Wednesday, May 9, 2018
Susan Rider attributes success as consultant to WERC networking, involvement
Former WERC Board President (20042005)
After initially working in radio, banking and advertising, former Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC) Board President (2004-2005) Susan Rider calls her entrance into the logistics and warehousing field “serendipity.”
Her first job in the industry was as head of marketing at storage rack manufacturer Unarco Material Handling, where she had two revelations within her first week: “There truly were practically no women in the field at that time. I’d heard people say 98% men in the industry, but it was closer to 99.8% men,” she chuckles. “And, I realized very quickly that, as a woman, I had to know twice as much to gain respect and credibility in the industry.”
So, when she bumped into Ken Battista, another former WERC Board President (1995-1996), at a different supply chain conference and mentioned her desire to learn as much as possible about the field, he suggested she attend the next WERC Conference. She did.
“I loved it. Not only did I and the two other women who attended have the entire women’s restroom to ourselves, but also I was in warehouse education heaven,” recalls Rider. “Here was a place where everyone attending was looking to learn more about solutions within the four walls of the warehouse, and supply chain had truly become my passion. I became a sponge and soaked up as much knowledge as I possibly could.”
With Battista’s further encouragement, Rider became more involved with WERC, first on a committee, then serving as Conference Chair, and finally joining the Board where she filled various leadership roles (including President) for nearly a decade. Along the way, she navigated a career path through a handful of warehouse technology and software solutions providers and ultimately established her own logistics and supply chain consulting firm, Rider & Associates, in 2004.
“Not only did I love to learn everything I could about best practices in running a distribution center, I loved to share that knowledge and to help people solve problems,” Rider explains. “As I built lasting relationships and friendships with people I met through WERC, I became known as a problem solver who is very direct and doesn’t sugarcoat things. For example, when I was Board President there was a huge debate about whether or not WERC should invest in a website. I distinctly remember hitting my hand on the table and saying, ‘either we do a website or we become like the dinosaurs—extinct.’”
As Rider’s reputation for straight talk and problem solving grew throughout her WERC network, referral business quickly followed. “In fact, I never solicited my first customers—they called me when they heard I was establishing my own consulting practice. That wouldn’t have happened without the exposure from WERC.”
Additionally, Rider has been asked by multiple men in the industry to mentor new female hires just entering the supply chain field, a role she accepted with zeal every time.
“The first thing I would tell them is, ‘you have to develop a thick skin. You can't get insulted when you’re at a warehouse and it’s all men, and they use bad language. And, if you walk into a warehouse in heels and a mini skirt, don’t be surprised when you get cat called,’” she says. “Women entering this field have to play their part too. They have to educate themselves and become knowledgeable about the industry while representing the feminine world in a very professional way.”
Having a highly developed sense of humor doesn’t hurt either. Indeed, Rider suspects that many WERC members remember her mostly for being in a wheelchair during the 2006 Annual Conference in Orlando.
“I slipped on the marble floor in the bathroom of my hotel suite the night before the Conference started, tore my meniscus, eventually made it to a hospital, and talked the emergency room doctor into letting me have a mobile cast so I could postpone surgery,” she recalls. “I spent the rest of Conference developing a real appreciation for people with disabilities as I struggled to navigate elevators and get to sessions.”
Rider was also slated as a keynote speaker during one of the general sessions that year. “I refused to present from a chair, so I took the cast off and sat on a stool—and my voice kicked up a few octaves whenever the pain shot through me,” she laughs. “A friend in the audience later told me he thought I was just really excited about order picking.”
Still involved with WERC, Rider attends the Annual Conference as often as her personal schedule permits, both because of the networking and the educational opportunities. “I truly believe in life-long learning—and that’s not just from books. It’s also about the experiences and the networking,” she says.
For women entering the field, connecting with WERC is particularly important, Rider adds. “I strongly encourage women who are new to the industry to tap into the women who have been here a while. We’re all here to help each other, and we want to,” she concludes. “WERC is a perfect resource for making those contacts.”
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