The Last Mile: It's time to get tactical

It's time to get tactical

It's alarming to sit in sessions at industry events and hear a steady stream of cases concerning common mistakes that are occurring at some of the most basic levels in logistics. It's time that we focus on polishing our tactical skills.

I listened at the recent National Industrial Transportation League conference as Richard Macomber of IBM Corp. discussed problems with accessorial charges (see cover story, "Shipper beware"). One point he made that summed up the problem for me was the 50% turnover in transportation buyers. How can he have any continuity in his transportation department with turnover that high?

Even with terms spelled out in contracts, Macomber was claiming to have problems with carriers charging for services which he could not confirm were performed. He wants to see an industry initiative to simplify accessorial charges — not to tackle the prices, just the language. While that's a noble sentiment, the issue the industry needs to tackle is training.

When academics and industry representatives get together at the Council of Supply Chain Professionals (formerly Council of Logistics Management) and discuss industry needs and how universities can help fill them, the basics come up time and again. This has been happening for years, and yet universities focus on developing strategic supply chain management programs and cut back on transportation and other basics. Supply chain sells because university students see the same statistics as business school deans — job placements and salaries are high in supply chain management right now.

Follow these experiences with a workshop sponsored by the law firm Benesch Friedlander Coplan and Aronoff LLP. One of the partners described the outcome of a court case involving E.J. Rogers vs. UPS. It was one of those cases that should never have happened.

Rogers had shipped a $10,000 unset diamond with UPS, insuring it for $11,000. The diamond never arrived, so Rogers filed a claim. UPS refused to pay the full value of the shipment, claiming its service guide specifically excluded unset gemstones. The insurance carrier, a unit of UPS, declined to pay the full claim citing the UPS tariff as well. In the end, Rogers won in court, but only because UPS did not include specific reference to the service guide on the air waybill.

Let the lawyers debate the specific merits of the case — the fact that is most alarming is that Rogers, which most of us know through its retail chain, Rogers Jewelers, is not a casual shipper; and high-value shipments are not uncommon for them. If UPS had incorporated the reference to the service guide, as it certainly now does, would the person arranging that shipment have known to check the terms and weigh them against any transportation contract Rogers had in place? Would he or she have known whether the contract terms or the service guide governed the shipment and, if not, which terms apply to a shipment tendered on an air waybill vs. a surface bill of lading?

A court room is the wrong place to be learning about transportation. Let's see some more involvement by shippers, carriers, trade associations and educators to produce some good, solid tactical skills, and let's do it in the classroom, not the court room.

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