March 2022 | 

Amid Supply Chain Issues, a Company Looks to Its Future

Amid Supply Chain Issues, a Company Looks to Its Future

As the COVID-19 pandemic waxes and wanes, and the nation experiences a constantly shifting patchwork of lockdowns and protocols, food-supply businesses have a lot on their plate. These logistics companies must continue to deliver the nation’s provisions — fresh, safe, and on time — to our grocery stores and restaurants. They must do all this despite global supply chain problems, including increased border controls and air freight restrictions, processing plant shutdowns and labor shortages, and difficulties sourcing product ingredients, as highlighted in a recent Deloitte report.

These challenges aren’t likely to resolve anytime soon. The New York Times recently predicted that supply chain issues will be with us well into this year and perhaps beyond. It was against this backdrop of uncertainty that Delaware-based Burris Logistics, one of the U.S.’s largest temperature-controlled food distribution companies, recently invested in a customized Wharton Executive Education program for its leaders. While Burris took pride in being a successful family-owned business for over 95 years and enjoyed a solid reputation with its customers, those at the helm knew that these unusual times require a new level of strategic focus and leadership agility. They looked to the nation’s most distinguished business school to deliver those insights.

The participants in the Burris Logistics Strategic Leadership program included Walt Tullis, president of the subsidiary Honor Foods. He shared that Burris Logistics’ CEO, Donnie Burris, had enrolled in a Wharton Executive Education individual program a few years prior and recognized the potential value of Wharton learning for his people. Tullis said the Wharton custom program was a great opportunity to have the participants “take off their respective business or functional hats and put on an enterprise-wide hat…to think about how we can collectively use our experiences, knowledge, and insights to put together a strategic plan for the company.”

Among the firm’s business goals was to enter into merger and acquisition arrangements more strategically than in the past. The company also wanted to blend its existing brands — Burris Logistics, Trinity Logistics, and Honor Foods — into a cohesive, collaborative culture that could more effectively drive the business forward.

The Wharton program, titled Burris Logistics Strategic Leadership, ran October 4–7, 2021, at the Inn at Penn. Burris Logistics was Executive Education’s first Custom Program client to attend an in-person program on Penn’s campus since the beginning of the pandemic. Tullis was satisfied with Wharton’s COVID safety measures, which he said “did not interfere at all with the execution of the program or the participation.” Overall, he said, “With the classroom sessions, the many breakout sessions, and then the opportunity for meals in between, I felt like they gave us an opportunity to really bond as a group.” Tullis also commented favorably on the Wharton facilitators as “absolutely terrific.”

The program was carefully tailored to Burris Logistics and Honor Foods’ corporate challenges and goals. The 21 participants — senior executives plus selected high-potential managers — engaged in customized strategy and growth workshops and explored strategic leadership, managerial decision making, employee feedback and incentives, and people analytics.

For Tullis, the full day of strategy with Professor Emilie Feldman (“excellent — relevant and well done”) was the most valuable part of the program. He appreciated the way Feldman had tailored the content specifically to Burris Logistics’ business situation. “She understood exactly who Burris Logistics was. She had done her research and was able to build some of her case studies into the conversation around Burris. A great day from start to finish.”

Tullis also particularly enjoyed the kickoff team-building event, “Olympic Rowing on the Schuylkill.” He said it was a great icebreaker especially for those participants who didn’t get to interact regularly with senior executives. Tullis added that the discussions around leadership, teamwork, and communication conducted before and after the activity served to set it in context and deliver even more business value.

The other participants also gave the program high marks. Among the notable feedback was that it brought them new ways of thinking; resources to refer to when evaluating acquisition and divestiture strategy; and a strong framework for understanding and creating more effective strategic growth plans. Some said the knowledge and skills they learned were essential to their career success. Many remarked that they built deeper relationships with co-workers from other business units, which related directly to the Burris Logistics goal of creating a unified corporate culture.

Tullis echoed the fact that the participants were enthusiastic about their Wharton experience.I've heard formally and informally that every single participant benefited from their time — that it stretched their thinking, and made them aware of new principles, practices, and processes that they can incorporate in their day-to-day.”