Swinging for the Fences

Nov. 1, 2010
ASW Global earns respect by the way it performs for its customers.

Retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is one of the best known examples of a company that has achieved operational excellence thanks to its supply chain efficiencies. Less well known, though, is the fact that not all of the retailer’s logistics proficiency is home grown. Case in point: Two of its Sam’s Club distribution centers in the Midwest are managed by ASW Global, a third-party logistics provider which also just happens to be run by baseball legend, André Thornton.

As a ballplayer, Thornton earned the respect of his peers as a two-time All-Star first baseman/DH with the Cleveland Indians. But it was his community service that won him an even higher honor—the Roberto Clemente Award—given annually to the player who best exemplifies the spirit of sportsmanship and community involvement. And it’s that same work ethic that characterizes Thornton’s management of ASW Global.

“We try very hard to establish our integrity, dependability and honesty in terms of the way we do business, the way we deal with our associates, the way that we try to be a corporate citizen within our community and the way in which we try to be diverse in bringing employees into our organization,” says Thornton, the company’s president and CEO. “There’s a consistency in the way that we treat people, the way we treat our clients and the way we interact in our community.”

Although ASW Global is one of the largest minority-owned companies in Ohio, that distinction brings with it an additional level of challenges. “The only thing ‘minority-owned’ means is that at least 51% of the company is owned and operated by a designated minority within the constructs of our legal society,” Thornton points out. “But when most people hear that term, they think of small, under-resourced and under-talented companies. We try to dispel those myths in the way we do business. When we tell potential customers we don’t want to do menial, hand-out types of business—that we’re capable of doing major work for them—then that throws many of them into a whole different mood from that standpoint.”

Thornton points to the two cross-docking operations ASW Global manages for Sam’s Club in Akron and Detroit, moving close to 1,000 truckloads a week and roughly 22,000 pallets out of those operations at a high velocity. “We do business with the largest retail company in the world, and we are an award-winning performer for that company. Now, do you think we have the capability to do business with a $400 billion company but not a $10 billion company or a $1 billion company?”

Since Thornton acquired the company in 2007, ASW Global has been ranked at the very top of performance by Walmart, earning the retailer’s Quest for Excellence award last year for overall performance at the Akron DC. “If we’ve done that for Walmart, then we must be a pretty good company in the way we do business. The difficulty of being seen as a minority company is that you have to constantly make sure people understand that I can’t change the fact that I’m a minority, but don’t classify my company as unequal because I’m a minority. Understand that we perform at the highest levels, and we perform for some of the best corporate clients in the country.”

ASW Global, like other logistics companies, is heavily involved in green initiatives, such as a major reverse logistics project for energy provider Dominion East Ohio focused on the recycling of obsolete meters. The recycled raw materials are then resold to local companies, with Dominion reportedly seeing an 80% improvement in value due to the recycling and material recovery efforts. That’s just one example, Thornton explains, of how his company developed a solution for a client starting from a clean slate, resulting in a green, sustainable solution that reduces both the customer’s costs and carbon footprint.

Although none of the major league teams he played for—the Chicago Cubs, the Montreal Expos and the Cleveland Indians—made it to the playoffs during his tenure, Thornton has proven himself a winner many times over, whether as a motivational presence within the business community or as the head of a 3PL managing distribution operations for the biggest retailer in the world. In the final analysis, Thornton says, “What differentiates companies from one another is the implementation of what they say they believe in and how they then conduct themselves, and how that culture either permeates or does not permeate their organization.