Logistics as a matter of life and death

Nancy Anderson
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As an industry professional, you no doubt understand the importance of logistics in keeping businesses running, customers happy, and profits flowing. Now take this up a level: Imagine a job in logistics where a package sent to the wrong destination means that people die.

Stephen Cahill has that job.

Cahill is the head of contracting, ocean transportation services, for the World Food Programme. The WFP, headquartered in Rome, coordinates the delivery of more than 4 million tons of food supplies a year to more than 100 million people worldwide who would otherwise face starvation. Half of that food goes by boat to 78 ocean ports around the world, and Cahill's job is to see to it that those boats go where theyre needed.

DC Velocity magazine recently interviewed Cahill about his job, and it's a fascinating read. While the WFP, an arm of the United Nations, is a nonprofit service organization, its mission, as Cahill described it, is as hard-nosed as that of any for-profit business: "To feed the hungry poor by getting the right commodity to the right place, at the right time, and at the lowest cost."

That means that like most successful logistics firms today, the WFP relies on advanced technology to match sources with recipients, ensure that there are adequate stocks of food in the places where they're needed, and deliver supplies in a timely fashion. But the WFP operates with some challenges that traditional logistics firms do not face, such as changing political constraints on the flow of food. The program also operates to a much larger extent than traditional logistics firms do in areas with unstable governments, poor infrastructure, and political conflict, all of which make fulfillment of the mission far more difficult. As a result, WFP practices and policies differ from industry practice in several ways. For instance, the organization keeps large inventories on site in the recipient countries in order to be prepared for possible emergencies, in contrast to the lean philosophy that governs most warehousing and distribution operations today.

It might not be too much of a stretch to say that Cahill's is the most challenging job in logistics. It's certainly one of the few where the holder sometimes gets up in the morning and says to himself, "The lives of thousands of people—even the fate of governments and nations—may depend on how I do my job today."

Whether you're looking for that kind of logistics challenge or for something more mundane, you will find it on LogisticsJobSite.com.

By Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is a veteran freelance writer, editor and public relations professional who lives in Philadelphia. Besides blogging for LogisticsJobSite.com, he has written for numerous publications and websites, would be happy to do your resume, and is himself actively seeking career opportunities on Nexxt. Check out his LinkedIn profile and read his other posts on LogisticsJobSiteBlog.com.


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