In the world of supply and demand, St. Olaf alumni figure out the logistics
From the moment an idea for a product is formed to the time it enters someone’s home, the world of supply chain logistics supports it every step of the way — it’s the science, and the art, of getting from point A to point B.
Think about a candle, for example. From sourcing wax and fragrances, to finding a warehouse to store the product, to securing a climate-controlled intermodal container to transport it to a storefront, at every level there are intricacies that make up the matrix of production and distribution — and there’s always something new to consider.
For example, what happens when oil rigs freeze in Texas and have to pause work, so the byproduct of paraffin wax — a key ingredient in many candles — stops being produced just as demand is going through the roof?
When the pandemic hit last spring, the list of considerations only grew. What happens when toilet paper is flying off the shelves and suddenly production has to drastically increase to keep up? Where can you find the extra warehouse space or labor to fill it? How do you keep products moving when much of the world has stopped?
You think quickly, communicate well, and adapt. At every step of the way, there are Oles working to answer these questions and do just that.
It’s tough to plan for the unknown, but the key thing with that in a supply chain role is you communicate clearly and are agile enough to make adjustments. It’s important to develop the critical thinking that you establish in a liberal arts education, with some analytical and creative approaches. That gives you the skills to be able to communicate and coordinate your ability to adjust your plan — but also the ability to change those plans as they come.Adam Sveum ’13
Ann Christopher ’86 is the Vice President and Senior Counsel at Kenco Logistics. Kenco is the largest women-owned third party logistics company in the country. They provide services at every step of the supply chain — e-commerce distribution, fulfillment, transportation, and more.
Christopher didn’t begin her career in the realm of logistics. A history and political science major at St. Olaf, she attended law school and then worked at the Environmental Protection Agency. After deciding to leave governmental work, it was a fellow Ole who suggested Christopher switch directions and begin working as legal counsel in the world of supply chain logistics.
Today Christopher is involved in “just about every legal aspect of the business with the exception of human resources” — from negotiating contracts and real estate leases, to administering claims, working with insurance departments, and more.
As one of two lawyers at a company with nearly 4,000 employees, Christopher acts as a general practitioner of sorts, constantly working on something new. The ability to shift her thinking in this way is something that Christopher says St. Olaf prepared her for.
“The professors at St. Olaf really push you to be critical thinkers, to think outside the box. You’re not going to be cookie cutter,” Christopher says. “You are constantly challenging what you heard, not in a disrespectful way. You just want to make sure you’ve got the full story. One of my mottos is ‘trust but verify.’ So you may hear something, but is that the full story? Do you have all the information? Do you have all the details? Is there anything else that you need in order to make an educated decision, or to take a position? I can’t tell you the number of times that I’m sitting in a meeting and I’ll rattle off question after question after question, and people are like ‘How do you come up with this?’ And it almost becomes instinctive that you don’t take anything as gospel — you want to make sure you have all the information, all the details.”
The professors at St. Olaf really push you to be critical thinkers, to think outside the box. You’re not going to be cookie cutter.Ann Christopher ’86
Christopher, who participated in the faculty-led Global Semester as a student at St. Olaf, specifically points to her time abroad as impacting the way that she functions both personally and professionally.
“To be exposed to different cultures, different ways of life, different values, different principles — that’s valuable,” Christopher says. “I’m constantly reminiscing about Global. It was such a phenomenal experience, and I think in our industry we have to realize it’s bigger than where we are.”
Brock Metzger ’03 majored in music at St. Olaf — now he works as a Senior Sourcing Manager at Target. The world of supply chain management is a matrix where every aspect of production and distribution impacts another. In his role, Metzger manages the vendor part of the equation, working closely with buyers, design teams, technical designers, and more to negotiate and communicate strategies for making sure nothing becomes tangled up along the way.
Metzger has worked at Target for more than 15 years, originally starting in the company’s payroll department, and ultimately shifting to sourcing after talking to another St. Olaf graduate about the work and networking with other alumni as he worked to better understand the logistics field. “That Ole network was vital to me as I moved in my career,” Metzger says.
During his tenure at Target, Metzger has worked on sourcing everything from baby and toddler clothing, to electronics, and currently home fragrances such as candles, essential oils, and more. As the COVID-19 pandemic began and people started spending more time at home than ever before, Metzger witnessed increased demand for those fragrance products.
“People started to buy candles in a really, really big way,” Metzger says. “And so almost overnight, the demand just, quite frankly, just lit on fire, to use a candle pun.”
While an increased demand means that brands are able to sell more products, they also have to work quickly and creatively in order to be able to source, store, and transport more product, while still ensuring quality and safety at every level. This kind of quick thinking and adaptability is something that Metzger says his time at St. Olaf helped prepare him for.
“Come in with an inquisitive mind and you can unpack issues, think beyond the basics, and work with others collaboratively,” says Metzger. “That’s really what has helped me in my career — that ability to ask questions, collaborate, and think beyond just the surface.”
Come in with an inquisitive mind and you can unpack issues, think beyond the basics, and work with others collaboratively. That’s really what has helped me in my career — that ability to ask questions, collaborate, and think beyond just the surface.Brock Metzger ’03
Adam Sveum ’13 works as a Vendor Manager at Amazon, managing vendor relationships related to planning, production, purchasing, and driving overall sales growth by implementing marketing campaigns and promotions. Upon graduating from St. Olaf with a degree in economics and a concentration in finance, Sveum began his career in the field as a Demand Planning Analyst at Best Buy before ultimately reaching his current position at Amazon.
Sveum echoes Christopher and Metzger about adaptability being vital to success.
“In my overall career I’ve faced tariffs and typhoons and port worker strikes, and that will all throw you for a loop,” Sveum says. “So it’s kind of about how you approach that situation to find solutions.”
Specifically since spring 2020, there have been more considerations than ever before.
“If you think about what the last year really presented, it shifted the planning that you have to do on both sides from a supply chain perspective. Essentially what we saw was customer behavior changed, both in the products that they were buying throughout the pandemic, and our availability for that. And also from a manufacturing standpoint, where manufacturers were challenged in being able to produce given safety precautions and lockdowns. So it was limiting our supply while we had surges in demand,” Sveum says. “We were planning with a huge uncertainty for the future, because we can’t know when the pandemic is going to end or when things will return to normalcy, or if customers’ behavior will shift back from an online purchasing perspective to in person. ”
Sveum points to his time on the Hill as preparing him for this kind of thinking to solve problems, as well as enhancing the skills needed to work alongside others to implement solutions.
“It’s tough to plan for the unknown, but the key thing with that in a supply chain role is you communicate clearly and are agile enough to make adjustments,” Sveum says. “It’s important to develop the critical thinking that you establish in a liberal arts education, with some analytical and creative approaches. That gives you the skills to be able to communicate and coordinate your ability to adjust your plan — but also the ability to change those plans as they come.”
Sveum credits his time on the St. Olaf swimming and diving team both as a swimmer and manager as preparing him for this kind of thinking — planning ahead and putting together the pieces that will ultimately allow for a successful competition for the team, or visit for a prospective student. This sort of real-world experience and working alongside others is something that Sveum points to as important in preparing him for his time in the workforce.
Across the board, Christopher, Metzger, and Sveum all say that being adaptable and having an ability to ask important questions — and discover creative answers — is integral to being successful in succeeding in the industry. They also all say that their time at St. Olaf has made them stand out in this vein.
“I think the thing that really set me apart is that at St. Olaf we really learn to learn. Being able to communicate, ask questions, and think beyond just the surface of the question is what set me apart, and I think what sets Oles apart,” says Metzger. “Always stay inquisitive and never doubt the education that you’ve gotten at St. Olaf. It will help you for the rest of your life.”
I think the thing that really set me apart is that at St. Olaf we really learn to learn. Being able to communicate, ask questions, and think beyond just the surface of the question is what set me apart, and I think what sets Oles apart. Always stay inquisitive and never doubt the education that you’ve gotten at St. Olaf. It will help you for the rest of your life.Brock Metzger ’03