Demand Planning, Labor Management, Technology Robert Johnson is a collaborative leader and considers himself part of the team. His advice: "Don't assume someone else is steering the ship" and "treat the company as though you own it."Years ago, leaders at Future Tech Enterprise, a global systems integrator headquartered in Holbrook, New York, realized that the supply chain is the company's lifeline."Our long-term planning efforts paid off during these challenging times related to COVID-19," says Robert Johnson, the company's chief financial officer and chief operations officer. "We've worked hard to secure multiple avenues for product flow and maximize our supply chain diversity."Future Tech develops information technology solutions for clients in the aerospace, defense, education, healthcare, manufacturing, and retail sectors. It holds inventory—workstations, servers, laptops, and more—for those customers in the warehouse at its corporate headquarters. In June 2020, the company opened a new 24,000-square-foot logistics center in Plano, Texas, and plans to expand its footprint to Baltimore, Asia, Australia, Europe, and Mexico.Johnson spoke with us about Future Tech's supply chain strategies and gave us a look into his leadership philosophy. IL: How does Future Tech make sure it can always ship the right products in the right quantities to each of its clients? Our successful approach starts with comprehensive, predictive analytics. We keep our inventory segregated by client, and we combine historical data and current trends to accurately forecast what clients will need. We don't want to sit on inventory forever, but we want to make sure products are readily available.IL: How has COVID-19 affected your supply chain? Not only did factories in China shut down at the start of the pandemic, but when COVID-19 came to the United States, demand from our customers increased. We were ready to meet the need in part because we had multiple avenues of procurement, including original equipment manufacturers and distributors. We also anticipated shortages and brought in product ahead of time. When the factories shut down, we had our clients covered, as we had many months of inventory available.IL: What early experience helped shape you as a leader? Many years ago, the organization I worked for ran into serious financial difficulties. As a young employee, I assumed that the corporate management team was in control. As it turned out, they were not. The company had too much debt, and they eventually went out of business. I learned a great lesson: Do not assume that someone else is watching the ship. I constantly stress to my team that they are on the front line, financially and operationally. That's why one of my mantras is "treat the company as though you own it."IL: How would you describe your leadership style? It's collaborative. A company is a family, a team, and I'm part of that team. I try to balance mentoring the team with enabling them to spread their wings.IL: How do you nurture talent in your teams?It starts with hiring. I interview just about everyone who comes to work for the company. Our hiring philosophy emphasizes skill set first, experience second. We find the right people and the best situations for them to thrive, leading to high staff consistency and extremely low turnover.I set goals, some formal and some not, and constantly follow through on those. I provide feedback—always constructive, sometimes blunt. And I stress continual learning.I also encourage everyone who works for me to put their devices down for 15 minutes each day and just think about something that's challenging them. Just set some time aside and think about it logically. Every challenge has a solution.IL: How do you give criticism or correction?When it's used constructively, criticism is an integral part of the learning process. I always have those conversations one on one. And I insist that everyone keep an open mind.It's important for senior leadership to recognize that great ideas can come from anyone and anywhere. Just because someone has a different opinion or does things differently doesn't mean that it's wrong or requires correction. Sometimes, it might even be better.IL: What's the hardest aspect of your job?Recently, it was leading the opening of a new 24,000-square-foot logistics center in Plano during a pandemic. But I am proud of how the team adjusted. Following our own aggressive safety guidelines every step of the way, we somehow finished close to our timeline.Balancing conflicting priorities is always a challenge. We have so many initiatives and projects going on simultaneously, it can be hard to dedicate the proper attention to each project. I don't feel comfortable half paying attention to two things at once. I like to give each project the focus it deserves.IL: How have you been influenced by a mentor?My mentor was Joe Goeller, who was the chief financial officer at Digital Network Associates. When I was just starting out, like a lot of young people, I had all sorts of ideas about how to improve things. Joe was older and more seasoned, but he would listen to me. He never told me my ideas were bad. He would pragmatically explain the challenges in my thought process. He would ask, "How did you come up with this thought?" And we would collaborate and come up with something better.Joe passed away earlier this year. I miss him and will always remember the life lessons he taught me.IL: How do you like to spend your time outside of work?I read about 40 books a year. I'm particularly drawn to reading about history. I love gardening. As a native Texan, now a New York transplant, I love watching my beloved New York Yankees, New York Rangers and, of course, my Dallas Cowboys. And while I don't do enough of it, I love to travel. Road trips with my family are the best.A Daring DeliveryMany years ago, a Future Tech Enterprise client needed computer equipment shipped to villages in some former Soviet republics. "Several regions were remote and difficult to reach," says Johnson. "We could not figure out how we'd get there."After some trial-and-error thinking, the company settled on a solution. Working with a freight forwarder, it shipped the product into the destination country and then hired a pilot to parachute the shipment into the village. "Not one piece that we parachuted was lost," Johnson says. "We put notes on the cargo instructing where to deliver it, and people took it there."Johnson wouldn't recommend that technique today. "Drones would be simpler," he says. "But back then, there were no drones."
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