XPO Logistics truck
XPO Logistics, Inc. is a leading provider of freight transportation services, primarily less-than-truckload (LTL) and truck brokerage. XPO uses its proprietary technology to move goods efficiently through supply chains. The company has a global network that serves 50,000 shippers with approximately 749 locations and 43,000 employees. In the fourth quarter, XPO will spin-off its tech-enabled brokered transportation business, with the remaining LTL business, which is a roughly $4.4 billion business. The current CIO at XPO Logistics and president of the less-than-truckload (LTL) business Mario Harik will assume the role of chief executive officer of the new XPO.
The growth of XPO Logistics has been remarkable. “We’ve integrated 18 acquisitions, and we grew the business over more than a decade now to be the seventh best-performing stock among Fortune 500,” noted Harik. “We have done so through becoming an innovator and one of the largest players in our industry. Technology has been a key part of making that happen since the onset of the company.”
Soon to be CEO of XPO Mario Harik
Technology is where Harik has left, perhaps, his most profound mark, and it will be a critical aspect of the future of XPO’s LTL business after the spin-off. XPO Logistics started as a truck brokerage company. Harik was key to developing the technology that connected shippers with carriers, leveraging machine learning and data and analytics more generally to accomplish this in a seamless fashion. “We built a platform which eventually became XPO Connect which is one of the fastest growing platforms in our industry,” said Harik, noting that the growth in that platform has been a key driver of the company’s strong financial performance over the past decade. “With our less-than-truckload business, our technology using machine learning and data allows us to optimize how the network actually operates, [including] how we move freight between our terminals. This is a business where we have 294 terminals across North America. Then the technology allows us to effectively find the most efficient routes of that freight between our terminals to maximize efficiency.” Harik also underscored that machine learning and data science were used to optimize routes for the delivery of freight, again, impacting the bottom line of the company in the process. This has been the fruit of a $3 billion investment XPO Logistics has made in technology over the last decade.
In addition to spending, Harik has focused on developing a culture of innovation. “We built our own engineering talent to build proprietary software,” said Harik. “When you design your own software and build a company fit for purpose, that gives you a competitive advantage.”
Harik notes four aspects of the chief information officer role that contributed to his ascent to the CEO role. First, he noted that the CIO role provides a great overview of how a business operates. As such, a thoughtful CIO has access to a number of levers to pull to improve the business with technology.
Second, the CIO’s position in the corporate structure provides insights to understand the commercial impact of technology. The modern CIO has an ability to contribute to both sides of the profit equation: both cost reduction – the historical domain of the CIO – and revenue augmentation – the newer area to which great CIOs are contributing, and an area of great focus for Harik and his team. This more pervasive value creation, with greater touchpoints with the company’s customers, provides all the more justifications for CIOs to take on the top post.
Third, CIOs who establish feedback loops can be among the most informed executives within the company based on the data they collect, synthesize, analyze and put to work for each part of the company. “[It is important to] have strong feedback loops to listen to your employees and your customers about what is it that the technology has to do to improve performance or improve service levels or improve what you are delivering to your customers or to your employees,” said Harik. “Those feedback loops also work well for CIOs beyond the technology; they can lead to greater understanding of how you can improve the business, driving stronger growth, as well.”
Finally, fourth, CIOs manage a complex group of people who are among the highest compensated, with skills that are in short supply but that also add tremendous value. For an IT leader who can create a talent factory within his or her four walls, this creates a profound opportunity to take what works well within IT and make it more pervasive across the enterprise. Harik noted, “It’s about recruiting, retaining and providing for a world-class team of folks that effectively drive the results in everything that you do, and that’s the case in technology as in business.”
Harik, armed with an engineering degree from MIT, began his career building software. That innovative approach to building software continues to this day. He also has been an entrepreneur, starting and running companies along the way. By the time he took on the CIO post at XPO, the traditional role of an insular CIO, leading a support organization never occurred to him. “[As the third employee] at XPO, I’ve been working alongside [founder and current CEO] Brad Jacobs and the leadership team to build XPO,” underscored Harik. “This transportation powerhouse is steeped in technology. When you think, again, about all the experiences that you have, and when you look at technology as being a key driver of business performance, that becomes just a logical thing to focus on, given that that’s going to have the biggest impact and the solutions you build.” Harik has been fortunate to work in a business that from the earliest days was technology driven. Now most other industries have developed a version of this. As such, more CIOs should take heart that bigger opportunities might present themselves if they manage their teams and their careers in a comparable way.
Harik also emphasized the need for technology leaders to embed themselves in the operation. “Good technology is fit for purpose with what you’re doing as a business,” he said. “We spend a lot of time having our tech team either visiting terminals or spending time with operators in the field, to look at how technology is being used and how the use of that technology can be improved. What new features we’re going to be launching and how we’re going to improve them?”
When asked about where the new XPO will focus he noted a pivot from a strategy of improving margin to a strategy of both growing the business – gaining market share – as well as improving margin. “We’re going to do this by a couple of ways,” noted Harik. “We’re going to grow volume share through investment in our fleet, in doors and people. We are expanding our network. So far, over the last year, we’ve added five new terminals to our network and we also produce our own trailers. This year we’re going to produce double the number of trailers we did last year. More than 4,700 trailers that we’re going to be producing in our manufacturing facility as an example. We’re going to continue to capitalize in our industry that our firm pricing dynamics where we are going to continue to focus on pricing and make sure we are charging our customers a fair price for the services we offer.”
He rounded out the list by noting the importance of providing excellent service for XPO’s customers, delighting them in every interaction. He also believes there are pathways to continue to optimize costs. In both areas, technology is key.
Harik’s is an aspirational journey that CIOs with aspirations to earn their way to the CEO role should follow.
Peter High is President of Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates the Technovation podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.
XPO Logistics truck