Morai Logistics’ President Kelli Saunders on Millennials, Women, and Mentoring

In an interview with Kate Lee, Saunders discusses her career in the logistics industry and key issues within the supply chain.

Kelli Saunders

Kelli Saunders is president of Morai Logistics.

The percentage of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 declined from 4.8% in 2015 to 4.2% in 2016. Canada, too, has realized a decline: 8% of the highest-paid executive positions are held by women, down from 8.5%. Research conducted by Gartner in April 2016 finds that for the supply chain industry, “the percentage of women in leadership positions decreases as the corporate ladder rises.”

It was a “fluke” that Kelli Saunders found the supply chain industry. More than 30 years later, Saunders is president of Morai Logistics Inc., an Authorized Agent of Mode Transportation. I sat down and talked with Saunders about her career and her perspective on women within the supply chain industry.

How did you find the supply chain industry?

It was a fluke. I was just out of college and needed a job. I found an ad in our local paper for a telemarketer, and I applied. I was hired as a telemarketing supervisor for a Canadian intermodal marketing company (IMC).

The man who owned the company focused on his employees. He taught us how to read a balance sheet and an income statement. He taught us the difference between added value and value added. And he taught us the industry.  He had us climbing into trucks and railroad yards so that we could truly understand the industry.

When his wife sadly passed away, he decided to sell the company.  He allowed six of us to become majority shareholders.

Fast forward sixteen years. The company has been bought and sold many times. I’ve stayed with the company through this process. Each time the company changed hands, my role changed, exposing me to different aspects of the business. Six years ago I bought the company back and now serve as president.

Your first boss sounds like he was a pretty incredible person.

He was. And now it is my turn. It’s my turn to give back.

I am a big believer in millennials. Their energy is contagious. I strive to be a mentor to them, and to let them know that they can dream big.

You’ve been in the industry for more than 30 years. What changes have you seen?

The industry is becoming more diverse, and more women are entering the industry. That being said, there is a still a long way to go. A big challenge is getting women and minorities to recognize that the supply chain industry is an option.

Tell me more about this.

Women don’t seem to recognize that there are incredible opportunities in the supply chain industry. The industry needs to do a better job at sharing what is happening — what the industry is all about. People think it is dull and boring; it’s not.

The supply chain industry is not just about getting things from point A to point B. The industry is an entire sophistication of infrastructure. There are so many aspects that we take for granted. Streamlining the chaos within the industry is incredibly rewarding.

How can this problem be addressed?

We need to get out and talk to more people. We need to go into the schools; we need to make connections and have conversations. Companies need to share their stories more widely. It is all about getting the word out there.

What advice do you have for people who do enter the industry?

Surround yourself with the best of the best. This is true when it comes to your colleagues, your employees, your vendors, your clients — everyone. This not only makes life more enjoyable, it has an impact on the bottom line.

Interestingly, 75% of the staff at Morai Logistics are women. This is not by design. By seeking out the best of the best, it just happened.

As a mentor, what advice do you give?

Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have. But I am not talking just about clothes. I am talking about your mental state, your body language, the quality of the work you produce. Visualize the job you want and portray that in all you do.

I also tell people to always be honest, respectful, and ethical. These characteristics are essential.

Getting the right product to the right place at just the right time is a complicated business. Kelli Saunders, CEO of Morai Logistics, understands the complexities and nuances involved in long term sustainability in the logistics industry. This is why the company she leads is the successful multimillion dollar, multinational business that it is today.

Kelli’s experience in the supply chain and logistics field is extensive. During her 30 years in the industry, she has been recognized for her strategic selling, relationship development, and management throughout North America. She started from her humble beginnings as a telemarketing supervisor for a Canadian 3PL provider to creating Morai Logistics Inc.

Since then Kelli has received numerous awards for her expertise in strategic sales. She has shown consistent impact in the industry by being awarded Salesperson of the Year numerous times, and was the former president of the Toronto Transportation Club. As a certified diversity supplier, her company has received WeConnect Canada’s Doing Business International Award and WBE Canada’s Doing Business Award as a woman-owned business.

Aside from assisting her clients with services including warehousing, management consulting and technology services through Morai Logistics, Kelli’s drive also shines through in her other passions.

She is an active member of the Women Presidents Organization, WeConnect International, and WBE Canada. Kelli strives to inspire women by telling her story and sharing her lessons at talks to support fellow female entrepreneurs. She also takes time to enjoy spinning, running, golf, and travelling. Her motivation and drive shows in her company’s performance and inspires her team to succeed.

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