Monday, June 11, 2018
Posted by: JoAnna Leon
Catherine Cooper, past WERC Board President, gained skills outside her career from volunteering with organization
President, World Connections
Former WERC Board President (2010-2011)
As a graduate with a degree in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech, former Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC) Board President (2010-2011) Catherine Cooper was set for a traditional career in engineering. But when she had the opportunity to train warehouse associates on the ins-and-outs of a new warehouse management system (WMS) at a major parcel carrier, she discovered a way to connect engineering with people—and found that much more fulfilling than just working with formulas and programing alone.
“It was combining engineering with the actual flow of goods—and you have to have people to get that done. It was a great match for me,” she explains. “That was my segue into logistics at age 22, and it’s been my whole career ever since.”
Within a year, Cooper was invited to her first WERC Annual Conference in 1994, held in Orlando, Florida. “That experience opened up so many perspectives about what the logistics and warehousing industry was, and its challenges. I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I had found the right field,” she recalls. “I also met so many professionals who inspired me to think, ‘I want to be like that person.’”
As she advanced through her career, ultimately rising through the ranks to Chief Information Officer (CIO) of a $1-billion global logistics service provider and President of three successful consulting firms—including her current role as Founder and CEO of World Connections—she’s continued to be an active WERC member.
“It’s true that it is lonely at the top,” notes Cooper. “Through WERC, I’ve been able to have a network of peers who aren’t involved with my company, which allowed me to be authentic. I could say, ‘here are my challenges,’ and get solutions without feeling self-conscious. Every WERC member truly wants to help others solve a problem—whether it’s an operational challenge in your facility or it’s a human resource issue—someone has been there before you and is willing to share their insights.”
For that reason, Cooper says that the networking opportunities offered by WERC have been the most valuable to her career. “Further, in today’s workforce, I don’t think anyone feels permanently safe in their company. But with WERC, I feel safe within the industry. So, if I’m downsized or outsourced, my network is large and it’s a tremendous resource,” she explains. “Participating in the interactions WERC sponsors also keeps your network fresh, and you never know where the next job opportunity might come from.”
She also began actively volunteering with WERC, ultimately joining the Board of Directors. In 2008-2011, during the last major economic downturn, Cooper was ascending through the Board officer positions. She recalls distinct parallels between the difficult decisions made both in her own company and at WERC about shedding staff and cutting costs.
“The conversations we had as WERC Board members about minimizing expenses and making tough choices helped me understand what my company was going through,” recalls Cooper. “It also made me a more articulate executive, because I had a broader understanding of what these global economic downturns mean to everybody, both at a personal and a professional level.”
Additionally, she credits her time on the Board as offering her a chance to develop skills outside her profession that she would not have otherwise. “For example, public speaking in front of 1,000 people—you don’t often get to do that in a company, but you do at WERC,” she explains.
“Also, for me, the year I served as WERC Board Treasurer was the first time I’d ever truly worked with profit-and-loss (P&L) statements,” Cooper continues. “Because at that stage of my career, I was purely on the technical logistics side, not in a role that required me to look at budgets and returns on investment. By the time I did achieve that level of leadership, I knew my way around the financial side, thanks to my experience on the WERC Board.”
For persons new to the industry, or for seasoned professionals considering a WERC membership, Cooper points to the benefits she’s gained from her participation as compelling motivation to join the association.
“Nobody should sit back in their job and assume they don’t need to learn more about our industry, stay current on the latest trends, build new skills or keep their network of professional connections fresh,” she says. “Joining WERC and being active in the organization is a great way to tackle all of those career goals and remain relevant.”
Women in particular can benefit from the additional exposure to and within the industry outside their corporate job, she adds. “While it’s wonderful that the Women @ WERC initiative is gaining traction, ultimately I encourage women to take advantage of every opportunity they can to develop their skills and gain connections—and everything WERC offers across the board is a great resource to do just that.”
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