Transcript: Voice of Supply Chain – August 2023

Voice of Supply Chain – August 2023

Featuring: Eric Edwards

Hello, and happy Wednesday from Austin. We are melting away here. I think it’s been triple digits for over 60 days straight, and it is hard to go outside during the day. But I was able to get a run in the morning, so I’m feeling pretty good. Welcome to our Voice of Supply Chain show, brought to you by ISM New Jersey and SourceDay. The purpose of our show is to tell stories of people in the supply chain doing extraordinary things.

I am your host, Sarah Scudder, and I oversee marketing at SourceDay. Our supplier collaboration supply chain software automates price, quantity, and delivery date changes for direct material POs, to prevent late part material and deliveries for manufacturers. If you want more intel about what’s happening in the supply chain world and manufacturing, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Today, our guest is Eric. I have known him for, I don’t know, two or three years at least. Yeah, yeah, we just spent time together at the ISM conference in Dallas in May, and Eric is just a really interesting person and has a lot of really cool things going on in his personal and professional life. So, I asked him to come on and share his journey with us today.

For those of you who are live, feel free to drop us a note in the comments section, tell us where in the world you are joining us from, and a word to describe how you are feeling today. And I see we have Heather, the toner Queen, already on. Um, we’ve got people joining here, um, so again, drop us a note, tell us how you’re doing. Also, feel free if you have any questions for Eric as we’re going through our conversation today, drop those as well, and I’ll make sure to manage those.

So, Eric, I like to start off all of our interviews by going way, way back in time to Childhood Days. So, let’s have you start by sharing a favorite childhood memory.

Oh, wow, that’s why I grew? I was a kid who grew up in the Atlanta area, and every summer we would go to Six Flags, routinely three, four, or five times this summer. And I just remember spending so much time with friends and cousins at Six Flags. Sometimes we wouldn’t even ride the rides, we would just walk around and eat the terrible food that you could get from Six Flags and people watch. And I just, I remember, I’m very, I have a very fond memory of Six Flags Over Georgia. So from a childhood perspective, that was a great opportunity, a great, great time for me. Don’t ever ask me to go to a theme park with you, Eric, because the answer will be absolutely no.

I also grew up during the in Atlanta during the Braves run in the 90s when they were just fantastic and got to go to Fulton County Stadium a bunch, and so Atlanta was a really great spot to grow up in as a kid in the 90s. We’ve got Larry joining us from Canada, we have Mark joining us from Rochester, New York, he is feeling motivated today. We have Rodrigo joining us from Arizona, and Rodrigo is feeling good. Heather is feeling grateful. Larry, tell us how you are feeling today. We missed that in your note. So those who are joining, continue to say hello, ask any questions for Eric, and tell us how you’re feeling today.

So, Eric, weirdest thing you did as a child, this is one of my favorite questions to ask.

So as a child, we played in construction sites, which would now probably be the worst thing you could do, but as a kid, we always seem to find some house being under construction or some apartment complex under construction, and we used to play with construction materials. So, think the large drainage pipes that were made out of heavy-duty plastic, we used to play in those and roll those down the hill and try to be inside them when they rolled down the hill. And now I look back at that and go, how did we ever survive? Yeah, playing in construction sites and where were my parents? Like, I was given a lot of leash, apparently, and I was gonna…

I honestly don’t know if they still know this day, other than when some injuries would pop up, but yeah, what in your childhood would you say shaped you to be the person that you are today for?

So, I was the oldest grandson, grandchild, and I had a responsibility for a younger brother, younger and two younger cousins. And I think, you know, as we played as a kid, I was always the one that kind of had to make sure everybody returned home in one piece. And when we didn’t, I was the one that was held responsible for it. So a sense of sort of Duty for those younger kids, which later on turned into a military career. I think just that sense of Duty and responsibility for those around me kind of played pretty heavy in my childhood. Now, did you say, were you the oldest child? I was the oldest child and grandchild. So in my little group, you know, of my mother and her sister, I was the oldest boy, our oldest child period among the group. And it was all boys, so yeah, I was responsible for any shenanigans that the four or five of us got into. So I learned really quickly, you know, gotta gotta hold down the fort for all of us. Is when we returned back to the house, all of us need to be in one piece. So yeah, I can, I’m the oldest of four girls and I feel like that trait is very common in the oldest child, feeling the need to protect and make sure everyone’s safe. Yeah, exactly, most influential person in your childhood in way.

So, I had a football coach. He also was my wrestling coach, and he was also our youth pastor. So I spent a significant amount of time with him, just because I participated in each of the areas where he had responsibility. And so, you know, he kind of checked a bunch of assumptions and beliefs that I had in my life as a young teen, especially, and I really took a lot of his advice to heart. And I think that was… he was also like great fun. I remember a trip to Florida, and we set off a shaving cream can underneath his sheets and his bed, and when he found out, he ripped the sheets off, and we all wrestled in that cream, you know, wrestling each other to… it was just a great time. He had a great sense of humor and didn’t take things overly serious, so he was one you could pull a prank on and survive. I feel like we should… I should have a can of shaving cream to hold up during your story.

Well, on the bottom of the can of shaving cream, there’s a little like point, and if you push on that, it will evacuate all the contents. So as you know, a high school kid, once you figure that out, you had to figure out some kind of way to leverage this knowledge to your comedic benefit. So, absolutely. So you have a family now, you are a husband and dad. What is one childhood tradition that you’ve continued on with your family today?

Ah, we opened one gift on Christmas Eve. That’s a big one for us. It’s always, you know, the night before, just getting to sit down because, you know, all the other family comes in on Christmas day, and it gets, you know, and everybody opens presents, and it’s a just a furious, you know, and it goes quickly. And so that night before, just sitting down with the very, you know, myself, my wife, and her three kids, get to sit down and open one gift and kind of savor the, you know, the opportunity to see in a close-knit together is just great because the next day it’s just mayhem with everybody coming over and and you just lose track of everything. So there’s like that one special gift that we get specifically for Christmas Eve that we, you know, means the most and we really want to take in the, you know, the excitement and that kind of thing. We save that for Christmas Eve. So are you an ornament family? Do you also do ornament gifts?

We do. That was really started by my grandmother. So she gets you an ornament that she feels like represents you, for better or for worse. So yeah, it depends on how Grandma’s feeling, you know, that year. Do I dare ask your favorite ornament that you’ve received from Grandma?

Favorite ornament is an actual like a decent sized little football, and it’s got a Dallas Cowboy star on it, and she was a huge Cowboys fan growing up. I picked that up from her, so it’s kind of our thing. And then I got a pickle one year, which I don’t understand. I just kind of smiled. I hate pickles, so I don’t know why I got a pickle. So that’s that, that’s grandmother, you know, she just does the pickle, make it on the tree is the real question.

Yeah, the pickle makes it on the tree. The kids actually, the kids like the pickle, and so it reminds them that it’s awkward for me to have the pickle on the tree because it doesn’t make sense, so they force it on the tree. Yeah, I was hoping the pickle would be one of the ornaments they would drop somewhere along the way, but that thing is survived, so just is what it is. It’s got the same packaging, and it’s, it’s gonna, it’s gonna be there till the end. That’s right. So after high school, schools to go to a school that prides itself when I was doing a little bit of research, it’s called, they, they’re, I don’t know if it’s their slogan, but they’re known for being the Public Ivy School, yeah. So where’d you choose to go to school and why?

So I went in the military straight away, and about halfway through, I decided to begin my collegiate career. So I did military and college at the same time. I picked William and Mary because I was, I qualified for a number of colleges in the area, and I thought it was the hardest, and I was right. Somebody, one of my mentors told me, “Do you want to go to a place where you can put your feet up and breeze through and not be challenged? If you’re just looking for a piece of paper, then take that route. But if you want to be challenged, you actually want to learn something, if you want to slide out of college with a C average,” which thankfully I beat that, but in his discussion, it was a C average, “you’ll learn more with a C than you will with an A.” And that impacted me pretty significantly to the point where I, I did choose William and Mary, the… Thomas Jefferson went there, you know, George Washington never received a degree, but he got his surveyor’s license from William and Mary, so there’s a lot of history there. I walked the campus, it just felt, it, you know, it had this colonial, you know, brick path, just gorgeous campus. So I really love that in addition to the history. Most important thing you learned in college?

I thought I was really good at time management prior to college, but really, college, you know, sharpened my time management skills and also helped me rank tasks by importance and understanding, understanding that there was going to be a line somewhere in that list that I probably wasn’t going to get to and the tasks below that list were going to be pushed to the next day or I don’t know, maybe not be done at all, and that’s okay because of the onslaught of work coming your way, which honestly is a skill that I still use today. You know, I’ve got projects and things going on, and I have to draw a line at, “Hey, I need to be, you know, waist-deep in these projects and I can’t be waist-deep in every project,” so I draw a line and say, “Hey, look, here’s where my time is warranted and we will automate, outsource, you know, find a better home for the projects below the line or some, you know, some other strategy.”

Can you share a time management tip with us for those that are listening that struggle with it? What would you… Is there any one or two big things that you can recommend?

Well, from a college perspective, I didn’t take any electives in my first semester. I took all hardcore economics courses because I was so interested in economics and the course load was incredible. And somebody thankfully pulled me aside and go, “Hey, you know, the courses that you’re not putting a whole lot of stock in, you pepper those in into your course load to kind of give you a breather when you’re doing economics of third world countries or economics of, you know, healthcare or, you know, any other deep course. Throw in the the Frisbee Golf Course to give you a break from that.”

From time management, I’m I’m old school, so I write down all my projects on a whiteboard, and then I have next steps listed out, and I wipe, I wipe those next steps off. I’m a a checker offer. I like to put checks and boxes. It makes me feel the com… getting things done, being productive, empowers me to continue to do more. So having a project having projects where you’re, you know, 10, 20, getting it done, yes, you’re going to get all those things done, but I like having one where I can just completely knock the project out and get the high from the particular productivity, and that launches me into further, you know, wanting to do more, essentially. So I’m a I’m a to-do list maker, but I do it electronically, and I love the bullet point option with the box and the check that crosses it out. So it’s similar to your if you’re using a pen or pencil, but it is a beautiful feeling when that whole bar is checked off.

Yeah, it is. Yeah. So what did you think you were gonna do after college?

You know, it’s actually funny. So I was in Risk Management in the military, which is a lot of risk management, and I realized that I liked the 10% of my job where I negotiated with insurance carriers on contract language. So I went to my mentor, and I go, “This is like 10% of my job, but it’s 100% of where my interest is.” And so he was like, “Okay, great, you know, go back to college, go to college, and get a degree in economics and go be a contract officer.” That’s the government term for sourcing, right? And so, so I had the luxury of going to college knowing what I wanted to do, to the point where I actually negotiated for an internship that didn’t exist. I helped the sourcing department at William and Mary create an internship that didn’t exist, and there was a free… or it was a non-paid role for two weeks, and the director felt so bad about not paying me because of the work I was doing that he actually backpaid me and made it a paid role. So I knew that I wanted to come out and do sourcing and and be in sourcing, and I saw the economics degree as a way to get me there and to also have a degree that I thought would fit what I wanted to do.

So, I was a business major, and my freshman year, my favorite professor is someone named Dr. Robert Eiler, who is an economist. And because of him and his class, I decided to get a second major in economics. Yeah, I absolutely love that. I had a professor who was the former CEO of Dow Chemical, and he was in marketing, and I I I came very close to adding that as a minor at the very least. He was so great about the way he just inspired you to want to be in marketing and had no interest in marketing when I walked in the door. So, I love that. My favorite professor was actually the mayor of Williamsburg, great guy. And a funny story, his final exam was basically you sat down and wrote a paper in 90 minutes on everything you’d learned in the semester. That was your job, like to sit down, and we talked about the Corn Laws over in Europe. And I don’t know how it happened, but I autocorrected the “C” to a “P” in Corn Laws and didn’t catch it because I was so feverishly typing. And as he handed out all everybody’s papers with their grades on them, I was last, and everybody had left the room, and it was kind of this awkward, like, “Oh my god, did I just totally blow this?” He calls me down, and he goes, “Hey, I just want to let you know my wife and I thought this was hilarious.” And he had circled the “P” in red. I got an A, thankfully, but yeah, the poor… the porn corn paper got you in a… the porn laws. Yeah, and it was referenced in there, I don’t know, half a dozen times, and him and his wife apparently had sat down and read that and just thought it was hilarious. So, I’m glad he had a sense of humor. Goes to show the value of having a sense of humor, right? Absolutely.

So how’d you get your start in IT procurement? So I was hired into Ferguson Enterprises by a great guy, and at the time, they didn’t really have a department. They were managing some very low-level contracts and didn’t have a lot of buy-in from the business. So I essentially went around and sold sourcing to all of our internal leadership. And we got to where I sold the department on using sourcing, and then once we got somebody connected with them, they would move me to the next department. So basically, I went around from supply chain to legal to HR to… and you think, name the department, I went in there and sold our services and took the smallest project they had and hitting a home run with it. And we hired a new CIO to come in, and at the time, Ferguson was a very on-prem company. I mean, we had an ERP system that was homegrown. And when they hired that new CIO, I was asked to step over and partner with him and his leadership to start bringing in solutions from outside. He had a cloud-first approach. We were very on-prem, so there was a lot of cultural changes that needed to happen as well as suppliers. So I was essentially thrown into the fire with this new CIO who was gonna completely rock the boat and change everything, and he did for the most part. And from there on, I just… I love the IT piece because I got to see in most of the corners of the company because technology connects to… I mean, they have… they have forklifts with technology on them now, you know, GPS and and the like. So I liked it, and then I stayed in it because of the visibility that I got to see in all corners of the business.

So, you were there about 10 years and you moved up and and you know, served different roles at Ferguson. How were you able to progress your career within that organization?

Well, I had a pretty big workload, so 30 to 35 projects, which is not something I would, you know, advocate so at that. But I also had a fantastic mentor and first boss, Roberta Reinbach. You know, coming in wanting to set the world on fire, wanting to, you know, save the company single-handedly, she kind of… She protected me in a way and directed my interests and excitement in a path that wasn’t going to run me afoul within the company. So she was… She was very good. So she came in for the first six months, first four months, and it was just contract work and started building my brand within the company because of her. And then Bob Steinmetz, who was the director, had a mantra that, you know, it takes you a lifetime to build a reputation and one slip-up to lose it, and it’s easier to have a reputation and make a mistake and people point to your reputation and say, “That’s not really him,” than it is harder to make a mistake and not have a reputation to point towards and to lean on. So they’re very careful with me and and allowed me to build a reputation within the company that I could stand on. And from that reputation, I started to move up. And then, you know, I was moved into a management role and was able to hire a team and just through sheer luck and I don’t know, maybe the good Lord, I hired two people who were just fantastic hires. They were just on fire for sourcing, loved it. One I brought over from from IT who had a legal background, and she’s still there and still just doing a dynamite job. So I just had great people around me who were looking out for me and then brought people onto my team who were just fantastic. So there’s a lot of luck peppered in there.

Most important thing you learned about leadership as you pivoted from being an individual contributor to a manager, that’s a hard transition. It is.

That’s a tough one. I think, you know, not… I had… I had a sort of a… if there’s a problem that arises, I have an innate sense of, “Okay, here’s what we need to do.” And I had to kind of mute that a little bit and flip that around into a question when somebody, you know, one of my team members said, “Hey, we’ve got a problem here.” Instead of saying, “Okay, here’s what I think we should do,” it’s, “Alright, what do we think we should do? Have… What have you thought about? You’re closest to it. What do you think is the logical next steps? What roadblocks do I need to knock down for you?” It was realizing that I wasn’t going to be the blocking and tackling. I wasn’t going to be the person that was pushing the buttons, hands on the keys kind of thing. And I needed to let my team execute and then just have confidence in them that they could do it. And thankfully, that confidence was rewarded. So I think pulling back from “It has to be me that does it” was hard for me. But I’m glad that I did, and I’m glad that I had leaders who put me in that position, who counseled me on, “Hey, you’re not the hundred percent doer now. You need to allow those because you’re robbing them of learning opportunities that you had, right? We didn’t do it for you, and you learned, and now you’re in a position to let other people learn. If you do it for them, you steal that from them.” And so them being that blunt helped me make that turn.

So, what did you do after your 10 years at Ferguson? So towards the end of my term at Ferguson, I had an opportunity to work in a fund that we used to support entrepreneurs and startups in the construction tech industry. And it was a short version that’s interesting. I called it my Willy the Willy Wonka job. It was just awesome. You got to dig in and write white papers to your c-suite leadership on, you know, hey, this solution’s coming up, and, you know, we should be in the forefront of it because we’re competing with, you know, some big-box retailers or maybe some folks maybe like Grainger in this area. And so we need to adopt this technology, and to do that, we need to put a million dollars on the cap table for this startup, right? It’s super very cool. Unfortunately, the pandemic killed that fund. I’m hearing that those funds are starting to come back around again, which is which is great. So I did have that experience at Ferguson, and then I moved to a company called Brintag after the pandemic, which was the largest distributor of chemicals worldwide. And I led IT sourcing for North America for them.

So you are now kind of in a new type of company in that it is a GPO. Would like to have you kind of explain to our listeners what a GPO is because I’m not sure that if everyone’s aware, and then maybe talk a little bit about your role and what you’re doing there now.

Sure. So a GPO essentially when you create contracts for, and we’re specifically in healthcare for services and products that a number of hospitals need. So let’s talk about like Linens or let’s talk about sutures. So we strike out a contract with a company for Linens or sutures, and the volume that we have across all of our clients is more than the volume that you as a hospital could be able to leverage yourself. So what we encourage our clients and future clients to do is to bring their demand to our contract and add it in. And that way they’re able to leverage the demand across all of Vizient’s customers for a specific service or product, thereby reducing their cost and typically from what I’ve seen just in the short time that I’ve been with Vizient, it’s in the neighborhood of 20 to 25 percent reduction in cost for them joining the GPO, and they don’t have to join, you know, it’s an à la carte thing. So you can pick and choose where you want to participate in our contracts. But from what I’ve seen thus far, it’s 20 to 25. So that’s the main business that Vizient has in that GPO. I on the IT side have actually gone into some of our clients, and I’m helping them strengthen their IT sourcing departments. So bringing in and right now bringing category management. And what does that look like? I mean, category management, the definitions all over the place, but trying to help them understand what definition best fits their Outlook and what they want to achieve. And then also helping their current resources, their current employees, level up into category management from the way that they were doing it previously. So there’s a lot of mentoring there. Typically, I’m working projects for the client, but I also have like two or three folks from their team in on the project, so they’re getting to see the actual negotiations and how I’m structuring and how I’m looking at things. And the expectation that they’ll be able to take over the category management strategy in the areas that I’m working at for them.

What’s what skills do you think are essential now for somebody who is in IT sourcing and procurement?

So well, I mean, soft skills, or, you know, I think we’ve preached a lot on that. Those are the things that you really just can’t teach, being able to read a person and understand when they’re uncomfortable in a negotiation. And when I say negotiation, they could be internal or external. From an IT perspective, I see a lot of people get tripped up when they receive data from their system that’s not perfect and not clean. And they struggle with having to rifle through that. And it’s funny, being in a number of organizations, I’ve seen data in just all kinds of terrible conditions. And then, you know, I’ll see data that I think, “Oh, wow, this is actually fairly decent.” But because the person who I’m working with has never seen data in other application or other scenarios, they don’t know what to expect. So when they look at it, it’s not perfect. They’re like, “This is terrible data.” And I’m going, “Actually, I would have fought for this data in a lot of other organizations.” So just, you know, trying to sort of re-help them set their expectations. I think that’s a lot of the issue. And being able to pull insights out of that data that are actionable is a great skill to have. If you can look at data and chop it up and pull insights out of it and start taking direction and action off that, that’s a great skill to have in IT.

What about for those that are in a different role in sourcing or procurement and are thinking about doing a career change and going into IT procurement? What can they do to get some hands-on experience or get some skills that they’ll need to be hirable in that new role?

Yeah, I would say it had the same instance at Ferguson, and essentially, the guy came over and took collateral duties on. So he was in supply chain, I think he was in… he was a buyer, maybe, if I remember correctly. And he came over and started being asked to be on the project team for IT projects. And so he held his job and then came over and worked in us and was able to pick up on things and just started to understand a lot of the lingo and a lot of the levers of negotiation that we look at. And you know, just taking that interest. You know, he also started his own certification path journey out of his own pocket, which we saw in IT sourcing. We saw so much movement from him, and so much interest that we actually hired him and then refunded all of his money for the certifications just because we saw that the desire was there. And so it was just, it was overwhelming. We couldn’t look past it, kind of thing. It’s like, “Wow, this guy wants it bad enough that he’s willing to pay for certifications out of his own pocket, and he’s willing to step into a project team for an IT solution in addition to his current job duties.” Okay, this he wants it, right? And once leadership in an IT sourcing department sees that, I can’t imagine they would ignore that, and we didn’t. So we absolutely pulled him over, and he’s done… he’s done fantastic.

For people who are in IT procurement now, right, but they’re wanting to level up and maybe get to that director or VP level, so I’m a manager, I’m newer now to the IT world, what do I need to do to really upskill to get more of that executive role in the IT procurement space?

One, I think, you know, communicating interest and desire to take on more responsibility is big. Your manager can’t read your mind or isn’t reading your mind, and so letting your leadership know and your check-ins, your one-on-ones, that you’re interested and that you’re looking to take on the responsibilities or the work that will give you the direction and give you the capabilities to take on more, I think, is big. And then I would look and I’m careful about this, but I would look for opportunities to be on projects that are transformational for the organization. So are you adopting a new ERP system? Are you adopting a new HR system? Are you adopting, you know, name it, is it a transformational project that’s going to take your company out of an older solution, potentially manual, you know, whatever it is, to a, you know, digital, a digital scenario? Get involved in that type of project or projects and see what it’s like to present to a c-suite on a project of that magnitude. Understand the change management that’s going to be involved with that, understand the culture and what you may have to do to sell that type of change to a culture who’s used to and very comfortable doing something very manual, right? You’ve got folks who’ve been with the organization 20 plus years and they understand it’s an inefficient process, but it’s a process they know by heart and they can execute on it quickly. And you’re moving their whole experience is getting ready to be nullified by your digital transformation, which is probably needed for the survival of the company. Understanding what you have to do to communicate that to them and get their buy-in. Projects at that level, if you can navigate those, especially if you’re not leading, if you’re a wingman and you’re able to glean and learn, it will set you up for taking that next step in IT sourcing in my perspective. And I would say ERP projects in particular are extremely high visibility given the cost and investment. So if you can somehow get involved in a project like that, that can really, really help your career.

Absolutely. What sort of trends are you noticing now for the second half of 2023 from an IT sourcing perspective? What’s kind of standing out to you in the industry?

Well, with the current client that I’m working on, I’m seeing a lot of “no application, no technology left behind.” So, you know, it’s trying to do supplier compression, and I’m seeing that accounts payable and finance are starting to awaken more and more to the cost of managing and paying a supplier. So the justification for having a dozen or more project management solutions is getting harder and harder for IT departments to make. Engineering is the same way; they have, you know, a dozen or more CAD solutions. And so when you finance is starting to, at least recently I’ve noticed this a bunch more, they’re looking at the cost to just deal with a supplier and finding that not palatable. And they’re wanting to push back on that cost, and so they’re applying pressure to IT to reduce their overall footprint of suppliers. And there are other drivers for that as well on the IT side, but I’m noticing actually Finance stepping in and starting to sort of put their weight into it, which I hadn’t seen before. So very interesting. And again, if anyone in the audience has specific questions for Eric, feel free to drop them in the chat.

So, Eric, I want to make sure we have time to talk about your time and involvement in the US Navy. Ernie Hernandez was a guest on the show, also had a really unique military background, and I think it’s important to talk about and highlight as well. So you were what is called a Load Master, which I have no idea what that means. So would you maybe explain what that is and then why has that role been so important to you over? It seems like you’ve been doing it for about 20 years now. Yeah, just recently retired. Ernie’s such a great guy and a hard guy to follow up.

But yeah, so for a Load Master, yeah, I flew over 20 years across three platforms, doing everything from carrier onboard delivery to our carriers around the world. So I would fly in parts and people and equipment and land on a carrier and deliver and then take off again. And then I did global logistics on a 737 flight crew. So in a Load Master seat, I’m responsible for the weight and balance of the aircraft, understanding what fuel load is required to get us to our destination with a certain percentage of fuel on board for the unforeseen emergencies. I’m also responsible for our back-end crew who take care of, you know, moving, helping move the cargo off the aircraft in a safe manner or and/or taking care of passengers should we have any. And that includes in an emergency situation. So they’re trained for a water entry, they’re trained for a crash landing, they’re trained for a number of different scenarios to be able to execute emergency procedures and save a life of passengers if there are any. So that’s the responsibility that I held as a Load Master. And then we did global logistics, so flying, you know, I spent most of my time in the Middle East and in Sicily, and actually, I was in Bahrain when the U.S shut down for COVID. So I spent two months over there flying COVID relief. You know, when Katrina was hit, we were flying water and food to Katrina. When Puerto Rico was hit, we flew water into Puerto Rico for weeks on end. And so those are some of the missions that have kind of fallen in my lap over my 20-year career.

What has it meant to you personally and professionally?

So I think the way they say one quarter of one percent of Americans actually qualify for military service, and I know I took it for granted earlier in my career, but I honestly don’t know what I would have done if I wasn’t qualified because of a health issue or something along those lines, or for not being able to serve. Just in kind of the sort of way that I see, you know, allegiance to the country and patriotism and all that great stuff. I just don’t know what I would have struggled not being able to serve if I had been pushed out or not allowed to serve. That would have been a big issue for me. And I think I didn’t appreciate the fact that I was, for a long time, able to serve. What I miss about it, I miss my guys, I miss my crew, I miss being out on the road and having something pop up that we didn’t anticipate and being able to just action, figure out how to get through it, how we’re going to overcome it. You know, be it a fuel issue at a stop somewhere or, you know, somebody told us they had 5,000 pounds of cargo and they had 15,000 pounds, and how are we going to deal with that? And, you know, reconfigure the aircraft to be able to support it. And then just seeing, and I love this in sourcing as well, when you’re working with someone who’s junior and you see the light come on, like they got it right. And they’re excited about the fact that they now have this capability to overcome something. And a lot of times too, in the back end of that aircraft, had 18-year-olds that were fresh out of high school, right? So they may have never seen a real challenge that scared them. And so you see some of that, and then you see them pull through it, and it was just cool to see the light come on and the empowerment that came along with sort of their ability to tackle something they didn’t think they could tackle. So one of our listeners says, “Eric held a critical role, literally supporting troops in complex environments. He’s the GOAT.”

So goats, which I promise I did not plant that comment in the audience, you and your wife bought some acreage, and I hear you are starting a farm. I must hear more about this. Yeah, so after we retired, we decided to move to Texas, and we’ve recently purchased 28 acres in Central Texas, and we’re actually raising chickens to start. We have a farm plan that includes sheep and turkeys, and at some point, we may even bring in pigs. But my wife has an allergy to, well, yeah, it’s essentially an allergy to a lot of the meat in grocery stores. Unfortunately, chicken just seems to be the one that’s really, really bad for her. And we tried pasture-raised chicken from a farmer in our town when we lived in Virginia, and she didn’t react to it. So we realized that if chicken was going to be in our diet and meat was going to be in her diet largely, that we were going to need to raise our own. And then as we started raising our own, we started running into other people who were having similar issues—autoimmune, all kinds of other heavy health issues. And when they stopped eating meat from corporate food out of a grocery store, their issues subsided. Or they moved, they did some, you know, six months trip to Europe or to Asia, and their health issues stopped, and then two weeks after moving back, they flared up again. So we have people coming to us, going, “Hey, you’re raising your own animals because of this issue. We have it as well. Can you raise enough for us?” So we’re actually starting to feed other families, which is a… and I thought we were just going to do it on a very small scale for us. We’re starting to ramp that up, and it’s kind of like a really cool, unexpected thing to be able to know that you’re feeding other families. That was not in the cards, so it’s just kind of a weird blessing-type scenario that you didn’t expect.

Name of the farm? Every farm has to have a good name, you know what? And we struggled with a name for a long time. Naming something is actually a lot more difficult than I would have expected. Our son, our youngest son Jackson, spent two weeks at a zoo camp, and now he wants to be a zoologist, and he’s just animal facts out of… we’re overrun with animal facts. If you need some animal facts, let me know. I’ve got a guy for you. His mom is a veterinarian, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, but he identified a bird on our farm with a very distinctive tail. It’s called a scissortail flycatcher, and they catch bugs and flies and things out of the air in a very acrobatic, almost like airplane-type dogfight scenario. And so I obviously caught on that from an aviation perspective, and Jackson loves the bird. So we are Scissortail Farm.

Yeah, we are working on that right now, actually. Yeah, that’s great. So Eric, you have lots of hobbies aside from the farm. One of the ones that I think is super cool is woodworking. So I would love to hear, maybe share a favorite project that you’ve made and something that you want to make that you haven’t yet started on.

Yeah, so I love woodworking. One, because I just get to use tools, and, you know, it’s one of those… actually, some of the best ideas I’ve had, you know, in sourcing and in life and that kind of thing have come from being in the garage, trying to build something. My mind can just go to another place where I’m able to think about something differently. A favorite project… I think I may have actually sent you a picture of this, but I made a wall-sized Scrabble board out of a 4×8-foot sheet of plywood, where it has magnetic tiles that stick to it that we cut out in wood. And we use that thing quite a bit. We have friends come over, and we start playing. You know, somebody opens a bottle of wine, and maybe the game doesn’t get finished, but, you know, everybody has a good time. The thing I’d love to make… I’d like to make a round dining room table, because I like that everybody gets to look… you can see each other for the most part. And I just like the idea of a round dining room table, and I haven’t found one that I really like that I want to buy for our family. So I think I’ve sort of resigned myself to I’m gonna have to build this at some point for our family.

Well, Eric, thank you so much for coming on the show today. For those who joined us, if you’re not yet connected with Eric on LinkedIn, highly recommend you shoot him a note, send him a connect request. And looking forward to seeing everyone next month with our next guest.