Considering the impossible job and the unlikely career move pays off.
By Karl Rozemeyer
“It was like a home run waiting to be hit,” said Andy Manning of landing his position as vice president of operations at Pitney Bowes International Mail Services.
Manning is an operations manager with 17 years experience in the industrial gas industry. His resume doesn't appear to be a particular fit for the mail services business, and he worried the mail services business would soon “go the way of the buggy whip.” the mail-services business didn't seem a particularly safe idea in the age of e-mail.
“It was a change for me,” he said. “My background is in manufacturing (where) my responsibilities spanned into logistics. I was moving freight globally. So that was the only thing that helped me segue into the world of mail. But mail processing was an entirely new world for me.”
Today Manning is vice president of operations at Pitney Bowes of Stamford, Conn. This S&P 500 company makes $6 billion a year in mail services, a business Manning didn't know existed before he began his job search.
For Manning, the job search, using OpsLadder, let him explore opportunities like Pitney Bowes that were well outside his realm of experience. He then let the employer make its case that mail services was a solid business and Manning's skill set was a fit.
He discovered his skills as a manufacturing logistics manager translated well beyond the niche industry he had occupied. He also discovered that companies in transition can be a green field for job seekers with leadership skills.
Anyone who has done a significant amount of interviewing knows it's an opportunity to peek inside another company or industry, Manning said. "I find it a very interesting learning tool where you go to interview somewhere and realize, 'I didn't even know this business existed!' " he said. "And so when I heard about international mail services, I said 'This is amazing! I thought the Post Office moved all mail.'"
Can you do the job?
Manning, of Montclair, N.J., was never looking for an easy transition. He was looking for a position that would test his skills. He was desperate to avoid a position that would be little more than "holding down the fort." He didn't want to be greeted: "Oh Andy, come on in! Your incumbent did a good job. Just hold everything together, and it will be fine."
Aside from a brief foray into a dot-com business "back in the era," he had been with one company, the British Oxygen Corporation (later the BOC Group) for 17 years. BOC was a company focused on industrial gases that also included a unit that produced second-tier semiconductor equipment. "We did vacuum systems and gas-abatement systems and all the stuff that Intel would use to make their Pentiums," Manning said. BOC was acquired by the Linde Group and the semiconductor business unit was spun off and eventually taken private. Manning stayed on to do some significant restructuring until September 2007 but soon decided to look for new horizons. After Manning spent several months consulting, a former colleague from BOC introduced him to TheLadders.
By the time Pitney Bowes approached Manning, he was after a challenge, but he worried that his skills from a career in industrial gases would have little to do with an industry he had just discovered.
However, he soon came to see leadership as the real key to importing a skill set from another industry.
"I have had success in manufacturing and, over the course of a few interviews for the mail business, I said: 'I think I can apply this stuff here. I think the disciplines are the same, even if we are not actually making a widget,'" Manning said. "I don't know if I came up with any new and fantastic ideas of how to do things better or how to automate mail processing. I am learning about that now."
"I find it to be less about the great idea and more about the execution: putting something in place and making it stick, as well as the discipline around leadership," he said. "I have found that there are tremendous opportunities out there. And to take a very challenging situation where other people have tried and failed before is more about implementing a set of tools."
One particularly challenging aspect for Manning is how to manage the production cycle.
"We move a lot of publications, and the publishers nationally slow down in the summer. They may do a monthly all-year mailing, and then in July-August they will just do one. One of the biggest challenges that I saw coming from a manufacturing environment is that it can change on a day-to-day basis. At the facility here in New Jersey, we will get 100,000 pounds of mail one day; and the next day it might be 130,000; and the day after, 70,000. So we can have 50 percent swings in volume on a day-to-day basis. And how do you manage that with your labor force?" he said. "Unlike manufacturing, I cannot build inventory. All the mail turns 24 to 48 hours, and it is out the door. So that is a big challenge, and it is compounded in a changing economy. Now it is cyclical and downward."
Can the business succeed?
Convinced of his own ability to handle the challenge, Manning next considered the viability of a business he thought the U.S. Postal Service dominated.
Could the postage industry succeed in the age of e-mail? "'What is the longevity of this company?' and, 'Where is the growth going to come from?' " he asked.
"I have seen snippets of reporting on the demise of moving printed matter. But what happened to the paperless office that we were supposed to have had 10 years ago?" he said. "I still see mountain of stuff going to the trash or the shredder. I'm learning more about the mail business every day."
Today, after putting some tough questions to the Pitney Bowes executives, Manning said he's convinced that there is great opportunity for expansion not only through acquisition but also organic growth in taking market share.
"Several years ago, they recognized that postage meters were a flat or declining business and would probably eventually go the way of the buggy whip," he said. "They then concluded that their core competency was the mail stream, and everything related to processing and moving mail."
Having made several acquisitions, Pitney Bowes expanded its domestic operations to include mail processing and pre-sorting by negotiating large discounts with the Postal Service, taking large mail-order volumes, pre-sorting them, and injecting them into the postal stream a little further down the process chain.
Pitney Bowes also made several international acquisitions of small mom-and-pop companies to create Pitney Bowes International Mail Services. The company acts as a postage arbitrage, negotiating large volume discounts with postal services around the world, including private, hand-delivery services and other non-governmental carriers. "We negotiate discounts with them, and we add value by consolidating," he said. "Whether it is Bank of America or Goldman Sachs or publishers producing consumer reports, [a client may have] a domestic mailing and send up to 2 million copies, with 50,000 that must be sent internationally to 200 countries. So they hand that down to us."
There has also been some positive fallout from the knocks dealt by the economy to Pitney Bowes' largest and most direct competitor, DHL.
"When DHL Express exited the U.S. business, one of the things that they retained was U.S. OutBound," he said. "They are still in the global mail business, but there is enough knockout effect. And the press alone had DHL global mail customers wondering when the next shoe is going to drop. Or simply misunderstanding and thinking that DHL is exiting all of this. And that certainly made for a target-rich environment in terms of competitive takeaways."
The economy has presented opportunity as well as challenges as institutions and charities increase their output and Pitney Bowes had expanded from traditional printed matter into moving parcels. Even the weaker U.S. dollar helped the bottom line. "You would never think that it would make sense to move goods across borders and halfway around the world, but with the weak dollar and their own currency strong, there is a significant growth in moving merchandise outside of the U.S."
Manning believes that job seekers can find opportunities in what he calls "big-change type stuff": turnaround situations and the restructuring of operations, like he found at Pitney Bowes.
He initially considered private-equity companies because, if they had acquired other businesses, he felt they may need better operations leadership.
"Pitney Bowes wasn't necessarily that case," he said. "But their international-mail service is the product of four or five acquisitions that they had done over three years, and they had not been fully integrated, not just from an IT systems and infrastructure standpoint, but culturally from an operations standpoint of establishing standards and holding people to expectations."
Where there are opportunities in operations, he said, the emphasis should be on leadership and fresh perspectives.
"For the hiring that I have done since I have come on board, I don't deliberately exclude people with mail-services experience, but I certainly look well beyond that because I think that sometimes it is the leadership element I need more than anything. And it sometimes helps to have an outside set of eyes take a look at something."
Karl Rozemeyer is a general assignment reporter for TheLadders.