We talk exclusively with Lehmkuhl about his journey, his goals, what he would tell his future and past self and the importance of hands-on leadership.
Food Logistics: Let’s first talk about you. Tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey to get to this current stage in your career?
Greg Lehmkuhl: I got my start at Michigan State University, where I studied materials and logistics management. After obtaining my MBA from Oakland University, I held management positions at Menlo Worldwide Logistics, Delphi Automotive, and Penske Logistics, which enabled me to gain hands-on knowledge in the world of supply chain and logistics.
I then joined Con-way, Inc., where I served as EVP of operations and then corporate EVP and president of Con-way Freight. My responsibilities included overall company operating and financial performance, strategic planning and business plan development, and direction of the company’s continuous improvement processes.
In 2015, I was given the tremendous opportunity to join Lineage as president and CEO. Working closely with our executive leadership team, today I provide strategic leadership and oversee Lineage’s global team. During my tenure here, Lineage has experienced significant growth through acquisition and expansion on an international scale. I’m both honored and humbled to lead the incredible One Lineage team as we continue to deliver value for our customers and help feed communities around the globe.
Food Logistics: One of the things outlined in your submission that caught our eye was your ability to basically revamp the company by acquiring a number of companies and forming joint ventures, engaging with frontline workers and signing The Climate Pledge. Talk to us about the importance of this hands-on approach and why sustainability still matters.
Lehmkuhl: Lineage’s dynamism has always been one of our greatest strengths. We – at all levels of the company –aren’t satisfied with “good enough” and that mindset pushes us to be the best at what we do. As a leader, I’ve been proud to help sustain this culture of continuous improvement by empowering my team to think outside the box and take calculated risks. I think it’s important to lead by example and be hands-on to build trust and create an environment that fosters innovation.
Similarly, when it comes to driving results for our customers, our infrastructure and our team members are key to our success. That’s why we’re constantly evaluating opportunities to make our network stronger with the addition of strategic locations and world-class facilities. But operating in the right locations means little without having the right team of dedicated team members who show up every day to service our customers. These passionate men and women are truly the heart of our business. That’s one of the many reasons I enjoy visiting our sites and speaking with teams. By listening to their feedback, we believe we can improve how we operate for our customers and communities and discover new opportunities to make their jobs safer, easier and more efficient.
Sustainability has always mattered to Lineage because we know temperature-controlled storage is an energy-intensive industry. We don’t believe there have to be tradeoffs between running a successful business and delivering on our sustainability goals. So, it was natural to demonstrate our commitment to this idea by signing the Climate Pledge. More importantly, we’ve taken many steps to reduce the environmental impacts of our operations and shared some of those programs in our inaugural Sustainability Report.
Besides reducing the impact of our operations, our sustainability initiatives are designed to help us safeguard for the future. We believe it’s critical to equip our facilities to be better prepared to maintain operations in the event of climate-related severe whether events or power outages. That’s why we’ve been exploring sustainable solutions and reducing our operations’ reliance on grid-based electricity. Our goal is to build facilities that are self-sustaining through efficient energy management and the increased use of renewable, on-site generated electricity and renewable fuel sources.
Food Logistics: There’s so much going on in the food supply chain, and in logistics overall. What have you and your company done to help customers improve visibility and optimization?
Lehmkuhl: Pushing the envelope of what’s possible in the supply chain to create value for our customers is core to Lineage’s business strategy and is deeply embedded in our company culture. Over the last couple of years, we have been excited to roll out a unified supply chain platform, Lineage Link, to our customers. Lineage Link leverages proprietary technology to share data to drive collaboration, performance and efficiency for our customers and us as their supply chain partner. We believe increased real-time data visibility can help reduce food waste, labor, energy and emissions. Lineage Link is at 100-plus sites already and we are working to implement it throughout the rest of our network.
Likewise, we’re leveraging automation and new technology to streamline our operations to reduce human error, training time, product damage, turnover and lost inventory while also improving safety in our warehouse operations. We believe these innovations can help us further strengthen our global operations and in so doing help our customers optimize their supply chains.
Food Logistics: If you could have a conversation with your younger self, what would you tell him?
Lehmkuhl: It’s hard to second-guess anything with hindsight, so I suppose I’d give myself the same advice I’d give any young person. Look at every challenge as an opportunity to learn. Let your values guide you when making decisions. Do what you say you’re going to do. If you follow those basic rules, everything will work out just fine.
Food Logistics: What would you want to tell your future self?
Lehmkuhl: Do everything in your power to give back to others and make the world a better place. Value trusting relationships more than anything else, whether that be with family, friends, colleagues or customers.
Food Logistics: You’ve been named an overall Rock Star of the Supply Chain for the Top Warehousing Stars category, which recognizes professionals in the warehousing space. What advice do you have for others in the warehousing space, especially considering all of the challenges this particular sector has been and will continue to face?
Lehmkuhl: From our founding, Lineage brought in new talent and new ideas into an industry that has deep roots and a strong sense of “the way things have always been done.” What made Lineage successful was our commitment to both bringing in those new, innovative minds and ideas while also honoring, listening to AND truly learning from those who’ve been here since the beginning. Each legacy company we welcomed into the Lineage family has made us stronger. Today, our “lineage” as a company is what allowed us to become a true industry leader.
I think there is a lesson to be learned from Lineage’s story for individuals as well. No one achieves success alone. So, surround yourself with a strong team – people who are experts in their field, people who are passionate about the work and people who aren’t afraid to challenge you. That sort of dynamic team can rack up truly amazing accomplishments.
CLICK HERE to learn more about the 2024 Rock Stars of the Supply Chain winners.