When Ann Drake ’84 graduated from Kellogg, she immediately set her sights on a formidable challenge: transforming her family business from a warehousing service to one positioned for the 21st century.
Drake’s confident leadership style allowed her to expand the business, forming DSC Logistics, a supply chain company equipped to adapt to the new challenges facing businesses. Drake, who will present the keynote address at the upcoming Executive MBA graduation on December 12, took time to offer leadership advice, reflect on her time at Kellogg and explain some of the challenges facing CEOs today.
1. What were some of the hardest lessons you learned at Kellogg?
I remember complaining over and over during my time at Kellogg: In case studies, or in class, we were constantly forced to “make decisions” when we didn’t have enough time or information. The learning was invaluable, as making decisions quickly, without enough time or information, is a frustrating reality of leading today’s organizations.
Making decisions when you don’t have enough information is a frustrating reality of leading today’s organizations. You can over prepare all you want, but often, decisions must be made without knowing all of the data.
2. What was the most important part of your time at Kellogg?
The network and networking opportunities. During my time in the Executive MBA Program, my cohort was my family and I could rely on them for support. I learned that collaboration in teams was a faster, more effective way of doing business. In addition, I leaned on my cohort for their business expertise. There was always an expert to speak with about any challenges I was facing in my studies or at work, which was a tremendous help in growing my business.
3. If you could go back in time to your own graduation and give yourself post-graduation advice, what would it be?
It’s a hard life lesson to learn, but trust in your abilities. At Kellogg, you’ll gain the confidence and become better at making tough decisions. My advice is to have the confidence in your own abilities to take on risks and new challenges head on, without hesitation. Take an active approach in your decision-making and don’t be afraid to question what has been done before.
Today, the only constant is unpredictability. Business models change quickly. But you can’t throw up your arms in frustration. It’s never been more important to establish your values at every level of your organization, from your partnerships, to your corporate team, to your most junior employees. It is the solid foundation upon which your business can thrive — even in the face of unprecedented change.
4. The students graduating on December 12 have already achieved a certain level of leadership. What advice do you have for facing the next stage of their career?
Executive MBA students have already proven themselves within their areas of expertise. My advice is to take your nose out of your silo and consider adopting an enterprise level view. Ask yourself: How am I impacting the entire company? How am I impacting others outside of my silo? The challenge is to look beyond your role and consider your impact on your organization, the marketplace and the world.
5. What is the biggest challenge facing CEOs today?
It’s a tough business world wrought with unpredictability — in business models, governments and industries. In this environment, every decision becomes a bet. You have to balance confidence in your decision-making with being ready to break from your plan and adapt. Adaptability is a 21st century trait.
6. How do you approach growth for your business and for yourself?
For my personal growth, I seek out and cultivate a learning environment. What I’ve noticed is that a learning environment means observing and accepting lessons from everyone — they don’t have to be your boss or your mentor for you to learn from them.
In growing my business, I never discount the opportunities with existing customers. I think it’s easy for companies to ignore their customers and instead focus on gaining market share and winning against your competitor. Instead, look to grow your relationships and “customer share” – listening to your customers and building new capabilities they desire.
Ann Drake is Chairman and CEO of DSC Logistics, one of the nation’s most successful and highly regarded supply chain management firms. In her 20 years of leadership, the company has grown into a provider of integrated, comprehensive supply chain solutions built on collaborative partnerships, innovative thinking and high-performance operations, serving Fortune 500 companies in a variety of industries. In 2013, she founded AWESOME (Achieving Women’s Excellence in Supply Chain Operations, Management, and Education), a leadership initiative with a 600-member network which hosts annual symposiums and awards scholarships to university students.