The Last Mile: Don't undersell logistics

Don't undersell logistics

Each day as logistics professionals across the U.S. weigh their alternatives and select the most efficient and cost effective transportation solutions to deliver their product to market, we are exercising a hard-won freedom that was one of the most divisive issues of the 1970s and '80s. Economic deregulation of transportation reformed the very structure of our national commercial economy.

As political careers were built or broken over healthcare reform, little was said about the piece of the economy that accounted for an equal portion of the Gross Domestic Product — logistics. Even at the height of the debate over economic deregulation, it was hardly the sort of thing that would steal headlines.

Yet, at its current level of $910 billion, logistics costs account for 8.7% of the GDP. Arguably, that 8.7% directly controls the performance of the other 91.3% of the economy since nothing gets done without goods, materials or supplies.

Success truly has many fathers. No task as large as the reform of one sixth of the U.S. economy — which is where logistics costs stood before deregulation — could be accomplished by a single individual. There were, however, key players. Unfortunately, you won't find their names in any history books — a sad oversight.

Bob Delaney belongs near the top of a list of key players. In my last conversation with Bob before his death in April, he talked about the work that remains. He also spoke of some of the personal sacrifice over the years, including estrangement from close friends, death threats and bitter verbal attacks. He persisted and, in his words, when things got tougher, he got stronger.

Few individuals have an opportunity to play a pivotal role in events that ultimately affect the structure of a national commercial economy. And then, once done, even fewer have a chance to advise a group of nations on their own reform efforts. Bob would describe in simple terms his own testimony before the U.S. Congress and the invitation that came to the Secretary of Transportation to discuss the process and benefits of transportation reform before the European Parliament. That Secretary was uncomfortable with the task and when he asked his staff who should accept the invitation, the name they offered was Bob Delaney.

After private citizen Bob Delaney presented his case to the EU ministers, one minister approached him and addressed Bob's humble attitude about his role, “You are a very simple man,” said the minister. Bob replied, “Mr. Minister, it's a very simple process — you can't complicate it.”

Logistics today is no simple matter. If Bob was guilty of underselling himself, he was never shy about selling logistics. We owe Bob a debt of gratitude for all of his hard work and personal sacrifice. The best way we can repay him is to continue to sell the value of logistics.

Perry A. Trunick
executive editor

Logistics Today logo
May, 2004

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