Logistics & Supply Chain as a starting place for real change in the world

Sometimes, big audacious business claims cause a double-take, and perhaps skepticism. This could be your reaction to Vector Global Logistics’ promise, right there on its home page and practically every other webpage: “Logistics with Purpose. Changing the World Through Supply Chain.”

“Really?” We asked co-founder Enrique Alvarez. Is that a promise you worry about living up to? How does this effect your day-to-day operations?

His answers are both useful and inspirational.

“Logistics encompasses everything we do from the microphone, the computer, the pen I’m holding … literally everything we do on a day-to-day basis has some kind of logistics component to it,” he enthused. “We thought that could be a good place to start if we really wanted to create change and make things happen for the world.”

— Enrique Alvarez, Co-Founder

What was the starting place?

“The notion of giving back and changing the world has always been part of our strategy since we started the company,” Alvarez answered. “The term ‘Logistics with Purpose’ was coined later on. But the idea that we wanted to build a company and we wanted to leverage logistics to make a positive impact in the world was there from the very beginning.”

Alvarez and his partner Brian Oxley met as management consultants for the Boston Consulting Group. They shared both an inherent philosophy of generosity and global business ambition. They’ve been in logistics since 2009, operating under the name Vector Global Logistics since 2013.

How the vision grew

“It just felt very natural,” Alvarez explains. “It wasn’t like a board meeting, where we sat down and said, ‘Why don’t we do this now?’ It was always very organic very natural.”

It began with a passion for their people.

“We thought that if we wanted to really have a passionate and excited team, we need to do something more than just shipping boxes around the world, right? We always wanted to make it more about changing lives and enacting change, as opposed to just shipping containers from point A to point B.”

The first step was creating a “ROWE” culture: results-only work environment.

Inspired by the book Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, Vector “takes the time and space component out of the equation, and we measure performance.” They let their globally dispersed teams work where and when they want, with clear metrics focused on results. 

This culture works wonders: allowing them to recruit and retain exceptional talent and achieve their growth goals.

Seeing meaningful impact with employees and customers

Another enlightenment moment came in transforming their traditional customer Christmas gifts – mugs or wine laboriously bought, wrapped and shipped at year end. This began to feel time-consuming, wasteful… and “empty.”  Instead, Vector decided to donate to SERV International in honor of each gift recipient.

Frankly, not every customer felt the warmth in that shift Alvarez admits. A few even lamented the missing wine, but the shift felt far more meaningful to many people, and most importantly, to Vector’s team. 

And the change-making grew from there.

Now their giving is deeply engrained, across four key tranches:
  1. The big, simple promise every customer can feel good about: for every container or truck they move, Vector makes a donation to SERV to deliver 50 meals to the hungry.   
  2. The second tranche, Alvarez feels is “even more important” is helping their non-profit partners with what they do best – logistics. “We translate our logistics expertise into helping charitable organizations that are shipping around the world. We love working with those companies because we see that what we do — and the reason we wake up every morning — is not just to send containers around.  We’re giving hope, we’re giving happiness, sending books or sending glasses for kids.  It’s been very fulfilling.”
  3. Thirdly is employees’ personalized engagement and participation. Vector’s autonomously run global teams choose their own methods and recipients for giving back. This team-based empowerment makes it personal to how Vector individuals are improving the world. In addition to SERV, other major partners include Abaarso School, Canica, Coanil and Books for Africa.

    Volunteering is a critical win-win part of Vector’s systemic approach. Teams choose to volunteer in bonding activities, from food bank packaging to painting fences for a Mexican school. 

    “We’re really trying to make it real and I think giving time to all these organizations is sometimes more important than giving money,” he says. “Every small team usually has one or two activities every quarter (or we used to, before Covid).  We’ll find someone that needs help and then just spend the whole morning or the whole day helping them out. This makes it super easy for everyone to understand.” 

    Volunteering is also a good way for Vector to identify leadership and talent inside the company. “When you’re actually out there painting a wall, helping a school or sorting out medical products for MedShare in Atlanta … you can tell who shares your values, who’s hardworking, who’s committed.”
  4. Fourth, is ongoing “cheerleading and fostering the culture,” Alvarez says. “To change the world, taking good care of our employees, is probably the most important of them all.  Culture is the main thing.  It’s what makes companies work, a lot more than strategy or even having smart people or financial backing.”

Measuring the business value of this strategy

“You can come up with all these different ways of justifying what we do, but being honest: helping others is a very selfish activity,” Alvarez says with a shrug.

Business referrals, talent retention and cultural strength improve in the “virtuous circle” of care.

“The more you give, you not only feel better and it gives purpose to your team and culture and life, but it just makes you feel like a better person. It makes you feel good. So, when it comes to putting that into the strategy of a company: the more we give, the more we get back.”

“I don’t want it to sound like magic, but if you’re nice, people will be nice to you.”

— Enrique Alvarez, Co-Founder
Internal decision-making includes whether customers share the same values and culture, and the prospect of long-term partnership.

“As we grow and become more successful, one of the things happening is that we’re starting to weed out some of those companies that we don’t want to work with. At the beginning, we had to work with everyone that wanted to work with us. As we continue to grow, we’re starting to be a little pickier and choose which organizations or companies we want to work with.”

“Once you start picking the companies that you want to work with, and they choose you, then it just makes it easier and becomes a little more of a friendship. It’s a lot more engaging.”   

One critical component to success sounds easy, but eludes many

“Make sure that everyone understands what you’re doing, what you stand for.”

— Enrique Alvarez, Co-Founder

Vector backs this up with:

  • Charity partner videos are profiled on the website
  • Every team members’ bio includes a video expressing “What Changing the World Means to Me.” 
  • Non-profit partners present to staff, to bring the stories of who and how Vector is improving lives to life in personally impactful ways. 

“In staff meetings or meetings with our senior team, we’re constantly reminding them why we do what we do. As long as they understand why we do things, then the how you do it and how often you do it is easy.”

Why not just write a check and be done?

Alvarez believes leading by example, so employees – and even his own children – see it and understand it personally, is “way more important than just sending out money.”

“I think that’s a little bit more of a genuine way of helping. The checks are important, and don’t get me wrong, we’ll continue them. The more we grow, I’m hoping that we’ll continue sending checks and we’ll continue partnering with great causes because there’s a lot of need.”

“We have a very aggressive plan to become one of the top logistics companies in North America in every market where we play. So, our goals are set very high. But the way we do things will never change, or at least we’re going to try not to change it, because that’s part of our success.”

— Enrique Alvarez, Co-Founder

So, yes: the promise to change the world is real. And they’ve got a plan in place to live up to it. 

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