Women in Logistics: Q&A with Ali Harrington
Modern organizations know that strong women offer invaluable skills in the workplace, particularly in the fast-paced supply chain world where collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, and multitasking are critical to success. These skills can improve stakeholder relations and make for a more productive work environment.Account Manager Ali Harrington joined Armstrong in January 2020, working in our Boise, Idaho office. Her leadership skills, ability to communicate and build relationships, and entrepreneurial spirit have been instrumental in AIi's ability to service her customers.
This Q&A offers insight into Ali's time at Armstrong: how she got started with us, how she provides value to our customer base, and how women can succeed in the male-dominated logistics industry.
What do you do as an Account Manager at Armstrong?
My role has evolved a lot from when I started. Initially, the Account Manager role was all-encompassing. We took a cradle-to-grave approach -- from cold calling and onboarding customers to managing accounts, booking freight, tracking shipments, and providing after-hours and weekend assistance.
As Armstrong has grown, my role has evolved into a true account management position. My job is to maintain my accounts, take care of my customers, and serve as their main point of contact to help manage their business needs.
What do you like best about your job?
One of the things I love most about my job is that no two days are the same. Each day is different, with new challenges to overcome. Some of the obstacles I deal with I couldn't have imagined or predicted until they actually happened.
While I've had success bringing in new customers, I enjoy managing the already-onboarded accounts best. I get to use my relationship-building skills from my previous work experience. It's rewarding to nurture those relationships over time and build new ones with the referrals I get from them.
Why did you choose Armstrong?
Moving to Armstrong and the logistics industry meant a sharp career transition for me. I worked primarily in the beauty industry and ran several small businesses, including a clothing boutique, a skincare and cosmetics company, and a photography business.
I wasn't proactively seeking an opportunity when I joined Armstrong, and I wasn't particularly familiar with transportation or logistics. You see truck drivers on the road, but people outside of our industry don't typically think about the inner workings of how those drivers get from Point A to Point B.
My friend, and now boss Tiffany Ladish, serves as a director and told me about the position. She thought my relationship-building skills and the online presence I had established from my previous work experience would make me a good fit for the role. After we met for lunch to talk about it, I agreed to pursue the opportunity. Even though I was unfamiliar with the industry, I jumped in quickly, looking to soak up as much insight as possible.
Logistics is a very different world from clothing and skincare, but everything is teachable. Although new and surprising challenges arise for the account management team daily, there are no obstacles in logistics you can't overcome.
How do you set yourself apart in the crowded logistics marketplace?
My previous businesses all relied heavily on digital media for networking, communication, and customer relationship building. As a result, I became familiar with driving engagement through social media and cultivated a prominent online presence. I brought those skills with me when I joined Armstrong.
I learned early that there aren't many people in our industry using social media and other digital tools, particularly women. So, the challenge for me now is figuring out how to use the already-established online presence I had within the beauty industry and make it work in transportation and logistics.
Although it's somewhat new territory, I'm driven to keep exploring how freight brokers can innovate their relationships through digital tools because I know it works. I found one of my first customers through social media, and they're still one of my most active customers today.
Do you have a specific type of customer or commodity you typically work with?
I wouldn't say I have a particular commodity or customer type. I was taught early on in my sales training to diversify my portfolio, and that's been a key focus for me ever since. So, I like to think outside the box when I identify customers. That said, I have several customers who work in paper goods and packaging; they account for about 50% of my book of business. My goal is to have customers with a high-peak shipping season in each season.
What have been your biggest challenges getting started in logistics during a pandemic?
I was in training for the first three months after I joined Armstrong. Then, when I was supposed to leave training and sit with Tiffany's team in the Boise office, the pandemic hit, and everyone was sent home. So, one of my biggest challenges was getting started in the role on my own. I wasn’t on an island. Armstrong did a great job of providing online resources, and everyone stayed connected through Zoom. Still, it would have been easier to sit and work directly with the rest of the account management team.
The other primary challenge I've faced is that we're living in a time where there is no normal. So, I'm not getting to see firsthand the 'normal' market fluctuations that occur throughout the year. Tiffany and my colleagues, who have been here for 5-10 years, talk about market trends and what different times of the year should look like for various industries. I haven't gotten to see that yet because no one can predict what's happening or what will happen. It's been challenging learning the ups and downs of the supply chain business when I don't have a baseline for comparison.
What kind of content do you like to engage in to stay up-to-date in the industry?
I usually search hashtags on social media if I'm interested in a specific topic, or I'll browse Google for transportation and logistics news. I also like to keep up-to-date on effectively managing social media: best practices and aligning with algorithms.
Before our role was narrowed down into true account management, I felt like I had to engage in everything: pricing, quoting, analytics, etc. However, now that we have more dedicated teams and my focus is on nurturing the accounts, I can dive in more specifically on insights related to sales and relationship building.
Is there anyone specific you follow or are inspired by in logistics or on social media?
Have you had a mentor or leader that has helped you grow your career?
Tiffany Ladish has been my biggest mentor. Now that we're back in the office, Tiffany sits a couple of seats down and serves as an excellent resource for me as I get to know the business. We have similar personalities and sales styles, so learning from her has been beneficial for me.
That said, this role involves a lot of hands-on learning that you acquire as you go. Logistics is one of those industries where you can train continuously, but unprecedented situations will still arise that don't have obvious solutions. For example, we recently had a truck show up to the receiver with no product. That was an interesting one to navigate.
What challenges have you faced as a female working in a male-dominated industry?
Coming from the entirely female beauty industry, it has been a learning process transitioning to the male-dominated logistics business. One of the biggest challenges I've experienced is the need to take emotion out of logistics. Transportation professionals often work in high-stress situations, and it can be challenging to maintain that professional standard of communication.
At the same time, I feel my empathy and ability to relate to others is an advantage. Many of my customers, especially those who have been with me since I came on board, love that I'm not so serious. They enjoy the funny, light-hearted relationships I've built with them. In the often-stressful world of moving freight, where shipments often incur bumps along the way, it can be a breath of fresh air.
I also had a different approach to sales, and that was a challenge to mitigate in the beginning when I was responsible for prospecting. We had an established mentality of calling customers exclusively to bring in new business. That was how we had always done things. But I wanted to utilize the skills I had built in managing social media accounts and a general digital presence. It's what sets me apart, and doing things differently has helped jumpstart my career in the freight business.
My biggest piece of advice to women looking to make their mark in the logistics industry is not to be afraid to try new things and see what works. Maybe it will; maybe it won't. But if you get stuck in the same day-in, day-out rut, it can stagnate your growth. So, you should always try to keep things moving.
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About Taylor Borum
Taylor joined Armstrong in 2021, serving as the team's Marketing Coordinator. A native of North Carolina, she moved to Charlotte in 2018 after graduating from Appalachian State University with her bachelor’s in Communication Studies. She's a passionate writer, having curated a diverse range of blog posts, articles, press releases, feature stories, webpage copy, social media posts, and more.