Taking the Helm

Bob Auray’s career spans the worlds of logistics, finance and information management.

His first appointment as CEO was with USCO Logistics. During his seven-year tenure, he led the company to achieve 30%+ annual earnings growth. In 2001, USCO was purchased by and merged with Kuehne & Nagel of Switzerland, a leading global logistics service company at which point Bob became the President & CEO for Contract Logistics North America. 

From 2006 to 2014, Bob served as President & CEO of Genco Marketplace (GMP). While at GMP, the business increased earnings by over 20% pa. He also oversaw the successful integration of ATC – a $525MM acquisition of a public company – into Genco in 2010/2011. 

Bob was most recently Vice Chairman of Genco Distribution Services having served as project manager of the sale of Genco to Fed Ex which closed in 2015. He now sits on the board of 3GTMS and works as an investor/advisor to promising growth companies in a variety of industries. 

Bob began his career with KPMG Peat Marwick and is a cum laude graduate of Princeton University. He earned both a Masters Degree in Accounting and an MBA in Accounting and Finance from New York University.

We met with Bob to discuss the importance of communication and culture in the role of a CEO.

WE OFTEN HEAR ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF THE FIRST 100 DAYS FOR A NEW CEO. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR FIRST EXPERIENCE AS A NEW CEO AT USCO?

Throughout my career, I had observed various situations and leadership styles that I felt both did and didn’t work, so when I was appointed CEO at USCO, I had an idea of the type of leader I aspired to be. 

There were two important things I felt a CEO needed to do:

  1. Set a very clear direction for your team regarding the vision, mission and strategy and values
  2. Work on continuous alignment of those things, communication being a huge part of that

I think the first thing for me was about reassuring the team around the culture I would create. Any time there is change in the leadership, it creates uncertainty for people, and it’s imperative they feel reassured. 

So, one of the first things we did after I joined was hold an offsite team meeting in which we worked on collectively developing a refreshed vision, mission, and values. This really helped set the tone for the next few years. 

While it wasn’t necessarily a new idea, I like to think we approached a couple things differently which ended up really working for us and contributed to our future success:

First, it was truly cross-functional and everyone had a voice. The offsite wasn’t just the management team but also representation from sales, field operations and IT. We brought in an outside facilitator which was helpful from the standpoint of having an objective view. 

Second, we were able to create real-time consensus. One thing that can often be challenging during these sorts of sessions is coming to agreement and consensus. We used a system with open voting, which helped us to do that. Basically, everyone had 10 votes to prioritise initiatives/goals/objectives they (and the teams they were representing) felt most important to the business and strategy. The votes could be used however they wanted – split among things or all on one. 

In the end, we walked out with a real sense of direction and commitment. It was really a game changing moment for the company.

FOLLOWING ON THAT EXPERIENCE, WHAT WAS THE NEXT STEP? 

The next big thing was around ensuring alignment and constant communication. Everyone there went back and worked with their teams on alignment towards the new plan, and upwards we had a strategy the board understood and supported.

Communication was obviously a key part of this. We had monthly progress reports, monthly town halls, and newsletters. Also, we had about 250 people in our “head” office, so I would often spend time just walking around – popping in on people at all levels to see how it was going and get a pulse on the organisation. 

In terms of our values, they were embedded in all that we did. We had our values printed on the back of our business cards, it was called: “The House in Order”. 

In our big conference room, we had a photo of everyone from that initial offsite meeting, which was nice way for us to always look back and remember.

WHAT SORT OF THINGS DO YOU THINK WERE REALLY IMPORTANT DURING SUCH FAST GROWING PHASES AT BOTH COMPANIES?

Establishing that sense of vision and mission right away was key – but not just the big picture – that everyone was part of the team and that each individual role has meaning.

Teamwork was essential. Everyone had to deliver on their commitments. Consider your commitments carefully because your word is your bond. This makes such a big difference in building trust.

Transparency was really important. Everyone knew how we were doing (fully disclosing results), and what we were doing well and what we weren’t doing well.

Stemming on from that, celebrating success was important to me. We didn’t take it for granted, but when we had great results, everyone felt a part of something special. Our recognition systems were around peers living the values and significant achievement towards our mission. 

ANY WORDS OF WISDOM FOR NEW CEOs?

I love the quote by General Patton: 
A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week. 

I think new CEOs sometimes get caught up in getting it “perfect” early on, which quite frankly can be hard to do, but the best way to know how good a strategy is, is to implement it. I always believed if I recruited and brought in the right people, and fostered the right kind of culture - one where people are engaged and committed - we ought to be able to figure it out and adjust as needed vs thinking things to death.