Profile: BILL MONK

Nov 01, 2001 10:30 PM  By

Director of Logistics Nordstrom.com

How long have you been in logistics?

I didn’t go to school for it. I was a paperboy for nine years, and I always tried to find a better route. I went to a liberal arts college, where I majored in political science and learned a little bit of everything.

How has that helped you at Nordstrom?

I think that being able to do a variety of things allows me to grow with our business and be able to visualize where we’re going and what we’re doing to make our business better. If you get that tunnel vision where you learn to manage with only one thing in mind, “my business,” then you forget about the entire business and lose the ability to grow. Being able to visualize every area of your operation is critical, as is being able to see what it is going to do to the next person or internal customer.

What do you see as your role in operations?

I see myself as more of a consultant to the team, not necessarily as conducting the people. I have two direct reports and work with the director of operations here, and I’m a resource and a sounding board to say, “OK, would you do this that way? How would you do this to make it better?” If it’s not broke, you don’t have to fix it, but you can enhance it. The experience that I bring to the table is process flow automation and being able to work with carriers and other companies to save our company money. I’m a quick thinker, and I like to save a lot of money.

That’s tough to do in this business environment.

Everybody has their own way of doing things. The fulfillment business is definitely not rocket science, but it’s not something that should be taken lightly. I consider our people experts in execution. One of the ways Dan Nordstrom explained it to me when I first got hired is, “Right now we’re in ‘The Flintstones.’ We’re a very manual operation.” Automation in our building in 1994 was one conveyor belt, a few computers, and calculators. And Dan said, “One day we’ll get to ‘The Jetsons.’” Today, we may not have everything that George Jetson had, but we’ve got a lot of it. Our Cedar Rapids building is among the most highly automated facilities in the country.

Do you have the volume to support it?

We do. We ship millions of packages a year, and our costs per piece are fairly low, because there are tons of ways to save money. We do some benchmarking and, for a large catalog company, we are doing very well. We do three or four times the volume per day that we were doing in our old facility in Memphis. I remember when a 10,000-order day in Memphis was unbelievable. Now we do 10,000 orders a day with our eyes closed.

Has the dot-com bust affected you?

Our dot-com business is growing by leaps and bounds. A lot of the so-called dot bombs tried to be pure-plays. If the customer is not aware of you, and you are not willing to throw out millions and millions of dollars to tell him about yourself, it can be tough to survive on the Internet. Anybody can throw up a Web site, and anybody can try to mail orders, but a lot of times they forget about the back end. The dot-com was fine for us because we were already a fully functional catalog business. It’s definitely a plus because it generates more sales and has reduced some of our costs.

Could you do this job until you retire?

I think I could, yes. I love the challenges. There are a couple of things I’m very passionate about — operations and one of my personal hobbies, which is hunting. I’m a big hunter. When I’m not working or doing something with my family, I’m usually hunting. I guess it’s not a passion, it’s an obsession. In my spare time I make hunting videos. I enjoy doing that. It’s a good stress release, a time when I get to go out by myself and just think and clear my mind. I am also very obsessed with my work, and I love being in the thick of things. I love operations — the planning, the strategy, working smarter and not harder, those types of things. I’ve learned that if somebody gives you an opportunity, don’t pass it up. I’ve been told that I’m very persistent. When I set my mind to something, I’m going to do it. It may take me a while, but I’m going to do it.

Would you consider moving to functional areas other than operations?

If I had my choice, I would like to be in operations, with the ability to work in other areas as well, kind of like a jack of all trades. You can be an expert in one area but also be a support mechanism for others to discuss their ideas.

Do you see operations becoming more strategic, less task-oriented?

Yes. To be successful at this game, you’ve got to take the blinders off and look in all directions, basically 360 degrees, and figure out what is going to work best. You’ve also got to be willing to be a little daring and step outside the norm. If you can cost-justify something, show its benefits, stick your neck out — that’s what it’s going to take. The typical warehouse manager has to be willing to look outside the normal realm and say, “What else is out there? How else can I do it?”

So it means being open to change.

Change is the most difficult thing to deal with, especially for people who have been in the same job for many years. I think you’ve got to be willing to take a risk, you’ve got to be willing to think outside the box, and if you’re not, you get passed over. The way I look at it, change is usually a painful, one- to two-month process. Once you get into that second month, it’s not the new thing any more, it’s how we’ve been always been doing it. If you teach people to expect change, it’s a lot easier. No idea is ever put out there because somebody wants to fail. It’s for a good reason. So, set the stage up front. Let people know it’s going to be hard for a while, it will hurt for a little bit, but when all’s said and done, this is a better way.

As an evangelist for change, have you ever thought about going into politics?

I went to school for political science because I like helping people. I did think about running for an office at one time but got sidetracked because I fell into a career that makes my adrenaline flow and that I’m passionate about.

You’re saying that it’s the process that fascinates you, not the products.

I couldn’t care less about those, to be honest with you. Obviously, our building has been set up to suit our merchandise, but I could fulfill bricks and still find a good way to do it and have the same passion for the job. It’s the operation and the process and the people that make it fun. It’s not really the product. You can fulfill anything. It’s how you do it that’s important.

COMPANY INFO:

High-end fashion retailer, subsidiary of Nordstrom, Inc., based in Seattle. Fulfillment facility, located in Cedar Rapids, IA, measures 300,000 sq. ft. and has about 300 employees; Seattle location has 250-seat call center and 300-350 employees. Nordstrom direct sales division established in 1994; Nordstrom.com launched in 1999

RESPONSIBILITIES:

Managing some inbound and all outbound freight, selecting and working with carriers, facility planning and design, helping out with computer systems

EXPERIENCE:

United Parcel Service; Victoria’s Secret; at Nordstrom since 1995

RECREATIONAL ACTIVITIES:

I really like to hunt. I also like to golf, bicycle, and spend time with my wife, five-month-old son, and our two dogs. I like country music.

FAVORITE BOOKS:

I don’t read a lot of books. I like reading Operations & Fulfillment and various transportation magazines.

FAVORITE MOVIES:

I don’t go to the movies a lot, but I like the movie Rudy (1993), and I did like Forrest Gump (1994).