Five minutes with NITLeague's John Ficker

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Five minutes with NITLeague's John Ficker

As logistics development manager for forest products giant Weyerhaeuser Co. (www.weyerhaeuser.com), John Ficker was keenly aware of the need to move freight better, faster and cheaper. Now, as president of the National Industrial Transportation League (www.nitl.org), one of his goals is to capitalize on the association’s network of transportation professionals and help others deliver on those goals.

“The issues around modes are still paramount,” he says. “But most freight doesn’t stay on just one mode of transportation.” And today, transportation users don’t always fit the traditional definition of a shipper.

Case in point: Ficker’s former company, Weyerhaeuser, is one of the country’s largest users of box cars. But other big rail users include UPS and truckload carriers J.B. Hunt and Schneider National. Thus, both shippers and carriers share some common interests at the legislative level when it comes to regulating rail freight.

Under the present NITLeague structure, shippers and carriers can jointly participate in a rail committee to address those common interests and to help NITLeague develop policy positions it will present to legislators engaged in big issues like reauthorization of infrastructure funding under TEA-21, or assist members in influencing local or regional policy matters. Prior to 2002, this would not have been possible.

Despite some opposition from shipper members, last year carriers were given the right to full membership, including voting rights and the ability to hold board positions. Ficker is determined to push past old adversarial relationships and encourage collaboration.

“When there was an issue to be discussed before, we would ask carriers to leave the room,” he recalls, “but that’s not going to happen any more.”

Shippers and carriers share concerns on many other logistics issues, obviously, and though NITLeague issues tend to be focused by mode, it’s also important to learn from mode to mode, says Ficker.

He offers security as an example. Even Customs and Border Protection addressed the modes separately, but some aspects of the security requirements apply equally.

“Policy positions create tension,” says Ficker. That was true before carriers were full members, and it is certainly true now. “But the direction of government and business is to find private sector solutions to issues. To have a major policy change in transportation is a huge challenge. For many companies, transportation policy issues are important, but they’re not number one or number two policy issues.”

And that, Ficker points out, is part of NITLeague’s role — providing that voice in Washington on logistics policy issues. That’s one part of the 96-year-old association’s heritage that Ficker plans to retain. LT

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October, 2003

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