International Women’s Day? What Are They Doing Out of the Kitchen?

Hear from Kelli Saunders, Morai Logistics CEO as she discusses her path into logistics, her thoughts on bringing more women into the industry, and how she sees her role in addressing inequality in logistics as a female CEO.


As you might know, eft sends weekly newsletters to its readers. Last month, as women successes were celebrated globally for International Women’s Day, the eft staff looked back at some of last year’s advancements of female participation in the logistics industry and sent this article to eft readers. 


One of the responses by a name we won’t disclose for obvious reasons to eft’s weekly newsletter reads: “International Women’s Day? The first question should be ‘What are they doing out of the kitchen’” 





This response urged the eft team to take action and highlight the great work women are doing within the industry, eft will therefore publish a monthly Q&A with a leading woman in the industry. 


For this first series, hear from Kelli Saunders, Morai Logistics CEO as she discusses her path into logistics, her thoughts on bringing more women into the industry, and how she sees her role in addressing inequality in logistics as a female CEO.

Kelli will be participating in the ‘Women in Logistics’ panel at the 3PL summit and Chief Supply Chain Officer Forum (June 16-18, Chicago). This year’s panel will be focussing on breaking down the barriers to entry into logistics for women, and focus on what the industry can do as a whole to make itself more appealing to both genders. 


How did you end up in the logistics industry? Would you encourage other women to do the same? Do you have any advice for them?


I started in the industry some 30 years ago when I was hired by a small entrepreneurial Canadian transportation company, Interamerican Transport (who specialized in intermodal services between the USA and Canada).  I had just finishing college and applied for a “telemarketing supervisor” position and successfully got the position after 5 interviews.
Interamerican hired young people who learnt the business hands on.  We were taught the importance of customer service, technology, team work and strategy.  Our owner taught us how to target specific clients with value added strategies based on a team sell; and showed us the importance of understanding income statements and balance sheets.  Truly the environment I came from is the entrepreneurial culture we have today…focused on service innovation and client success.
And, I do encourage women to do the same.  
I have had a very successful career in a very male dominated business.  The majority of my career has been focused on marketing and strategic selling.  Today, as CEO of my own organization my core focus continues to be on strategic selling and supplier relationships. 
Being a very male dominated industry, men are typically used to being pitched by other men.   I believe as females, when we understand our target market and the services/products we sell and deliver what we say we do….we will succeed.  
The advice I have is believe in yourself; and base decisions on your gut feel (99.9% of the time the best decision you can make!). 
Also, “dress for the job you want…not the job you have”.  Meaning, carry and present yourself for the “next level”; always encouraging yourself to do better and to think clearly.  This statement doesn’t mean you need to shop at Prada or Gucci; simply it means how you present your overall aura... 
Surround yourself with the “best of the best”.  When we do this, our lives become so much more enjoyable and fulfilled.  Professionally, this helps our businesses to run smoothly and work smarter.   The mainframe of “best” can include (and not limited too) your employees, professional support (accountants, lawyers), technical team, spouse, children, family, hair dresser, teachers, mentors, etc.
How do you think we (men and women), should help change the industry to be more female-friendly? 
The perception of the logistics industry being “an old boy’s network” needs to change.  Fortunately today, our industry is becoming more female and millennium focused than it has in many years.
“Tradition” has placed the perception of women not being suitable for the logistics industry.  To make the industry to be more “female friendly” we need to educate the marketplace of the success women bring to the equation…be it as drivers, dispatchers, sales, marketing, administration and management.  
Breaking the barriers to entry will help our industry.  Support and mentoring are needed to encourage a more female-friendly environment.  Women are terrific at multi-tasking, customer servicing and finance…just some areas of success.  
Education is so key to making the industry more “female friendly”.   Our high schools, colleges and universities can promote logistics to females as an interesting and successful road to follow.
How have you managed to balance work and family throughout the various stages of your career? 
Work, life and balance are essential for being well rounded and feeling one is balanced in life.
Truly though my career has dominated my life.  I travel excessively and am constantly thinking about my businesses.   This type of lifestyle challenges a “traditional life style”…one for me where I made a decision not to have children (albeit I proudly borrow others!) and am single.
My personal life has been much fulfilled.  I have my health, great family and friends.  I have my “best of the best” around me.
To have balance I exercise regularly, eat well and take time to “be in the moment” with friends and family, work colleagues and clients.
How does it feel to sometimes be the only woman in this very much male-dominated industry? 
I enjoy being in the logistics industry….and being male-dominated has made it rewarding, fun, interesting and successful.
In the earlier part of my career, men were typically not used to meeting with female sales representatives.  I remember on one sales call a gentleman said, “Oh my God, I have a daughter your age!”  Of which I responded, “Oh my God, I have a father your age!”  We both laughed and had a good meeting.   Thankfully, this type of response doesn’t happen as much anymore.
I believe women listen better than men and that has been to my advantage during my career.  I have also been told by men in the industry that it’s one thing to have a Lady walk into their door for the first time; it’s another for them to come back and build a solid relationship understanding the needs of their organization.
Men are respectful, honest and will open up.  Again, being a good listener helps to build relationships and thus, increase business.
I sit on a logistics agency board with 16 men and one other female.  Mode Transportation’s (of which I am an agency owner representing them in the marketplace) top 25 IBO (independent business owners…aka “sales representatives”) are 4 women and 21 men.  I am proud to be a part of this prestigious group.   I also was the past President of the Toronto Transportation Club being the only second female in 97 years to have that position.
As the CEO of Morai, have you taken steps to eliminate obstacles within your company?
As CEO of Morai Logistics, I ensure and lead that our core values are instilled in everything we do.  Core values include integrity and honesty, respect, empowerment, client success and community.  We believe in team interviewing to bring on others who value and demonstrate our core values.  It is hard to demonstrate these traits on a resume; it is truly within an individual or not.   Thus, having the “right people on the bus, sitting in the right seat” is vital.
We believe in diversity.  We also believe in creating an environment where people want to come to work every day and excel.   Communication, open dialogue and team work help us to eliminate obstacles.  Today, 75% of our team is female.
Kelli Saunders biography

Getting the right product to the right place at just the right time is a complicated business. Kelli Saunders, President of Morai Logistics Inc., understands the complexities and nuances involved in long term sustainability in the logistics industry. This is why the company she leads is the successful multimillion dollar, multinational business that it is today.


Kelli's experience in the supply chain and logistics field is extensive. In her 30 years in the industry, she has been recognized for her strategic selling, management, and relationship development throughout North America. From her humble beginnings as a telemarketing supervisor for Interamerican Transport to VP of Strategic Accounts of Exel Transportation, Kelli took her team, knowledge, and experience creating Morai Logistics Inc. as an operating agency of Mode Transportation. Since then herself and her company has received numerous awards for her expertise in strategic sales and as a small business owner, including Salesperson of the Year four times (Mark VII, Exel, Mode; 2000-2004). She was also the first recipient of the Chairman’s Award in 2002 (Mark VII) and the former president of the Toronto Transportation Club (2010). Kelli earned WeConnect Canada’s Doing Business International Award for Morai Logistics Inc. (2012) and more recently WBE Canada’s Doing Business Award 2015 as a certified woman-owned business.


Aside from assisting her clients with services including warehousing, management consulting and technology services through Morai Logistics Inc., Kelli's drive also shines through in her other passions. She is active member of the Women Presidents Club, WeConnect International, WBE Canada and Who’s Who. She also takes time to enjoy spinning, running, golf, boating and travelling. Kelli Saunders’s motivation and drive shows in her company’s performance and inspires her team to succeed.

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