Lieutenant in the US Navy to Director of Labor Management Practice

Following a five year tour of duty as a Lieutenant in the US Navy, which included a deployment to the Arabian Gulf in 1991, I was offered a position as an entry level Industrial Engineer for Gagnon & Associates, in my home state of Minnesota. Being newly married with a one year old son at the time, I accepted the positon not knowing that it would lead to a 24 year (and counting) career in the Supply Chain Industry.
At that time, Gagnon & Associates was the leader in implementing engineered labor standards utilizing the first PC-based, real time Labor Management System. The CEO was Gene Gagnon, who was often referred to as the godfather of Labor Management for Warehousing and Distribution within the Supply Chain.

As I look back on my career now, going to work for Gene, was both lucky and a blessing. It afforded me the opportunity to begin my career as an industrial engineering consultant, transition into a sales role mid-career, and finally, lead a thriving consulting business practice for enVista for the past 8 years.

When Gene walked into a room, everyone was immediately attracted to him because of his people first approach. For those of us who were fortunate to know Gene, or in my case, work side by side with him, you quickly understood the value and importance of building relationships, empathy, and the role of a professional engineer. At that time, Gagnon and Associates was engaged in several projects involving organized labor in the Food & Grocery Industry, where there was differing points of view on the value of engineered labor standards. To Gene it didn’t matter, as he knew that his role was to fair and open with his clients and to treat all warehouse associates fairly.

In 1998, Gagnon & Associates was acquired by McHugh Freeman, which evolved into RedPrairie and is now JDA. Having honed my skills as an Industrial Engineer, I had the pleasure to work for Tom Kozenski, a long time industry professional in the Supply Chain execution, specializing in Warehouse (WMS), Transportation (TMS) and Labor Management (LMS) system implementations.

Through Tom’s leadership and mentoring, I was able to successfully transition from the role of an engineering consultant to a sales role. For those of you who haven’t worked as a salesperson, it’s not as easy as you may think. Engineers are wired to solve problems quickly and efficiently, while effective sales persons are trying to understand opportunities and wade through the organization and get access to decision makers, which could take months, only to find out they were not the selected vendor.

Two other persons who shaped my sales career were Susan Rider and Tim Conroy. Knowing my background as an engineer, they both instilled in me that sales was a complex process, much like solving an engineering problem. Having understood that lesson, I was able to quickly learn the sales and marketing side of a software and consulting vendor business provider, a career path I had no aspirations of ever getting into in high school or college.

As I now enter the later stages of my career, I am truly thankful to Jim Barnes and John Stitz, the co-founders of enVista, who brought me into their organization in June 2009. When I first joined enVista there were about 50 total associates employed. Eight years later, enVista is now over 450 associates and growing. The culture of accountability and the professional growth that these two have instilled in every enVista associate has been truly remarkable to observe and be a part of.

Tom Stretar