I had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Berlin, Founder & CEO of Logistics Plus Inc.
Jim is a New York City native who attended the University of Buffalo. The first 20 years of his career was in the less-than-truckload (LTL) industry working as a driver, dockworker, and terminal manager — mostly with northeastern trucking company TNT Red Star (which was later renamed USF Red Star).
After being let go by financially-struggling USF Red Star in 1996, Jim founded Logistics Plus with only three employees and a $120,000 purchase order to manage domestic inbound transportation for GE Transportation, a division of General Electric. That business would eventually grow into a worldwide global supply chain partnership, allowing the company to add new customers across many industries.
Today Logistics Plus has $300 million in annual revenue, and more than 500 employees working in 25 countries around the world. The company was recently recognized as a fast-growing company by Inc. magazine, employer of the year by the DevelopErie economic development agency, a top 50 freight brokerage firm by Transport Topics magazine, a great supply chain partner by SupplyChainBrain magazine, and by Supply & Demand Chain Executive magazine for overseeing a top supply chain project.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
After spending nearly 20 years in the less-than-truckload (LTL) industry, I was fired in the summer of 1996. Having two kids still in high school at the time, I knew I had to find work. I got a call from the traffic manager at General Electric Transportation in Erie, PA, who needed someone to manage their domestic inbound transportation.
I made the 50-mile trip from Jamestown, NY to Erie and left the plant with a one-year, $120,000 purchase order. They asked me if I was incorporated, so I stopped by the local county clerk’s office to get my incorporation papers. I wanted to create a company where people have a passion for excellence. Any logistics company can coordinate deliveries from Point A to Point B, but I wanted a company where people truly care and go above and beyond what is expected.
That’s how I arrived at the company name, “Logistics Plus,” because we’re the company that puts the “Plus” in “Logistics” by doing the big things properly, and the countless little things, that together ensure complete customer satisfaction and success. That was almost 24 years ago. Today, Logistics Plus has become a global logistics company with nearly 500 employees located in more than 25 countries around the world, thousands of customers, and with over $300 million in global revenue last year.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Lots of mistakes for sure. One was when we chartered and Antonov and thought it would be cool to use the Erie airport rather than the normal Buffalo/Cleveland/Pittsburgh airports, and let the press know we were doing it.
It was a total mess for many reasons (torrential rain, crew was Uzbek and did not speak English, tow motors at the airport — never used — did not work, we ran out of time, etc.). We did get the flight out on time, but learned a valuable lesson — — do not notify the press unless you are fairly certain it’s going to go as planned.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Many. I’ve learned a ton from lots of books/authors. I actually distribute a “Thought for Today” every day for over 25 years to share some of the things I’ve read and learned.
When I was just starting out, I took a Dale Carnegie class, and that helped me an awful lot. It turns out, he was right that it’s all about people — — no matter what “it” is, really. And his book/class helped me learn that important lesson early on. In fact, we plan to have a class for Logistics Plus this year. Reading Erik Larson’s book about Churchill during the Blitzkrieg, “The Splendid and the Vile,” also helped me a lot during this crisis.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
No vision/no plan. Just find a way or make one (that was my very first “Thought for Today”) and become a problem solver.
My first customer was General Electric Transportation, and I quickly learned that the folks there liked when they saw me coming because they knew I was bringing them a solution to a problem, and not just a problem.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
The Golden Rule. Treat people right.
And never give up. Find a way, or make one.
And avoid negative people/energy.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We think my daughter and her family in Philadelphia had the virus, and my son and his family are in LA — two major hotspots. So that’s extremely scary.
I’ve been here in Erie where it has not been bad, working every day but my girlfriend has been afraid of me bringing it home, so that’s been a bit of an issue. But, she relaxed after a few weeks. She doesn’t hose me down with disinfectant when I walk through the door anymore : )
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Being an essential business (delivering the goods to support the front-line heroes and to keep the community fed and healthy), we had to rally the gang to keep working, even through difficult and uncertain times.
That was the biggest challenge. Keeping everyone motivated by reminding them that we had our job to do, and while perhaps “dangerous,” there were many others who faced way more danger who are doing theirs. So proud of how our team responded.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
A couple of things:
1. I did the math. However awful this turns out to be, it is not the 50 million dead from the Spanish Flu in 1918 (when the world’s population was half of what it is now and communities were way more isolated from each other).
2. I let Hallie, my girlfriend, spray me with that hose every day I got home : )
3: I am a fatalist. If the bullet’s got your name on it…
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Well, it’s likely not going to be pretty. One of my latest sayings is that if you hated how the world changed after 9/11 (think taking your shoes off, standing in line and being patted down by the TSA), you’re really going to hate the post-COVID19 world!
But there will be opportunities for sure. We can see that already. “It’s not the strongest or the smartest of the species that survive, it’s the ones who are best able to change.”
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I honestly hate to think of it. I love interaction with people. Even some of the rules like hugging kids I coached have changed and I think something has definitely been lost there. I can’t imagine a wedding with everyone wearing masks. I hate the whole idea and am going to have to get used to it (or move to a deserted island somewhere).
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We have already pivoted in that direction. New opportunities that we will find and hold onto. Customers who came to us over the past couple of months because their logistics support team could not find ways to do what was needed will remember that we did.
Also importantly, many employees rose up during this crisis and had the chance to show more than they ever had been able to before. It’s funny how that works. The old John Wooden quote that tough times don’t build character, they reveal character. Some people will be now seen in a much better light because they embraced the challenge.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
If they are some of our competitors, I’d urge them to stay under the bed even longer : )
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
As mentioned, I’ve put out thousands of quotes to thousands of folks every day for 25 years now. And lots of them mean an awful lot to me. That can change by the day/mood/period of one’s life. But he one I always refer to as the ultimate words of wisdom, were to me from my dad:
“Don’t be stupid.” It was good advice then. It is good advice now. And it was well-earned by me for sure.
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