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Many people in business and elsewhere characterize themselves as strictly “left-brained” – analytical, logical and critical – or “right-brained” – creative and passionate. Others characterize the separation between a person’s intellectual and emotional sides as thinking with either your “heart” or your “head.”
Either way you look at it, for Tom Schmitt, it’s possible to have it both ways.
“I believe in working in a smart way, and tapping into both your heart and head at the same time,” he explains. “Using both halves of your brain and tapping into different ways of solving a problem can give you higher level answers and twice the upside.
“I’ve found by using the best of both worlds you can get the best results and have more fun getting there.”
As president and CEO of Purolator Inc., Canada’s largest courier company, Schmitt regularly has the opportunity to tap into both sides of his thought process both in and out of the office through regular interactions with both team members and community leaders. “There are three things that inform my leadership philosophy,” he says. “I believe in ‘people first’ – who I am on a team with is always key. I believe with the right sort of teammates, what you can achieve is almost unlimited.”
Secondly, Schmitt also believes strongly in having a purpose behind his work. “What I’m working on has to be relevant and make the community a better place,” he adds. “I believe in working on something that matters to a great number of people. And at Purolator this is just the case, we deliver Canada.
“Third, and finally, leadership is also about getting the right thing done well. We have a focused game plan and increasingly sharp execution,” Schmitt says. “In fact, our one-team-on-one PAGE plan for 2011 has all of our 11,000 teammates’ objectives aligned around our People, Alignment, Growth and Excellence (PAGE) objectives.”
With more than 11,500 employees and a daily volume of 1 million pieces of freight moving across Canada and the rest of the world, Purolator fits the bill of being a company that matters.
“I wanted the opportunity to shape the culture of an entire organization,” Schmitt explains. “This was a unique opportunity to lead a company that helps connect people and businesses across Canada like no others can.”
Schmitt joined the company in September 2010, after working for 12 years for FedEx in Memphis, Tenn., last serving as the company’s senior vice president of FedEx Solutions. In that position, he led a division offering customized shipping solutions for corporate customers.
Building that division from scratch was one of Schmitt’s proudest professional accomplishments, he says. “We created new jobs and roles for several hundred people,” he adds. “I believe strongly in the Boy Scouts notion of leaving a place better than you find it.”
Previously Schmitt was president and CEO of the company’s Global Supply Chain Services, overseeing supply chain operations throughout the FedEx organization. He counts FedEx founder Fred Smith among his business mentors.
Before joining FedEx, he worked for 8 years with McKinsey & Company, providing strategic development and operations expertise to Fortune 500 companies in the transportation, logistics, retail, utilities and telecom industries.
He has also co-authored a book about management, “Simple Solutions.”
Schmitt earned an MBA at Harvard Business School, graduating at the top of his class as a Baker Scholar.
Schmitt is working to improve Purolator in part through expanding its international services. This includes opening new offices and expanding pickup sites in the United States and elsewhere.
Earlier this year, Purolator renamed its U.S. division Purolator International to reflect this effort.
“As the logistics company that touches on more points across Canada than any other company, our continued expansion in the United States provides customers with a logical solution for their Canadian-bound shipments,” Schmitt says. “We will continue to work to expand our borders even further targeting Mexico, London, Hong Kong and beyond.”
The company also seeks new ways to serve its customers in light of changing industry trends. “With the continued growth in online activity, whether through social media or online purchasing habits, the flow of goods has changed,” Schmitt says. “We are seeing a decline in letter mail as well as the consolidation of boxes into pallets. These trends are changing the way in which our customers do business, and in turn how we do business.
“We are also seeing more mode-agnostic behavior – meaning simply that our customers are telling us where and when they want their shipments and leaving the `how’ to us.”
To address this, the company provides freight consolidation and time-definite services – converting boxed shipments to palletized freight and guaranteeing shipment times. Purolator also tailors its services to meet customers’ needs, including mingling pallet services with boxed shipments.
“It is our role to not only service the needs of our customers today but also to anticipate where our customers are going both geographically and conceptually,” Schmitt says. “We deliver on both fronts, and that is what our customers have come to rely upon.”
Purolator’s strong emphasis on service and innovation starts with a positive internal culture. “We strongly believe that trust, a value that is universally cherished, can only be earned and maintained if we are open and honest with our employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders,” Schmitt says.
The company communicates with its staff in part through a corporate blog, which employees can use to voice opinions and ideas either using their own name or anonymously.
“We will ensure everyone has a common understanding of where we are, where we are going and how we arrive at significant decisions,” he adds.
In addition to encouraging employee input, Schmitt believes in providing staff with the training they need to succeed at their jobs. This year the company launched growth and development programs including career pathing and leadership competencies.
“When our employees grow, we grow as a company,” Schmitt says. “Purolator is committed to providing all our teammates with the development opportunities they require to be successful in their current job and future career.”
While with FedEx, Schmitt took an active role in community groups including arts, business and community development organizations. Working with others in these organizations helped both influence his management style and inspire him to become even more active in charitable organizations, he says.
Schmitt’s personal experience assisting the communities he works in is an ideal fit for Purolator, which as an organization has long believed in giving back.
“It is important that we at Purolator – as ambassadors in the communities in which we live, work and play – leave our communities a little bit better than we found them,” Schmitt says.
Many of the company’s philanthropic efforts are focused on eliminating hunger. Purolator partnered with the Canadian Football League to collect food and funds in kind for Food Banks Canada through the Purolator Tackle Hunger program.
The Tackle Hunger program, established in 2003, involves collecting non-perishable food items at Canadian Football League games across the country. Fans donating items at select games have the opportunity to take photos with the Grey Cup – the CFL’s championship trophy – in exchange for food donations.
More than 3.7 million pounds have been collected to date for food banks across Canada through the program, and 700,000 pounds were collected in 2010.
As shipping sponsor of the national thINK INK/Phones for Food program, the company picks up, delivers and returns bins containing used printer cartridge and cell phones. Proceeds raised from recycling the items are donated to local food banks.
Other causes the company supports through volunteering and company donations include the United Way, American Cancer Society Relay for Life, Habitat for Humanity and regional holiday toy drives including Toys for Tots.
Purolator staff members also make a difference in smaller, but no less important, ways. Recently a sales team member found a way to ship express milk to a terminally ill child.
“Helping one individual at a time is often the best and most effective way to make a difference in our communities,” Schmitt says. “This is clearly a concept our teammates hold near and dear to their hearts, and it’s a part of who we are at Purolator.”
Purolator’s corporate responsibility also extends to environmental stewardship. The company’s fleet of more than 400 hybrid electric vehicles is the largest of any North American logistics company.
The company since 2005 has replaced many of its delivery vehicles with hybrids, reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 2,100 tonnes and fuel consumption by 645,000 liters in the process, Schmitt says.
In addition to the growing fleet of hybrid vehicles, the company also has a number of other environmentally minded policies in place including a strict no-idling policy for drivers, a route optimization program and the use of environmentally friendly packaging.
“At Purolator we are strong ambassadors of our brand,” he adds. “We believe in making a place better for our teammates, working together to strengthen the communities we serve, and managing our business ethically and sustainably.”