my years at books for Africa, you know, can we add value? Will people be willing to pay the costs? And if the answer is, yes, you can hit 50 million bucks. If the answer is no, you’re a footnote

Scott Luton (00:41:34):

In the history of international development, giving the people what they want while building a successful and sustainable business model. And there’s so much there. You shared Patrick, we’re going to bring you back. It seems like Greg and Enrique, we could gain a business degree from hearing Patrick’s story and his experiences for the last 17 and a half years. Especially if you think about how the market, how everything has shifted and evolved in the last seven, much less the last 17 years, fascinating stuff. Before we talk, you start to wind down, start to ask a Patriot about what’s next for books for Africa, Enrique, and Greg, we’ve heard a lot around what has enabled the organization to hit, be able to be in position, to hit fit to man and keep on going some of these, some of these specialized programs, giving folks what they want and, and the notion of, uh, you know, agriculture, you’re shipping. And you’re really that old proverb, you know, teaching folks to fish rather than providing fish. I mean, it’s so far reaching and with massive ripple effects, but those are some of my initial takeaways, Greg or Enrique. What else did you hear based on what Patrick shared that really stands out to you?

Greg White (00:42:50):

One is that when your best prospect is to break, even I had not thought of it this way. You really have to be a finely tuned machine. If you do your very best as a nonprofit, you break even that’s as good as it gets. So that forces the amount of focus that I think Pat brought when he came. And I mean, I’m not asking you to answer this question, but it does make me wonder how do you survive 15 years or 14 and a half before Pat gets there without that level of discipline. And how do you instill that? I mean, I think that’s a, both of those are huge accomplishments and the, and the other is, it is just commerce. Somebody is paying for it, right. I guess I never thought about the fact that the receiving library or whomever has to pay for these books because Pat and and his organization had to pay to ship them there.

Greg White (00:43:48):

You know, it’s not like a bunch of money comes in, books, go in a box and they get dumped on the street somewhere. Right, right, right. It’s way, way more complex than that. You know, I think when we start to think about these kinds of organizations as real commerce organizations, that they don’t look so different from someone who’s sending books to a book, to a bookstore for profit. Um, and we’ve already learned here that the, that the logistics are every bit as complex and the stakes are every bit as high, if not higher, again, because best you can do is break even. So it’s a really impressive organization and a really impressive management

Scott Luton (00:44:32):

Style to get you over a monumental task. I’m simply impressed with how quickly did that math 17 and a half years and four and a half years say, Greg, you don’t miss a beat, man. I love that. But, but you’re, you’re right. You gotta run a very tight savvy ship in order to do all that books for Africa is doing. And that was just some of what you shared there, Greg.

Enrique Alvarez (00:44:54):

Right. Kay. What else,

Scott Luton (00:44:56):

What else are you hearing here really is going to stick out once we wrap up

Enrique Alvarez (00:44:59):

This interview? Yeah, no, I I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with Patrick and his team for a couple of years. And one of the things that he mentioned that that really, uh, is, is, is admirable. It’s just, you pay attention. You listen to, to the end users, you listen to the people that are actually receiving the product, but then it’s just such a interesting way because you’re, you’re being a hundred percent empathic and listening, but you don’t give them what they want either. So it’s just a, it’s a very, it’s a very good balance between like, listen, this has to be run as a business because we don’t run it as a business. It’s not going to be sustainable. And what good does it make if we go under? So I think to Greg’s point, I think Patrick, you and your team do a really, really good job and listening and coming up with new ideas and being creative and being open to the digital and new programs and plans.

Enrique Alvarez (00:45:52):

But at the same time, you’re like, well, yeah, but here’s the line you might say that you want this, but you really don’t want it. You just kind of think you want it. This is what I think could probably be better and more impactful. And, and again, just for me, the fact that you had guys I’ve shipped to every single country in Africa, it’s just how many companies can say that. I don’t think, I don’t think there are many, there’s some countries in Africa that it’s just unbelievable that you are able to ship anything into a, so it’s, it’s a really good milestone.

Pat Plonski (00:46:21):

Another cliche is, is voting with your feet. If somebody really wants books, they have to either get the money. Or, you know, sometimes they are engaged in fundraising and we do have fundraisers who help people out. You know, sometimes we can send a container for free, uh, or send them a two for one or something like that. But there has to be demand. And I always say, people vote with their feet. And so if books for Africa were not providing value to the African continent, it would not have survived 32 years and been able to ship 50 million books. The Jake would have been up long ago and somebody would have said, Hey, this is junk. This stuff’s no good at all. And that would have been it, uh, you know, 28 years ago. So, you know, you have to add value and people are smart. People will vote with their feet. They’ll they’ll know if it’s good or not. And so that’s, that’s the thing is you have to, you know, you can’t be all things to all people, but you have to know if you’re adding value or not. And at what price and how, how he can provide it. Yes.

Scott Luton (00:47:25):

They’ll know. And then they’ll let you know, in a year 2020. Okay. So

Pat Plonski (00:47:32):

I have one more quick story. I had a guy who was criticizing us. He was a, he was a, I think an Oxford scholar. He had wrote a book and he calls me and says, I’m going to release this book. And it basically says, you guys are doing horrible work. You know, really what you should be doing is working to eradicate Guinea worm. That would be much more effective. And so he called me to tell me that he had done this. And so I of course said, well, wait. And I wrote a letter to the editor when his book was, got rave reviews in London. I said, well, isn’t it interesting. This guy who wrote a book to say that books are no good in Africa, but he thought that they were good enough in the West that he could criticize us. That was number one.

Pat Plonski (00:48:12):

And number two, I agree. We should eradicate Guinea worm, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t send books. So sometimes in this business, there’s a lot of people who are going to tell you, you’re no good, and you shouldn’t be doing this and you’re doing the wrong thing. And if you listen to those people, you will fold up long, right? At the beginning, you need to have a sense that, Hey, this works. And if somebody doesn’t want to work with you, we wish them the best. But if there are other people that want to work with you, you find them and work with them.

Scott Luton (00:48:47):

Speed ahead. Preach it, brother. Yes. Amen. Hundred million books in a couple more years, you know, the immediate thought that I had was why did he waste all that time? Writing a book instead of going there to help cure Guinea worm, we will have to, we’ll have to, we’ll have to find out. I don’t know. We’ll put our researched to find out the title of that book. That’s right. Alright. So Patrick, breaking out the crystal ball and kind of looking ahead, uh, Enrique con kind of stole my thunder a little bit, cause I was going to ask you tongue firmly planted in cheek. When we can expect the 100 million books to be shipped, it’s always what have you done for us slightly, right? That’s everyone’s mentality, but all kidding aside. I mean, it’s amazing what y’all do. It’s amazing. The constraints that you do it within. Great to reconnect with the books for Africa story once more. So what’s one thing that you can point to as, as what’s next for the organization.

Pat Plonski (00:49:41):

Well, I think we’ve touched on it a bit is always the digital, um, you know, we don’t want to provide books because that’s all we have. You know, I think to the extent that we can identify things that we can provide in digital will be an obvious one, computers, tablets, maybe cell phones, if there’s a way that we can add value and we can provide that in it, it sort of dovetails with what we’re currently doing. I think that’s the great question for us, you know, because at the end of the day, books are a means to an end. If we get this fabulous book and it’s in a library somewhere that doesn’t necessarily mean that anything happened, somebody has to read book learning has to occur. So books are a means to an end. They’re not the end in and of themselves. And, and so we need to think in terms of, if education is the end product, then books for Abacus really in the education business and books are the mechanism by which we provide that education in a very cost effective way.

Pat Plonski (00:50:48):

And so there may be other more cost effective ways to provide education in the future. And if we can add value by providing that, we want to explore that and, and do that. Also, we do, you know, we’ve been ramping up over the past several years, our, our assessment and surveying, uh, you know, we’ve actually over the last five years, we’ve gotten surveys from I think, 30 countries. And the question, you know, the basic question is always the same for us. Are the books helpful? Are they increasing learning? Are they high quality over the last years? I’m happy to report that from those 30 countries, very high marks that people say, yeah, that is useful. The books that we got we’d liked them, they were helpful. You know, there’s always something that could be improved. You said 50,000 books in a container, somebody’s gonna find some that are not helpful, that useful and wish that they hadn’t gotten, you know, to be able to always ask that question, Hey, is this working for you?

Pat Plonski (00:51:49):

And then there may be other ways to ask that question then, and as we keep asking those questions, we may find different ways of, so I’d love to send another a hundred million books and in that have to wait 32 years to do it. You don’t, unless until somebody comes up with a better idea, we’ll keep shipping books in this way. I suspect market conditions are gonna change, you know, in the next decade or so. And so we’ll have to be nimble again, you ignore market conditions at your peril. And so whether you’re an international nonprofit or you’re, you’re selling shoes, you know, you, you have to be attuned to that. And so I think the next step for us is to stay attuned to that, to keep shipping books. And if we hit another 50 million books, that would be awesome. But it’s all about providing value for the recipients, advancing educational opportunity, whether it be in a community library, a university or a, or a K-12 school.

Scott Luton (00:52:45):

So let’s make sure folks that are going to want to help Joe join in and support your efforts. Let’s make sure they can easily connect with you and easily find books for Africa. So w what’s the best way to do that?

Pat Plonski (00:52:58):

Easiest ways is to go to our website books for africa.org. We have a lot of information there. That’s where you would donate. That’s where you would. If you want books in Africa, that’s where you would set up the communications with our team to, to start the process, to do an order of books. That’s where a lot of information is, is held. We were just ranked by charity navigator for the top rating, ninth rating, ninth year in a row. We got their top rating that puts us in the top 4% of all charities in the United States. So that’s that sort of information is on our website, testimonials from recipients. So we also are very active on Facebook. So look us up on Facebook. We have a lot of pictures and you know, a newspaper editor once told me pictures are good news. You know, I always remember that. So there’s, there’s videos, there’s pictures, pictures of our warehouse, pictures of recipients video. You can also find information on Facebook. Yeah, look me up on LinkedIn too. I don’t use Twitter. I use LinkedIn as my Twitter. Anyone who wants to connect with me is I’ll connect with them. And, uh, uh, so those are our three main streams that we use for communication, but the best is books for africa.org

Scott Luton (00:54:11):

For our listeners that may not be aware. Charity navigator is perhaps the, the foremost vetting organization, third party, a very credible third party that, that, that dives into the financials and the background of all these nonprofits and to be in the top 4% with the highest ranking, I think what nine years running that is that’s remarkable and against further testimony to what you are doing at books for Africa. So good stuff there. All right. So we have been chatting with Patrick Klonsky PhD, executive director with books for Africa, Patrick, thanks so much. And don’t go into where I’ve got a question or two for Enrique before we wrap up, but really enjoy reconnecting with you and your mission. And may the Hunter may have made it 50 million book get there with a Murphy’s law. You just Paul’s this international war we live in and may the Hunter may just be right around the corner. So wishing you all the best success moving forward.

Pat Plonski (00:55:07):

Thanks guys. And you know, it’s great to, to, I feel like I’m with kindred souls, people who like to talk about logistics, uh, uh, it’s, it’s been fun. So thanks for having me on your program.

Scott Luton (00:55:18):

Yeah, absolutely inspiring. Absolutely. You’re definitely in kindred spirits here at supply chain now. So thanks so much. It takes what it takes strong leaders doing what y’all do to serve the folks in need globally. So I really admire that. Alright. So Enrique put you on the hotspot for a second, really appreciate you facilitating this conversation once again and the series so that our audience can tune in and hear Patrick’s story and the books for Africa story, a little bit of vector global logistics news, because you never want to talk about vector. And I always appreciate that about you, but you’ve got a new website as y’all continue to grow and expand, despite some of these challenging elements that we have here in 2020. Right? We do thank you very much for bringing that up.

Enrique Alvarez (00:56:01):

It’s been, I guess it’s been our baby. Uh, literally it’s been like 11 months in the making and, uh, and we’re all incredibly proud of the web page and what we stand for and what the webpage is about. And, um, and it’s really just highlighting some of this incredible organizations like books for Africa. Actually, you guys go to our webpage, there’s a, there’s a big section on Patrick and Patrick’s steam and what they do, and you can get to his webpage through that as well. But no, we’re just really happy. It’s been a challenging year, nevertheless, but we continue to do focus on, on the market conditions. As Patrick said, that’s very important and we’ll keep, we’ll keep pushing

Greg White (00:56:40):

Vector gl.com. Is that right? That is correct. And we’ll make sure we have that. And the books for Africa, a link right there in the show notes to make it really easy for folks to make the connection. And Greg, I know after all this, this final segment, there’s so much, I hate to use that word unpack, but we could be unpacking some of the good stuff we heard for days. So what, you know, I’ll give you the last comment before I sign off here. You know, one of the biggest takeaways is, first of all, I want to say it too. Thank you Enrique for bringing us companies and people like books for Africa and Pat and, and helping us understand how some of these companies are give forward. Kind of companies not give back, right? Giving is their main purpose. And we love that. And, you know, we coined that phrase on this series.

Greg White (00:57:30):

So we really appreciate that spirit. I think the other thing that everyone can take away from this is, as Pat said, this is a logistics lesson, right? It is another example of no product, no program. And it is, you know, it’s a lesson in understanding how any company navigates the logistics space, whether they’re doing it for profit or they’re, or they’re doing it for the good of humankind, it, it, that doesn’t change the logistics. And, um, there’s, you know, there’s some good merchandising, retailing, commerce, and logistics lessons in this episode. And, and it was a bit of an awakening for me to really think about it that way. So I hope everyone else who has listened to this will get that as well. Cause, and if you didn’t go back and listen again, cause they’re there, they are there for sure. So such a pleasure to be part of this series and the, hear this, hear these stories firsthand. Um, it really makes you want to double down and making sure that, you know, you’re given forward day in and day out, you know, uh, so I really appreciate the bar you’re setting really both of you Patrick and Enrique and Enrique, you know, know how committed you and your team are to really move in the bar and, and give forward and doing good and changing the world. So with that, want to make sure folks know, thanks Enrique

Enrique Alvarez (00:58:55):

Very briefly. And, um, I mean, I just want to make sure that listeners know that this is a great year for books for Africa. It’s a huge milestone. I would encourage anyone that’s listening to definitely reach out to Patrick, go to their webpage and, and, and be part of this 50 million books to Africa. And it’s not easy. Right? So, uh, I, I think that it’s, it’s one of those moments that you can probably donate more and part of this

Scott Luton (00:59:22):

Historical moment for that organization and, and above all, for all the different, for those 50 million books that they’re shipping and we’ll soon be shipping the impact and readers and people being educated. It’s probably a hundred times, a thousand times more. I know how many, uh, how many more times people read those books, but, uh, but it’s a huge impact. So I just, I would just feel that I wouldn’t say that people should not sit this out. They should just go out there, support the organization, make an effort, uh, and be part of this. I love it. Take action. Just a quick sure. Or having a big virtual celebration of the 20 of the 50 Millie’s book on September 24th. So on our website, you can register and participate and we’d welcome. Your donations of 50 cents sends a book to a child in Africa. Wow. Fourth, right?

Scott Luton (01:00:12):

September 24th, September 24. We’ll make sure we add that link in the show notes. This is a cat. So we got to make it easy for folks to that one, click away so much good stuff there. I want to thank again. Pat Polonsky, PhD exec director with books for Africa, of course, thank Enrique Alvarez, managing director with vector global logistics who powers this series logistics for purpose. This is always an uplifting story. Greg really enjoy closeness with you, Greg white, with supply chain now and own that note to our listeners. Hey, check out supply chain or radio.com for a lot more stories, much like this, that will challenge you to do your, uh, to go even further day in and day out. And also as you’ve heard here today, and I love and Rick K’s call to action. Deeds, not words. Take action. Do good. Give forward, be the change that’s needed. And on that note, we’ll see you next time.

Featured Guests

Patrick Plonski, Ph.D. has served as the Executive Director of Books for Africa since 2003. He holds a Ph.D. in International Education (2009) and previously served as Executive Director of the Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council at the University of Minnesota (1998-2003), and Committee Administrator for the Minnesota House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture (1987-1998).  Learn more about Books for Africa here: https://www.booksforafrica.org/

Enrique Alvarez serves as Managing Director at Vector Global Logistics and believes we all have a personal responsibility to change the world. He is hard working, relationship minded and pro-active. Enrique trusts that the key to logistics is having a good and responsible team that truly partners with the clients and does whatever is necessary to see them succeed. He is a proud sponsor of Vector’s unique results-based work environment and before venturing into logistics he worked for the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). During his time at BCG, he worked in different industries such as: Telecommunications, Energy, Industrial Goods, Building Materials and Private banking. His main focus was always on the operations, sales and supply chain processes, with case focus on, logistics, growth strategy and cost reduction. Prior to joining BCG, Enrique worked for Grupo Vitro, a Mexican glass manufacturer, for five years holding different positions from sales and logistics manager to supply chain project leader in charge of five warehouses in Colombia.

He has a MBA from The Wharton School of Business and a BS, in Mechanical Engineer from the Technologico de Monterrey in Mexico. Enrique’s passions are soccer and the ocean and also enjoys traveling, getting to know new people and spending time with his wife and two kids Emma and Enrique. Learn more about Vector Global Logistics here: http://vectorgl.com/

Hosts

Greg White

Principal & Host

Scott W. Luton

Founder, CEO, & Host

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Adrian Purtill

Host, Logistics with Purpose

Adrian Purtill serves as Business Development Manager at Vector Global Logistics, where he consults with importers and exporters in various industries to match their specific shipping requirements with the most effective supply chain solutions. Vector Global Logistics is an asset-free, multi-modal logistics company that provides exceptional sea freight, air freight, truck, rail, general logistic services and consulting for our clients. Our highly trained and professional team is committed to providing creative and effective solutions, always exceeding our customer’s expectations and fostering long-term relationships. With more than 20+ years of experience in both strategy consulting and logistics, Vector Global Logistics is your best choice to proactively minimize costs while having an exceptional service level.

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Joshua Miranda

Marketing Specialist

Joshua is a student from Institute of Technology and Higher Education of Monterrey Campus Guadalajara in Communication and Digital Media. His experience ranges from Plug and Play México, DearDoc, and Nissan México creating unique social media marketing campaigns and graphics design. Joshua helps to amplify the voice of supply chain here at Supply Chain Now by assisting in graphic design, content creation, asset logistics, and more.  In his free time he likes to read and write short stories as well as watch movies and television series.

Patch Reilly

Data Analytics and Metrics Intern

Patch is a fourth-year Management Information Systems and Marketing major at the University of Georgia. He is working with Supply Chain Now in data analysis, finding insights and best practices to increase company efficiency. Patch previously worked as an intern at AnswerRocket, a data analytics company where he gained invaluable knowledge about analytics, webpage SEO and B2B marketing best practices. In his free time, he enjoys playing tennis, going to concerts, and watching movies.

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Vicki White

Controller

Vicki has a long history of rising to challenges and keeping things up and running. First, she supported her family’s multi-million dollar business as controller for 12 years, beginning at the age of 17. Then, she worked as an office manager and controller for a wholesale food broker. But her biggest feat? Serving as the chief executive officer of her household, while her entrepreneur husband travelled the world extensively. She fed, nurtured, chaperoned, and chauffeured three daughters all while running a newsletter publishing business and remaining active in her community as a Stephen’s Minister, Sunday school teacher, school volunteer, licensed realtor and POA Board president (a title she holds to this day). A force to be reckoned with in the office, you might think twice before you meet Vicki on the tennis court! When she’s not keeping the books balanced at Supply Chain Now or playing tennis matches, you can find Vicki spending time with her husband Greg, her 4 fur babies, gardening, cleaning (yes, she loves to clean!) and learning new things.

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Scott W. Luton

Founder, CEO, & Host

As the founder and CEO of Supply Chain Now, you might say Scott is the voice of supply chain – but he’s too much of a team player to ever claim such a title. One thing’s for sure: he’s a tried and true supply chain expert. With over 15 years of experience in the end-to-end supply chain, Scott’s insights have appeared in major publications including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and CNN. He has also been named a top industry influencer by Thinkers360, ISCEA and more.

From 2009-2011, Scott was president of APICS Atlanta, and he continues to lead initiatives that support both the local business community and global industry. A United States Air Force Veteran, Scott has also regularly led efforts to give back to his fellow veteran community since his departure from active duty in 2002.

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Greg White

Principal, Supply Chain Now
Host of Supply Chain Now and TECHquila Sunrise

When rapid-growth technology companies, venture capital and private equity firms are looking for advisory, they call Greg – a founder, board director, advisor and catalyst of disruptive B2B technology and supply chain. An insightful visionary, Greg guides founders, investors and leadership teams in creating breakthroughs to gain market exposure and momentum – increasing overall company esteem and valuation.

Greg is a founder himself, creating Blue Ridge Solutions, a Gartner Magic Quadrant Leader in cloud-native supply chain applications, and bringing to market Curo, a field service management solution. He has also held leadership roles with Servigistics (PTC) and E3 Corporation (JDA/Blue Yonder). As a principal and host at Supply Chain Now, Greg helps guide the company’s strategic direction, hosts industry leader discussions, community livestreams, and all in addition to executive producing and hosting his original YouTube channel and podcast, TEChquila Sunrise.

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Chris Barnes

Principal, Supply Chain Now
Host of Supply Chain is Boring

Talk about world-class: Chris is one of the few professionals in the world to hold CPIM-F, CLTD-F and CSCP-F designations from ASCM/APICS. He’s also the APICS coach – and our resident Supply Chain Doctor. When he’s not hosting programs with Supply Chain Now, he’s sharing supply chain knowledge on the APICS Coach Youtube channel or serving as a professional education instructor for the Georgia Tech Supply Chain & Logistic Institute’s Supply Chain Management (SCM) program and University of Tennessee-Chattanooga Center for Professional Education courses.

Chris earned a BS in Industrial Engineering from Bradley University, an MBA with emphasis in Industrial Psychology from the University of West Florida, and is a Doctoral in Supply Chain Management candidate.

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Karin Bursa

Host of TEKTOK

If there’s one Supply Chain ‘Pro to Know,’ it’s Karin. She’s earned the title for three years and counting – culminating in her designation as the “2020 Supply Chain Pro to Know of the Year.” Karin is also an award-winning digital supply chain, business strategy and technology marketing executive. A sought-after speaker at industry conferences, you will find her quoted in a variety of supply chain publications – and active in forums like ASCM/APICS and CSCMP.

With more than 25 years of supply chain experience, Karin spearheaded strategy and marketing for Gartner Magic Quadrant Leader and IDC MarketScape Leader, Logility. Karin has the heart of a teacher and has helped nearly 1,000 customers transform their businesses and tell their success stories. Today, she is a sought-after advisor helping high-growth B2B technology companies with everything from defining their unique value propositions to introducing new products and capturing customer success. No matter their goals, she makes sure her clients have actionable marketing strategies that help grow global revenue, market share and profitability.

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Kevin L. Jackson

Host of Digital Transformers

Kevin L. Jackson is a globally recognized Thought Leader, Industry Influencer and Founder/Author of the award winning “Cloud Musings” blog.  He has also been recognized as a “Top 5G Influencer” (Onalytica 2019, Radar 2020), a “Top 50 Global Digital Transformation Thought Leader” (Thinkers 360 2019) and provides strategic consulting and integrated social media services to AT&T, Intel, Broadcom, Ericsson and other leading companies. Mr. Jackson’s commercial experience includes Vice President J.P. Morgan Chase, Worldwide Sales Executive for IBM and SAIC (Engility) Director Cloud Solutions. He has served on teams that have supported digital transformation projects for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the US Intelligence Community.  Kevin’s formal education includes a MS Computer Engineering from Naval Postgraduate School; MA National Security & Strategic Studies from Naval War College; and a BS Aerospace Engineering from the United States Naval Academy. Internationally recognizable firms that have sponsored articles authored by him include CiscoMicrosoft, Citrix and IBM.  Books include “Click to Transform” (Leaders Press, 2020), “Architecting Cloud Computing Solutions” (Packt, 2018), and “Practical Cloud Security: A Cross Industry View” (Taylor & Francis, 2016). He also delivers online training through Tulane UniversityO’Reilly MediaLinkedIn Learning, and Pluralsight.  Mr. Jackson retired from the U.S. Navy in 1994, earning specialties in Space Systems EngineeringCarrier Onboard Delivery Logistics and carrier-based Airborne Early Warning and Control. While active, he also served with the National Reconnaissance Office, Operational Support Office, providing tactical support to Navy and Marine Corps forces worldwide.

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Enrique Alvarez

Host of Logistics with Purpose and Supply Chain Now en Español

Enrique serves as Managing Director at Vector Global Logistics and believes we all have a personal responsibility to change the world. He is hard working, relationship minded and pro-active. Enrique trusts that the key to logistics is having a good and responsible team that truly partners with the clients and does whatever is necessary to see them succeed. He is a proud sponsor of Vector’s unique results-based work environment and before venturing into logistics he worked for the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). During his time at BCG, he worked in different industries such as Telecommunications, Energy, Industrial Goods, Building Materials, and Private Banking. His main focus was always on the operations, sales, and supply chain processes, with case focus on, logistics, growth strategy, and cost reduction. Prior to joining BCG, Enrique worked for Grupo Vitro, a Mexican glass manufacturer, for five years holding different positions from sales and logistics manager to supply chain project leader in charge of five warehouses in Colombia.

He has an MBA from The Wharton School of Business and a BS, in Mechanical Engineer from the Technologico de Monterrey in Mexico. Enrique’s passions are soccer and the ocean, and he also enjoys traveling, getting to know new people, and spending time with his wife and two kids, Emma and Enrique.

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Kelly Barner

Host of Dial P for Procurement

Kelly is the Owner and Managing Director of Buyers Meeting Point and MyPurchasingCenter. She has been in procurement since 2003, starting as a practitioner and then as the Associate Director of Consulting at Emptoris. She has covered procurement news, events, publications, solutions, trends, and relevant economics at Buyers Meeting Point since 2009. Kelly is also the General Manager at Art of Procurement and Business Survey Chair for the ISM-New York Report on Business. Kelly has her MBA from Babson College as well as an MS in Library and Information Science from Simmons College and she has co-authored three books: ‘Supply Market Intelligence for Procurement Professionals’, ‘Procurement at a Crossroads’, and ‘Finance Unleashed’.

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Jamin Alvidrez

Founder & CEO, Supply Chain Now
Host of Supply Chain Now, Veteran Voices, This Week in Business History

As the founder and CEO of Supply Chain Now, you might say Scott is the voice of supply chain – but he’s too much of a team player to ever claim such a title. One thing’s for sure: he’s a tried and true supply chain expert. With over 15 years of experience in the end-to-end supply chain, Scott’s insights have appeared in major publications including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and CNN. He has also been named a top industry influencer by Thinkers360, ISCEA and more.

From 2009-2011, Scott was president of APICS Atlanta, and he continues to lead initiatives that support both the local business community and global industry. A United States Air Force Veteran, Scott has also regularly led efforts to give back to his fellow veteran community since his departure from active duty in 2002.

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Jeff Miller

Host

Jeff Miller is the host of Supply Chain Now’s Supply Chain is the Business.  Jeff is a digital business transformation and supply chain advisor with deep expertise in Industry 4.0, ERP, PLM, SCM, IoT, AR and related technologies. Through more than 25 years of industry and consulting experience, he has worked with many of the world’s leading product and service companies to achieve their strategic business and supply chain goals, creating durable business value for organizations at the forefront of technology and business practices. Jeff is the managing director for North America at Transition Technologies PSC, a global solution integrator, and the founder and managing principal of BTV Advisors, a firm that helps companies secure business transformation value from digital supply chain technologies and their breakthrough capabilities.

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Amanda Luton

Chief Marketing Officer

Amanda is a marketing veteran and entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience across a variety of industries and organizations including Von Maur, Anthropologie, AmericasMart Atlanta, and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. In 2016, Amanda founded and grew the Magnolia Marketing Group into a successful digital media firm, and now she develops modern marketing strategies, social campaigns, innovative operational processes, and implements creative content initiatives for Supply Chain Now. But that’s just the beginning of her supply chain impact. Amanda also served as the VP of Information Systems and Webmaster on the Board of Directors for APICS Savannah for several years, and is the face behind the scenes welcoming you to every Supply Chain Now livestream! She was also recently selected as one of the Top 100 Women in Supply Chain by Supply Chain Digest and IBM.  When she’s not leading the Supply Chain Now marketing team, you can find Amanda with her and her husband Scott’s three kids, in the kitchen cooking, or singing second soprano in the Grayson United Methodist Church choir.

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Clay Phillips

Business Development Manager

Clay is passionate about two things: supply chain and the marketing that goes into it. Recently graduated with a degree in marketing at the University of Georgia, Clay got his start as a journalism major and inaugural member of the Owl’s football team at Kennesaw State University – but quickly saw tremendous opportunity in the Terry College of Business. He’s already putting his education to great use at Supply Chain Now, assisting with everything from sales and brand strategy to media production. Clay has contributed to initiatives such as our leap into video production, the guest blog series, and boosting social media presence, and after nearly two years in Supply Chain Now’s Marketing Department, Clay now heads up partnership and sales initiatives with the help of the rest of the Supply Chain Now sales team.

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Trisha Cordes

Administrative Assistant

Trisha is new to the supply chain industry – but not to podcasting. She’s an experienced podcast manager and virtual assistant who also happens to have 20 years of experience as an elementary school teacher. It’s safe to say, she’s passionate about helping people, and she lives out that passion every day with the Supply Chain Now team, contributing to scheduling and podcast production.

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Allie Krasinski

Marketing Coordinator

Allie is currently completing a degree in marketing with a certificate in entrepreneurship at the University of Georgia. She got her social media start through an internship with Shred, a personal training app, and she’s been hooked ever since. She works to optimize our following base while assisting the team with content creation, influencer outreach and other marketing endeavors. Allie can’t wait to keep growing alongside Supply Chain Now.

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Lori Sofian

Marketing Coordinator

Lori is currently completing a degree in marketing with an emphasis in digital marketing at the University of Georgia. When she’s not supporting the marketing efforts at Supply Chain Now, you can find her at music festivals – or working toward her dream goal of a fashion career. Lori is involved in many extracurricular activities and appreciates all the learning experiences UGA has brought her.

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Natalie Dutton

Marketing Coordinator

Natalie is currently pursuing a degree in marketing with an emphasis in digital marketing and a certificate in new media at the University of Georgia. If there’s one thing she’s learned at the Terry College of Business, it’s that the supply chain is a dynamic, unifying force that’s essential to any business. Natalie helps to amplify the voices of the supply chain here at Supply Chain Now by assisting with media management, content creation and communications.

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Ben Harris

Host

Ben Harris is the Director of Supply Chain Ecosystem Expansion for the Metro Atlanta Chamber. Ben comes to the Metro Atlanta Chamber after serving as Senior Manager, Market Development for Manhattan Associates. There, Ben was responsible for developing Manhattan’s sales pipeline and overall Americas supply chain marketing strategy. Ben oversaw market positioning, messaging and campaign execution to build awareness and drive new pipeline growth. Prior to joining Manhattan, Ben spent four years with the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Center of Innovation for Logistics where he played a key role in establishing the Center as a go-to industry resource for information, support, partnership building, and investment development. Additionally, he became a key SME for all logistics and supply chain-focused projects. Ben began his career at Page International, Inc. where he drove continuous improvement in complex global supply chain operations for a wide variety of businesses and Fortune 500 companies. An APICS Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP), Ben holds an Executive Master’s degree in Business Administration (EMBA) and bachelor’s degree in International Business (BBA) from the Terry College at the University of Georgia.

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Page Siplon

Host, The Freight Insider

Prior to joining TeamOne Logistics, Page Siplon served as the Executive Director of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics, the State’s leading consulting resource for fueling logistics industry growth and global competitiveness. For over a decade, he directly assisted hundreds of companies to overcome challenges and capitalize on opportunities related to the movement of freight. During this time, Siplon was also appointed to concurrently serve the State of Georgia as Director of the larger Centers of Innovation Program, in which he provided executive leadership and vision for all six strategic industry-focused Centers. As a frequently requested keynote speaker, Siplon is called upon to address a range of audiences on unique aspects of technology, workforce, and logistics. This often includes topics of global and domestic logistics trends, supply chain visibility, collaboration, and strategic planning. He has also been quoted as an industry expert in publications such as Forbes, Journal of Commerce, Fortune, NPR, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, American Express, DC Velocity, Area Development Magazine, Site Selection Magazine, Inbound Logistics, Modern Material Handling, and is frequently a live special guest on SiriusXM’s Road Dog Radio Show. Siplon is an active industry participant, recognized by DC Velocity Magazine as a “2012 Logistics Rainmaker” which annually identifies the top-ten logistics professionals in the Nation; and named a “Pro to Know” by Supply & Demand Executive Magazine in 2014. Siplon was also selected by Georgia Trend Magazine as one of the “Top 100 Most Influential Georgians” for 2013, 2014, and 2015. He also serves various industry leadership roles at both the State and Federal level. Governor Nathan Deal nominated Siplon to represent Georgia on a National Supply Chain Competitiveness Advisory Committee, where he was appointed to a two-year term by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and was then appointed to serve as its vice-chairman. At the State level, he was selected by then-Governor Sonny Perdue to serve as lead consultant on the Commission for New Georgia’s Freight and Logistics Task Force. In this effort, Siplon led a Private Sector Advisory Committee with invited executives from a range of private sector stakeholders including UPS, Coca-Cola, The Home Depot, Delta Airlines, Georgia Pacific, CSX, and Norfolk Southern. Siplon honorably served a combined 12 years in the United States Marine Corps and the United States Air Force. During this time, he led the integration of encryption techniques and deployed cryptographic devices for tactically secure voice and data platforms in critical ground-to-air communication systems. This service included support for all branches of the Department of Defense, multiple federal security agencies, and aiding NASA with multiple Space Shuttle launches. Originally from New York, Siplon received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering with a focus on digital signal processing from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He earned an associate’s degree in advanced electronic systems from the Air Force College and completed multiple military leadership academies in both the Marines and Air Force. Siplon currently lives in Cumming, Georgia (north of Atlanta), with his wife Jan, and two children Thomas (19) and Lily (15).

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Page Siplon

Host, Logistics with Purpose

Kristi Porteris VP of Sales and Marketing at Vector Global Logistics, a company that is changing the world through supply chain. In her role, she oversees all marketing efforts and supports the sales team in doing what they do best. In addition to this role, she is the Chief Do-Gooder at Signify, which assists nonprofits and social impact companies through copywriting and marketing strategy consulting. She has almost 20 years of professional experience, and loves every opportunity to help people do more good.

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Kevin Brown

Host, Logistics with Purpose

Kevin Brown is the Director of Business Development for Vector Global Logistics.  He has a dedicated interest in Major Account Management, Enterprise Sales, and Corporate Leadership. He offers 25 years of exceptional experience and superior performance in the sales of Logistics, Supply Chain, and Transportation Management. Kevin is a dynamic, high-impact, sales executive and corporate leader who has consistently exceeded corporate goals. He effectively coordinates multiple resources to solution sell large complex opportunities while focusing on corporate level contacts across the enterprise. His specialties include targeting and securing key accounts by analyzing customer’s current business processes and developing solutions to meet their corporate goals. Connect with Kevin on LinkedIn.

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Sofia Rivas Herrera

Host, Supply Chain Now en Espanol

Sofia Rivas Herrera is a Mexican Industrial Engineer from Tecnologico de Monterrey class 2019. Upon graduation, she earned a scholarship to study MIT’s Graduate Certificate in Logistics and Supply Chain Management and graduated as one of the Top 3 performers of her class in 2020. She also has a multicultural background due to her international academic experiences at Singapore Management University and Kühne Logistics University in Hamburg. Sofia self-identifies as a Supply Chain enthusiast & ambassador sharing her passion for the field in her daily life.

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Scott W. Luton

Founder & CEO, Supply Chain Now
Host of Supply Chain Now, Veteran Voices, This Week in Business History

As the founder and CEO of Supply Chain Now, you might say Scott is the voice of supply chain – but he’s too much of a team player to ever claim such a title. One thing’s for sure: he’s a tried and true supply chain expert. With over 15 years of experience in the end-to-end supply chain, Scott’s insights have appeared in major publications including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and CNN. He has also been named a top industry influencer by Thinkers360, ISCEA and more.

From 2009-2011, Scott was president of APICS Atlanta, and he continues to lead initiatives that support both the local business community and global industry. A United States Air Force Veteran, Scott has also regularly led efforts to give back to his fellow veteran community since his departure from active duty in 2002.

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Demo Perez

Host, Supply Chain Now en Espanol

Demo Perez started his career in 1997 in the industry by chance when a relative asked him for help for two just weeks putting together an operation for FedEx Express at the Colon Free Zone, an area where he was never been but accepted the challenge. Worked in all roles possible from a truck driver to currier to a sales representative, helped the brand introduction, market share growth and recognition in the Colon Free Zone, at the end of 1999 had the chance to meet and have a chat with Fred Smith ( FedEx CEO), joined another company in 2018 who took over the FedEx operations as Operations and sales manager, in 2004 accepted the challenge from his company to leave the FedEx operations and business to take over the operation and business of DHL Express, his major competitor and rival so couldn’t say no, by changing completely its operation model in the Free Zone. In 2005 started his first entrepreneurial journey by quitting his job and joining two friends to start a Freight Forwarding company. After 8 months was recruited back by his company LSP with the General Manager role with the challenge of growing the company and make it fully capable warehousing 3PL. By 2009 joined CSCMP and WERC and started his journey of learning and growing his international network and high-level learning. In 2012 for the first time joined a local association ( the Panama Maritime Chamber) and worked in the country’s first Logistics Strategy plan, joined and lead other associations ending as president of the Panama Logistics Council in 2017. By finishing his professional mission at LSP with a company that was 8 times the size it was when accepted the role as GM with so many jobs generated and several young professionals coached, having great financial results, took the decision to move forward and start his own business from scratch by the end of 2019. with a friend and colleague co-founded IPL Group a company that started as a boutique 3PL and now is gearing up for the post-Covid era by moving to the big leagues.

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Kim Winter

Host, Supply Chain Now

The founder of Logistics Executive Group, Kim Winter delivers 40 years of executive leadership experience spanning Executive Search & Recruitment, Leadership Development, Executive Coaching, Corporate Advisory, Motivational Speaking, Trade Facilitation and across the Supply Chain, Logistics, 3PL, E-commerce, Life Science, Cold Chain, FMCG, Retail, Maritime, Defence, Aviation, Resources, and Industrial sectors. Operating from the company’s global offices, he is a regular contributor of thought leadership to industry and media, is a professional Master of Ceremonies, and is frequently invited to chair international events.

He is a Board member of over a dozen companies throughout APAC, India, and the Middle East, a New Zealand citizen, he holds formal resident status in Australia and the UAE, and is the Australia & New Zealand representative for the UAE Government-owned Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA), the Middle East’s largest Economic Free Zone.

A triathlete and ex-professional rugby player, Kim is a qualified (IECL Sydney) executive coach and the Founder / Chairman of the successful not for profit humanitarian organization, Oasis Africa (www. oasisafrica.org.au), which has provided freedom from poverty through education to over 8000 mainly orphaned children in East Africa’s slums. Kim holds an MBA and BA from Massey & Victoria Universities (NZ).

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Alex Bramley

Sales Support Intern

Alex is pursuing a Marketing degree and a Certificate in Legal Studies at the University of Georgia. As a dual citizen of both the US and UK; Alex has studied abroad at University College London and is passionate about travel and international business. Through her coursework at the Terry College of Business, Alex has gained valuable skills in digital marketing, analytics, and professional selling. She joined Supply Chain Now as a Sales Support Intern where she assists the team by prospecting and qualifying new business partners.

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