The history of the supply chain and less than truckload transportation is dotted with inflection points – moments on the timeline that have irrefutably changed the course of the logistics industry. During his 34 years at SMC³, Danny Slaton experienced these seismic industry shifts – first on the front lines of the computerization of the supply chain and then as an executive making sense of a post-deregulation transportation world.
Slaton retired from his career at SMC³ following the Jump Start 2019 logistics conference, and in his three decades at the company, he saw a lot of change. He remembers, for instance, how thrilled he was to release the industry’s first LTL benchmark only to have it take on a life of its own.
“Every industry needs a collection of pricing and a benchmark for pricing just to make intelligent decisions,” he recalled of releasing the first version of what is now SMC³’s CzarLite. “What we didn’t realize was all the different ways that once that benchmark was out there, the market would adopt all these different applications. That was a very pleasant surprise.”
Before leaving his position as chief data officer at the company, Slaton took the time to reflect on the LTL industry and his memories of working at SMC³.
You started working for Louisville’s Central and Southern, which later merged with SMC³, in 1983. What was it like working for a soon-to-be technology company in the mid-‘80s?
When I started, we were buying paper by the rail car and printing great big industrial directories and pricing books, etcetera. That was the way we distributed information. But we could see a pathway for quickly starting to use personal computers.
We found that with the PC — which we invested in very, very early — we could find a way of portability of the data, distribution of the data, which really was far superior that had been there. We really had a leadership role in the early transformation of distributing pricing and taking pricing and other core information down to the desktop level.
We were fortunate to have a really savvy IT thinker as our CIO, and even the leader of the organization was a visionary in terms of automation and computerization. That was one of the things that really stood out for our organization. The other thing is that we absolutely knew that our role was changing and we had to create a path. The PC back then was a breakthrough that everybody knew was going to change the world, and we led the charge for the very narrow, but important, sliver of LTL data information.
The technological jump from printing rate books on a printing press to distributing information via PC is quite a leap. Is there another huge technology jump on the horizon?
I don’t think there’s another huge leap on the horizon. I would say it’s more incremental now. Your wins are more subtle, but we all know technology just keeps marching forward. It really is a long-term play now. Early on our technology connected a shipper to a carrier, and now our technology is really connecting all players in the supply chain so they all can share information really transparently across their networks. That technology is another technical revolution for us.
What will you remember most about working at SMC³?
It really boils down to the relationships you form in the industry. You’re really fortunate at SMC³ because you’re not just another company competing for the same business, you’re really serving the industry. Our view of what problems to solve, what things to do, is driven through a service mentality. That’s always been enjoyable because you have this ability to do things you wouldn’t be able to do at other jobs.
There’s never been a time at SMC³ that we didn’t have this cohesive mentality throughout the organization that we’re here to serve, but if we’re not innovative, if we’re not solutions driven, we really are off mission.
Where do you hope to see SMC³ head in the future?
To do what we do and have access to all this mission-critical data and all this confidential pricing data, you have to be trustworthy. You have to be a trusted organization. You have to be consistent in your action. You have to be transparent about what you’re doing with other people’s data. I think that will carry us for a long time into the future.
Where the technology will take us? I’ve had 30-plus years of technology change, and it’s going to keep moving forward. We will have to keep thinking about what’s next. That will be exciting to watch.
It’s also been nice at the later part of my career to watch people come into the organization that know a lot more about technology and how to do things than I do and see them get their careers started. I know that will continue; it’s just part of the organization’s DNA now – we combine innovation and creativity with practical reasoning and responsibility.