An unintentional byproduct of organizational “rightsizing” is fewer promotional opportunities for those within. Companies across a wide range of industries have removed layers of management limiting career progression and advancement paths that previously existed. The criteria used for selection when positions do become available has changed, as well. In this episode, Dave Clement, managing director of procurement for Cooper/T. Smith Corporation, shares insights and perspectives on what matters most. For those wanting to advance their careers, this is an interview you don’t want to miss.
Joe White (00:00):
Commitment, hard work, and perseverance, a recipe for success for those willing to put forth the effort. That's what we're talking about today.
Hello, and thank you for joining us today. My name is Joe White. I'm the host of Supervisor Skills: Secrets of Success. The SOS podcast series is produced with the ongoing development of frontline managers. With each episode, we'll take on topics of interest and interview subject matter experts for the benefit of our listeners. In today's episode, we're going to talk about succeeding in today's workplace. From an individual perspective, what it takes to create opportunities for promotion and advancement.
My guest today is Dave Clement, managing director of procurement for all Cooper/T. Smith operations. Dave lives in Daphne, Alabama, has more than 45 years of industry experience, and is one of the most qualified candidates that I personally know of to speak on this topic. Welcome, Dave and thank you for joining us today.
Dave Clement (01:02):
Thank you, Joe. Thanks for having me.
Joe White (01:05):
Certainly. Dave, if you would, just take a moment, tell us a little bit more about yourself, who you are, and what you do at Cooper/T. Smith.
Dave Clement (01:13):
Well, I started with Cooper Stevedores, long before Cooper/T. Smith, back in 1975. I started out as a diesel mechanic pulling wrenches, worked my way up to where I'm at today. Within about three years, I was promoted to supervisor. Then I was promoted to a manager. And low and behold, about 10 years later, as luck would have it, or good hard work would have it, I was promoted to vice president of maintenance and repairs. I guess about 10 years ago, I was asked by the owners of the company to relocate to Mobile and work for one of their satellite companies, so I elected to do so, and did that up until about three years ago when they asked me to come to the corporate office and develop and manage our current corporate procurement division.
So I've been around a little while, done about everything there is to do in the industry, and here I am today.
Joe White (02:11):
That's great. I noticed you said you were managing director of procurement for Cooper operations. Just to put that in perspective, how many divisions does that include, and what sort of industries are you involved with?
Dave Clement (02:26):
Currently, there are 14 satellite companies that we have, probably, 17, 18 divisions, and that covers, pretty much... We're very diversified, Joe. We do stevedoring, warehousing, terminal operations, tugboats, push boats, barge fleetings, logistics, we really got really heavy into the timberland business. We do vessel repairs and, believe it or not, we even own restaurants. We're very diversified.
Joe White (02:59):
Let me add, you own some very good restaurants, my favorite being Blue Gill, of course.
Dave Clement (03:05):
Yeah. And unfortunately, my doctor tells me to stay out of them, but anyway.
Joe White (03:10):
All right. Your story is one that I greatly admire. I just want to ask you, one of the questions I'm sure some of our listeners have is, how did you get to where you are? I want to know a little bit about your career path. I know you touched on that early on, but anything that you can shed light on that might be of benefit to those that would be listening.
Dave Clement (03:36):
Well, I've always believed that it's very important to put 100% of effort into anything that I do. I don't really settle for the "good enough" perspective, even with people that work under me. We don't settle for good enough. We try to do 100% in everything that we do, and I've tried to do that throughout my 46 years of doing this. I believe in good hardworking and loyalty to your company, and certainly being driven, I think that's what makes, not only me, but other people stand out for their employer.
Joe White (04:13):
Right. Mentioning standing out, again, I would argue you have one of the most inspiring career paths that I know of and, again, your story is one of success. You started at Cooper 46 years ago. You started turning wrenches as a diesel mechanic, and now you're at the top of the food chain in procurement for the company with all those divisions. What made you stand out? What was it that was different about you that got you recognized that you believe was significant in getting you to where you are?
Dave Clement (04:46):
Well, I think being hardworking was probably the biggest aspect, and willing to go that extra mile when you were asked to.
I think that really made me stand out and wanting to learn the business, and wanting to better myself. And, certainly, I think that was... The drive that I had was to... Everybody works for the same reason, I think. Nobody works because it's a hobby.
They work to take care of their family and themselves, and I think being driven. That's what made me stand out all these years, still does.
Joe White (05:34):
Right. And you know, in the opening monologue, there are a couple terms I used: commitment, hard work, and that last one, perseverance, staying the course. I mean, 46 years, that's perseverance. And today, that's almost foreign. I mean, even for folks my age, and I'm mid-50s, even folks my age, you don't see a lot of people that have been with companies that long, so that perseverance is a big, big part of that.
Dave Clement (06:02):
Yes, it is. And listen, it's been certainly peaks and valleys. It hasn't all been roses. I've seen a lot in my 46 years in this industry, and a lot personally with me. You get knocked down, but you got to grab yourself by the boots and pull yourself back up and keep going.
I've certainly been there. It's like anything else, it's what you make it. And if you want to bury yourself, and you want to grow, not only in working, but in life, you can't give up. I think that's the way I was raised also, not only business wise, but just my family background and the way I was raised.
Joe White (06:52):
Right. Dave, some of our listeners, especially younger ones, they may be listening to this interview and argue that your career path, the path that you chose, and the path you've taken, no longer exists. How do you respond to that?
Dave Clement (07:07):
Well, I don't really believe that. I don't think that's true. I think that opportunity is there. I think most corporations are willing to give you those opportunities, if you're willing to apply yourself.
You mentioned most young people, what I see in today's world in what I do, I deal with a lot of young people coming into the industry. We have a lot of interns. And, unfortunately, their way of thinking is different from mine. They all want to... This so-called five-year plan.
And you feel that in five years they should be an executive with a corporation. Unfortunately, most of those guys, they never reach that goal within five years, and they jump to another company.
Then five years later, they jump again. I even gave them a little nickname. I call them the "jumper generation", because when you look at their resumes, and they are 15 years into working, their tenure is five years. Every five years they jumping again. It's certainly is something that I'm not going to be encouraged to hiring anybody, one, when I see them jump every five years. I would advise them to stay the course and try to stick with that corporation.
Joe White (08:32):
Right. I was in a golf charity recently, and I was paired up with an individual that's a CEO of a construction company here in Virginia. I would say they're, probably, a mid-sized company. They're certainly not small, but they're a regional company. The CEO shared with me, he said the challenge he has today is that if he gets a really good employee and, one, it's keeping them. But he also said that if they perform well, he's in a position where he's going to have to really advance them sooner than he would like to. And he said that while he can provide training, he said he can't give them the experience. One of the things, going back to that question about someone starting out in the industry may say, "Your path is no longer one that I can pursue."
I would say, in some cases, depending on where you are, and what industry you're in, you might be in a position where you're being asked to do more a lot sooner than you were when, Dave, you and I went through, simply because of the nature of the way things are today. There's a "help wanted" sign everywhere you look today.
Dave Clement (09:40):
Yeah. Currently, that statement is true. And due to many reasons in the world today, you see those help wanted signs out there. I think that turn is going to come sooner or later.
These people that advancing people way before they're ready to be advanced, it's a good thing to do, it fills that gap, but it's going to turn around sooner or later, and it's going to be a bigger problem than trying to fill that gap. With that inexperienced person in that job, and with that responsibility of that job, not knowing that job.
Joe White (10:21):
No doubt. I definitely see that. And I think some of the people-related issues that we're dealing with now, in terms of the training and the client engagements that we have, in many cases, it's just to the point you're making. People are put in positions so quickly and they're really not prepared for those roles, especially for the people side of their job.
Joe White (10:45):
Next question I have is around your experience. You've been in the industry for slightly more than four decades. What's the biggest change you've seen within your industry in that period of time?
Dave Clement (10:57):
Well, I'm sure that you talk to other people in the industry, they would tell you that container routes, cargo, is one of the biggest things that we've seen, certainly, as you say, in the last four decades. I would disagree with them on that.
I think the biggest change, and the biggest factor now playing into what we do, as a stevedore company, which is our core business, I think is free out cargo, or the reduction of liner cargo. I think that's what really has affected our industry. Certainly, it affects the rates of our industry now for us to be competitive. On a lot of the free out cargo, with our structure of our company, we can't compete with other companies on free out cargo. I think that's the biggest factor I've seen over my career, and not having those liner cargo deals for a lengthy time, for two or three years, in an agreement. That's gone. You have no long-term agreements anymore.
Dave Clement (12:08):
When I was working in New Orleans, we used to have a saying that when the ships hit the mouth of the river, it was like "Let's Make a Deal". As they were coming up the river, you thought you had the work, and you were supposed to go to work tomorrow morning, and somebody else done cut your rate. That's the life of free out cargo. It's a bidding war, constantly, and I think that's the biggest thing that I've seen change.
Joe White (12:39):
Yeah. I know when I was in manufacturing, I saw the same thing. We had reverse auction bidding. That's a very brutal way of getting contracts in place. You're basically bidding and you don't know what the lowest bid is, but you know if you're two, three, or four in that pecking order, and you just keep dropping your price until you're one. And then, obviously, it benefits the owner, in that particular case, but the technology has certainly enabled that, and it's made it challenging. It's far more, I guess I would say, the profit margins are far lower in many cases than they've ever been.
Dave Clement (13:19):
Absolutely. I've seen us, over the years, lose a substantial amount of tonnage over as little as three cents a ton. And that's just... It's ludicrous. But on the other side of that, the customer, he's going to win. He's in a win-win situation, and he'll sell you out for three cents.
Joe White (13:45):
Yeah. Well, it's high leverage. I mean, the internet has certainly leveled the playing field. And the leverage that you can gain from a much wider access point to providers, I mean, it's certainly... It's definitely leveled the playing field and made it far more competitive, no doubt.
Dave Clement (14:03):
Yes. And I think that's what played into my company becoming as diversified as they are. We had to build a better box.
We had to find more opportunities out there than just counting on our core business. We do a lot of things now. Certainly, a lot more than in 1975 when I came on board.
Joe White (14:28):
Yeah, no doubt. Change is inevitable. It's going to be here. We've got to take advantage of it and use it to our advantage. But, no doubt, it's going to happen. I got another question for you. For listeners that may be joining us today, those in labor-dependent industries, whether it's maritime, construction, manufacturing. Those that are looking to create opportunities for themselves, for promotion, advancement. We all know organizations, in most cases, are flatter today than they've been. What advice can you give them for positioning themselves, as best they can, to get that promotion or advancement if that's something they want?
Dave Clement (15:08):
Well, I spoke earlier about loyalty. Loyalty certainly goes both ways. Over my career, I've seen it one-sided many times. If an employee is committed to the company, and he or she works every day, and is very productive, and produces positive work, and has a positive attitude day in and day out, corporations, certainly, should recognize that. In today's world, if you find a skilled person, they're hard to retain.
If you don't meet them and certainly recognize their loyalty. I would say if you have someone that fits all those qualifications, you need to do what you need to do to keep them employed at your company. Because if you're not loyal to them, don't expect them to be loyal to you. It can't be one-sided either way.
Joe White (16:11):
Yeah. That's great advice. [There are] a lot of graduations going on right now. Let's assume someone's coming into maritime, or coming into some sort of labor-dependent type industry, being it skilled trades. What advice would you give someone starting their journey today?
Dave Clement (16:33):
Well, I always like to use the military on those types of questions. Certainly, Joe, you don't enter the military as a general. You have to earn your stripes to go up that rank and file. My advice to them would be if you want to climb that ladder, when you're coming in, you keep your eyes, your ears open, and you learn, and you listen to the people that have been there and done that. I think if you do that, and you put the time and effort in, and be patient, and ride the wave to the beach, I think you will have really good success.
Joe White (17:14):
I think that's great advice. I'm as excited about the future of the trades and the skilled trades as I've ever been, at least in the recent past, because I think there's a renewal there. And I think it's an important renewal, and I think you have certainly given some great advice for those that may be coming in.
Dave Clement (17:36):
Well, I hope I was helpful.
Joe White (17:38):
Dave, thank you. And, as usual, it's a pleasure speaking with you. Yours is a story of success. We really want to share that. I think it's important for others in the industry to know that this is a great opportunity to make a living. It's a great opportunity to create this opportunity for promotion, advancement, for those that really want to pursue that. Again, thank you so much for sharing your story.
Dave Clement (18:01):
Thank you, Joe. And thank you for giving me this opportunity.
Joe White (18:05):
Absolutely. All right. For those listening, I hope you found this discussion of value and benefit. If so, please help us spread the word. Share the podcast with others that you know of that may have interest, as well. In addition, we welcome any feedback you may have and would encourage you to review and rate us wherever you access your podcasts. The SOS podcast series is brought to you by AEU LEAD, a consultancy dedicated to the needs of frontline managers. For additional information, or to follow us on social media, please use the links in the show notes provided. That's it for now. Stay safe and thanks for listening.
Dave Clement is the Managing Director of Procurement at Cooper/T. Smith. Dave began his career in 1975 as a Diesel Mechanic for Cooper Stevedores, receiving promotions and achieving many accreditations throughout his 46 years of service. Dave is currently managing procurement for 14 satellite companies consisting of 17 divisions with more than 90 buyers.