FULL TRANSCRIPT – Delivery is Not Logistics, It’s Customer Service with Luisa Solana
Natasha Cary: Welcome to Over the Threshold Podcast, produced by Certification of Delivery Excellence, also known as CODE. I’m your host, Natasha Cary, owner and president of CODE, where we offer online education for last-mile delivery personnel. To learn more about CODE certifications, visit our website: codetrained.com. The purpose of this podcast is to deliver the journey of individuals in the Final Mile/Last Mile white-glove industry. As CODE is an educational company, we hope through these stories; you can learn something new. Maybe we teach you something about an individual you know, or we introduce you to someone you’ve always wanted to learn more about. Above all, we hope we can leave you inspired. Let’s get started.
Natasha: Welcome to this week’s episode, where I will be chatting with Luisa Solana. Luisa and I met at the NHDA forum in August of last year. It was my first time attending the forum, and I learned that the NHDA was introducing the Women’s Council and so I was very excited and interested in learning more about the Women’s Council. I learned that Luisa is one of the founders of the council, and I was so inspired by her journey through the last mile industry. She has risen through and has experienced working in a multi-generational family business with Cory, a Fortune 500 company with JB Hunt, who acquired Cory in early 2019, and now currently holds the role of Home Services Director in Training for Best Buy, a Fortune 100 company. Luisa, welcome, and thank you for being here.
Luisa Solana: Thank you, Natasha. It’s my pleasure to be here today and share some of the journey along the way.
Natasha: Yes, I love it. I love stories, and when I met you, this podcast did not exist. But it was in the plans, and I knew that I couldn’t wait to have you as a guest. I was very inspired by your career accomplishments, and one of the things that I was really inspired by was the Women at Cory program that you created a few years ago. You started at Cory in 2007, and the industry as a whole doesn’t have many women in it, and one of the things that I had learned at the council meeting was that women don’t see themselves in the industry. Do you find that to be true, and do you think that’s what holds women back in the industry?
Luisa: I think it does. I think from 2007 to date, there has definitely been a transformation because of women like ourselves. Part of the rude awakening for me was that I was propelled into this role. It wasn’t a career choice; it was actually a forced career change due to life circumstances. I always say life has a funny way of throwing things that you, and in this case, it stuck. I come from another background, and I found myself in this industry. I’m not going to lie; it was really difficult. It was really the old boys club, if you will.
Luisa: I didn’t know much. I knew about people. I’m a people person. I knew about service, and I’m passionate about service, but I always thought, ‘Oh wow, Two Guys and a Truck’ or ‘Transportation or logistics and supply chain…’ Those things were so sterile to me, and it was so far removed. As I immersed myself in the role, of which I held many through the years, I did find that at the end of the day, this is really a service. The last mile industry is a service; it’s not only logistics and trucking and all those requirements and compliance and risk management and all those things. But if you don’t have the passionate and obsession to deliver that service, then it’s not there. So that kind of transcended gender roles for me. I think that women in general are positioned because of our nurturing way of being. We actually have the leading edge, if you think about it. When you have a home delivery taking place, over 90% of the time, the people on the receiving end are women, yet the men are the ones that perform the actual delivery for the most part. I know there are some home delivery women out there, and I applaud them. As a matter of fact, part of the Women at Cory program came to be because I found myself in a situation where I needed to solve a problem. I was running a third-party warehouse operation, and I was having some issues with some retail partners, and I decided to visit the store. I said, ‘I’m your third-party logistics manager. I would like to see the store manager.’ And the store manager walked right by me, didn’t even think that I would be the logistics manager. We have an unconscious bias. We ourselves, as women, fall into the trap of thinking that roles are really gender-specific, so it was a huge ‘Ah-ha!’ moment for both her and myself.
I was invited to participate at the time at a Best Buy store, where they had a women’s program called WOLF, Women Of Life Force, and I was blown away by the fact that women were actually meeting and trying to empower themselves and to learn and position themselves in a better light in the industry. And that was retail, but it really meant that it could happen anywhere, and as I discussed with Pat Cory, he and I and Johanna Soto at the time thought that this is something super interesting and necessary. So that’s how the Women at Cory program started, to empower and educate women about the importance of being able to perform in any industry. And so coming back to the original question, I think that from 2007 to now, thanks to the NHDA and the Women’s Council and many other organizations, I think that women have a much louder voice and stronger presence, and now we may start to see some career choices rather than being propelled into it by circumstances.
Natasha: Right. It’s funny because I talked to Ellen Voie, who was a guest that day as well. It is a very male-dominated industry, and women might not see themselves there and may feel intimidated, or they don’t have a voice. It’s about finding your voice. When you had that idea of starting the Women at Cory program, you were working with Cory, who is a multi-generational family business, and I would say that was probably a progressive move for them as well, right?
Luisa: Yes, it definitely was. Generationally speaking, for example, Joe Cory Senior, was an advocate for women to a point. He used to call me Angel, Doll, Baby…in a loving way. There was never any wrongdoing in that for me…
Luisa: …but Patrick, Patrick was definitely more avant-garde, and generationally it improved; the percentage of women in executive positions at Cory grew exponentially. The services aspect, the values of Cory were always there; treating people with dignity and respect and all that, but women started to take a stronger hold of important positions within the company and what we found was that when we started the Women at Cory, women did not want to participate. There was a fear factor. There was a fear that, ‘Well, my boss is a male, and he’s not going to give me the time to do this. Am I going to get docked?’ In the case of hourly employees, ‘Am I going to get docked for participating?’ It took meant that we actually needed to incorporate and educate and kind of sensitize the male population first…
Luisa: …and when the male population became sensitive to what was happening, the women started to feel more comfortable. Again, I go back to saying that sometimes we can be our own worst enemies because we wait and see what’s going to happen rather than putting ourselves out there first. I’ll give you an example, the first Women at Cory award went to a gentleman. And everybody was like, ‘What? Why would that happen?’ [laughter] But he was one of our managers who really supported the program and supported his team members, specifically women, to participate in the program. We felt that that was a huge contribution and enabler of making women feel comfortable with the fact that they should and could participate in the program, so it ended up being a very successful program in many respects. I think that it’s something that should happen at every level in any industry.
Natasha: Absolutely. It’s interesting that you had a man win the first award because that is where it starts, right? Especially in a male-dominated industry, they are the ones who are in the position to create opportunities, not necessarily by a position, but to create the sense and feeling of comfort and openness and welcome so that a woman feels comfortable to be in that position. It’s about that partnership and balance between the genders in order to have that sense of equality. That’s amazing.
Luisa: And also, and I said it when I spoke at the NHDA, there is a book, and we all laugh about it, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus…
Luisa: …but it is true. We definitely think differently, react differently, and the biggest component of that is the interpretation. When a woman says something a certain way, a man may see it one way, and the woman is meaning something totally different. We see that in husbands and wives all the time. If your wife says yes, she means no…
Luisa: …but it’s true. It’s absolutely true. I think that the industry is benefitting tremendously from a more diverse workforce, or inclusion, if you will. I think that some of the customer satisfaction scores that we’re seeing have risen. Years ago, you’d take a customer satisfaction score, an NPS score in the mid-50s to 60 was a really good score! As we’ve progressed through the years, companies have said, ‘Our goal was 70, now it’s 75 and now it’s 80, now it’s 85…’nobody would’ve thought that you would get an NPS of 90 or above, but I credit that to a lot of the service initiatives and strategies that women are putting into place. Again, women really are the ones that know and understand what is to be expected in terms of service. They’re the ones that normally receive it. Men, and again, we’re being gender-specific here, men will be in the buying process most of the time, and again, this is not 100% of the time, but for the most part, this is how it goes. So I think the industry is benefitting from a workforce that has more women involved.
Natasha: Absolutely, and diversity and inclusion is about understanding each other so that there can be better communication so that everybody has an opportunity. It’s recognizing that we have differences and figuring out how to work together. I think it’s important to make sure that everybody’s involved in that conversation.
Luisa: Yeah, I agree.
Natasha: Now you were with Cory for a long time and held many positions with them. You began as a dispatcher and held a customer service manager role, you were a key account manager, facility manager, director of client relations, and your last role was vice president of client relations. I can imagine being in a multi-generational family business that lots of positions feel like family, right? And it depends on the culture of the business but having grown up through the industry, so to speak, with Cory, how was that experience and then having JB Hunt coming in and having that acquisition? Tell me a little bit more about that.
Luisa: It was a fabulous experience, you’re right. I started crawling with Cory, and by the end I felt I was sprinting. It was fabulous in every respect. I was mentored and nurtured and really learned an incredible amount through my years, and I’d like to think that I was able to give back and pay it forward through the years there as well with some of the other women in the company. As well as with some of the men, because I mentored men as well, and that’s something that I love to do. I’m just adding that in there, but mentorship programs such as the Women at Cory and JB Hunt and even in Best Buy, should not be women to women or men to men; it really is about the best fit. Having that diversity in mentorship, I think, is crucial, and it really helped me. I had male mentors all the time, and I mentored men as well, and I think that’s the way you learn about each other. So I think that was one of the callouts that was really…
Natasha: Oh, yeah. Providing that perspective as well, yeah.
Luisa: …Absolutely. You gain a much deeper understanding of the person and things that you may not have seen or thought of. It was funny because by the end, before JB Hunt acquired Cory, I could sit in a boardroom with the men at Cory, and I knew what they were thinking, what they were saying, their body language, it was incredible to sometimes be like, ‘Oh, she’s one of the guys!’ but by the same token, I think they in turn also knew when I was uncomfortable.
Luisa: There was a symbiosis of sorts, which was incredible. Although I was sprinting when JB Hunt acquired Cory, I was incredibly excited, obviously because I felt it was a wonderful opportunity for me and anybody else in the company. Cory was an outstanding operation and company, but JB Hunt is a Fortune 500 company, and it was like, ‘Wow, this is amazing!’ So a great opportunity. I was incredibly excited and ready to just hit the ground running. Yes, there were hardships. I have to say; JB Hunt is a wonderful company. I spoke about it at the NHDA, they have a program called GROW, Growing and Retaining Outstanding Women. They have a wonderful corporate campus at Northwest Arkansas, and a lot of initiatives for women. Rightfully so, because the company, just like any other transportation company in this industry…Although Mrs. Hunt was front and center, she was kind of the wind beneath Mr. Hunt’s wings, if you will. The trucking company was mainly run by men, and so I found that although they had some women in leadership, I found that it was a heavily male-dominated environment. More importantly, I found that in my role, I didn’t know that I had a voice. I was being very careful to just make sure that I wasn’t overstepping bounds. I adapted, I was a senior director in that company for strategic accounts, and at some point, I felt that it wasn’t in alignment. I didn’t feel I was making a huge difference. I had worked with Best Buy for so long through my years at Cory that when the opportunity arose, although it was a very difficult decision because I’m not a quitter. I wanted to give this my all. I felt that it was better for me, and I think that I would make a difference, and I think I am. I think I’m making a huge difference.
I’m extremely humbled. I’m still in training, which, every once and again, you think you’re on the top of the world, you’re vice president at a company now you’re a senior director at a much larger company, and now I’m a director in training, and I really appreciate the fact that Best Buy takes the time. They’re definitely obsessed about their employees and their customers. Being able to take a good six months to immerse yourself in a culture which I thought I already knew and learn everything and set me up for success, I think is amazing! Here, I have also found that there are a lot of things for women. There’s certainly a lot of women at a high level. In fact, the CEO is amazing. Corie Barry is a very young CEO, and she’s doing an amazing job in this time of pandemic, which has been unprecedented. The things and the innovation and the will to help employees, has been second to none. I’m just very proud of be part of the organization, especially at a time like this. Again, they have a lot of employee resource groups, and although there is a women’s one, there’s seven different ones: Asian, black, Latin, pride, disabilities, you name it… it’s all about diversity and inclusion. Basically, including everybody regardless of whatever. Engaging with employees at all levels, whether it’s now in these times.
There’s virtual coffee chats on given days, and you share how you’re feeling. Especially now, it’s mental health month, and some people are thinking they’re not feeling so well, right? A lot is going on there. I’m happy to be a part of it. It’s difficult, like I said, to be on top of the world and then to feel a little smaller and now, even a little smaller, but I’ll tell you this: What gets me through is that I’m very passionate and I think that when I know that I give it my all, the satisfaction comes and the one thing I would tell women in this industry is I would say we create our own opportunities.
Natasha: That’s right.
Luisa: You know what you like, you know what you want to do, you know what you’re good at. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. I used to shy at the opportunity all the time. I was asked many times early in my career: ‘Can you do this? Can you run this facility?’ And I would say no. I would just shake in my boots and say, ‘No, no, no.’ it wasn’t until I realized, ‘You know what? I want to do that. I’m going to ask for it.’ I thought they’ll never give it to me, but I was pleasantly surprised each time that I’ve asked for something that I know I’m worthy of, that I’ve achieved it. I would say you are you best cheerleader. Promote yourself and ask for what you want. Do not be afraid. If you’re told no, chances are you’re not ready for it, but that gives the forum to say, ‘Okay, here’s what you need to get there and then you can continue.’
Natasha: Right. Yeah, so it’s not being afraid to ask, but that it’s your point that if the answer is no, find out why the answer is no.
Natasha: Maybe your manager sees a different role for you, or maybe you’re halfway there and find out. Don’t be discouraged. Find out what it is that you need to do if that is what you really want to pursue. And if your voice is not being heard, or if this is not the right environment for you, then go find where you are welcome and where there are opportunities for you. I think sometimes, if it’s not right in front of us, it’s hard to reach for it sometimes and ask for it and go for it. But you never know, right? You won’t know until you try.
Luisa: I oftentimes think in general we just sit back and wait to be told. It isn’t until that liberating moment…you always have a boss. But it depends on how you lead. As a leader now, I’ve had a team of men, and so I’ve been very, very sensitive to that because I never pretend to tell anybody what to do and as a leader, being on any side of the equation, whether you’re the subordinate or you’re the boss and I hate to call it that…
Luisa: …but you should lead the way, right. Why do we do this? It’s not that you have to do it, and here’s what must be done, but why do we do it? Because you need to get the buy-in from the people and understand this is why this is the way it is, and then you need to get feedback. How are they feeling? What questions do they have? Maybe this is something that came from above, and I’m cascading it to my team, but maybe there’s some inherent issues here, and I need to get that feedback and give that feedback. It’s always got to be a dialogue and exchange, never a ‘here’s what has to come down’ with the hammer. I really live by that. You gain trust that way, and then you have to be an ambassador for change. This industry has transitioned from when I started to now by leaps and bounds. I’m not going to lie; there’s been many times where I’ve said, ‘Oh, that can’t be done,’ especially earlier in my career. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s crazy, that’ll never happen.’ Well, it’s going to happen with or without you. How you transition and accept and process change as a leader especially is very important because if you don’t have a growth mindset, your team is never going to get there, and you’re never going to get successful.
Natasha: Well, yeah. You always have to adapt and be flexible and lifting and paying attention, as you said. I love that, that you’re involving everybody. You’re bringing it back to the team. It’s a conversation where everybody feels like they’re a part of it rather than just being told what to do and not being able to questions it. And even if it is something that you can’t change, at least then you all understand, you’re all on the same page, and like you said, then that’s where you build the trust and have a good, successful team.
Natasha: Now you’re immersing yourself in your new role with Best Buy. Tell me a little bit more about the new role, and what are you most excited about accomplishing? What’s on the horizon for you in your role?
Luisa: Currently, I’m undergoing training. Best Buy is really geared to enriching people’s lives through technology, and so from a technology and systems and reporting aspect, you can imagine that it’s really mammoth. The learning curve is huge and steep, and like I said, I’m pretty humbled by the fact that I get time to actually learn these things, so it’s been incredible. By the same token, the integration plan, I’ve never seen anything like it! It’s a 16-week integration plan where I deal with different pillars of the enterprise, any of the partnerships or support groups that I would work with or rely on and how they could support me and what the reporting is, and what their functions are, learning all of that. Then obviously this is a field position, and as you know, I’m a people person. So one of the things that I’m passionate about is I am obsessed about delivering that service and having that customer-obsessed mentality. I see customers as my team, my employees, and as the consumer as well. I don’t differentiate. In my role, I’m excited about putting together this team or working with this team and having that mindset just to propel future growth, especially at this time. I really feel fortunate that this happened, that my transition happened. At first, I was shell shocked by this pandemic, but now I’m seeing the silver lining, the glass half-full rather than half-empty, because I see that there are so many things changing so rapidly that I can be a part of setting the course for the future. And there’s so many ‘new normals’ that are going to come into play. One of the things that I’m most excited about is final mile is not going away. As a matter of fact, it’s probably even stronger now!
Luisa: People need everything brought to their home, and they want to do everything from their home. How do we take the final mile, last mile to the next level, right? So I’m really excited about being a part of the transformation, if you will, of what home services are going to look like for Best Buy in the future, and I can tell you that a tremendous amount of work is being done, and I’m really inspired by the things that I’m seeing. I’m here to give it my all.
Natasha: I love what you said to me, ‘It’s not about logistics, it’s not about supply chain, it’s about the customer service and the customer experience.’
Natasha: That stuck with me. I also changed industries, and I come from the hospitality industry, and one of the things that drew me to this industry was that it is about the customer experience. So that really spoke to me because in a world, especially today, when everything is being delivered to your home, and there are so many service providers, it’s all about the customer experience right now.
Luisa: Yes, it is. I mean, what do customers want? Customers want to feel like they’re cared for; they want to feel inspired, they want us to show them things, they want us to help them make decisions. They want to know that we are doing the best that we possibly could for them, and in this situation now, they want to know that we’re doing everything to keep them safe. How are we reacting? How are we showing up for our customers? How do we know what they want? Do we know our customer? Are we there for them? Are we prepared? Do we want them to grow with our services? What is our relationship with our customers? And that’s the end consumer, but what is our relationship with our employees? Do we care about our employees? There are companies out there who are brutal, and then there are companies that have actually shown that they are obsessed with their employees, and I have to say, that’s the case with Best Buy. So this situation is a glass-half-full and I think the best is yet to come…
Natasha: I agree.
Luisa: …in many respects in our industry because of it.
Natasha: So a little bit about you, just to wrap up a bit here. I’d love to hear how as a leader, as many industries or many business companies that you’ve worked with and roles that you’ve held, what are the lessons that you’ve learned the most as a business leader?
Luisa: I’ve learned that you have to be slow to anger. Definitely not take things personally. I’m a very outspoken person. [laughter] Anybody that knows me will say she tells it like it is, and I do. I tell it like it is, and I’m not going to change that…
Natasha: I think that’s why you and I get along so well.
Luisa: … I’ve had to tone it down. Again, part of it comes from the transformation, right. So we’re talking about a mid-sized generational family-run business and a Fortune 500 company, and that was shocking. I mean, I knew that I would say things that would be like, ‘Uh-oh, that didn’t go over well’ and now in an even bigger company, right? So you learn how to groom yourself and to educate yourself on when it’s right to say things and then how you say them. I have learned that sometimes the hard way. But I will say that the inverse of that is that it’s one of the things that I think people admire the most. In other words, the fact that I am so transparent and honest, I think, has built the relationships and the trust that I have with my peers and my team, because they know that what they see is what they get. There’s no duplicity, no hidden agenda. The only agenda is to do what’s right and for everybody involved. So I think that that’s worked for me. And I think in any industry, I won’t just limit it to this. It’s all about the relationships you build, and the trust that you build, how you present yourself, how you show up, and how to build that trust. I am definitely passionate about, and I think that’s made a difference for me for sure.
Natasha: And so right now, you may have answered this question differently a few months ago before Covid hit the world, but as a leader and really, as a person, what kinds of practices do you do to keep you focused, to keep you inspired? Just to be able to keep going and keep looking? Sometimes it’s exhausting to keep looking for change and adapting and looking ahead. Besides your passion for it, are there any tips and tricks you can share about what keeps you motivated and makes you get up in the morning and keep going?
Luisa: What keeps me motivated in terms of work, and one of the main reasons I decided to join Best Buy, was that Best Buy’s rallying cry is ‘Let’s talk about what’s possible.’ I remember going to QBRs and being a vendor for Best Buy and sitting in QBRs and learning about what’s possible and thinking outside the box, and I used to think, ‘Wow, that’s really cool. I wonder, can you really think outside the box and get to do things that are outside the box in a big company such as Best Buy?’ and I have to tell you, that this pandemic in this time, thinking about what’s possible is exciting for me. I think that from a business and work standpoint, I get up in the morning, and I’m inspired and excited, thinking about what can we create? How can we transform? How can we engage people? Everything that the rallying cry is about, that possibility. What is the possibility today? It’s never the same thing. We’ve had to be nimble and react quickly and make changes and change practices and SOPs and things like that but honestly, that fuels my getting up and my being positive about the work in front of me.
From a personal standpoint, I have to tell you that it’s all based on gratitude. I am just so blessed and grateful. It’s funny because I joined a Facebook group, A View From Your Window, and everybody was in lockdown and taking pictures. There were people that were in some beautiful places all over the world, and I was super excited to see what people were sharing what they had and enjoying their homes and I kind of got a sense that in such a fast-paced world that we live in, and I traveled all the time and was always like, ‘I have no time.’ and now, I was faced with the gift of time and I so appreciated the fact that, ‘Oh, you got to look at flowers and literally smell the coffee!’ [laughter] You know, gratitude for so many things. One of the things that we do in our meetings, although all these virtual meetings…it’s funny, we start all our meetings with gratitude, whether it’s about employees or just stories, always being grateful inspires me, and there’s so many people that have more, but there’s so many people that have less. In that same vein, there was a post from a woman who, I guess, lived in a little apartment and she took a picture of her snowed in balcony with the rosebush all dried up, and she posted it. She said, ‘View from my window, not anything like these fabulous pictures that I’m seeing from across the world, and they were all magnanimous, but I’m so grateful to be healthy.’ I applauded her because I thought that takes a lot of guts. You have all these mega yachts and lakes and beautiful views, and then she posts this picture, which she’s saying is insignificant, but she’s so grateful. So there’s so much to be thankful for…
Natasha: Well, she has a view, right? That’s something to be grateful for, that she has something.
Luisa: Yes, that’s right.
Natasha: Well, I’ve enjoyed having you with us today. I’ve enjoyed learning more about your journey and would love to end with a fun fact. Do you have a fun fact for us? [laughter]
Luisa: I have many! I don’t know which one to choose! A fun fact? I’ll share two. The most recent one is that I am known for saying, ‘Hit me with a bus.’ Anytime I’m in a whiteboarding session or anything, and my team is trying to explain something, but I don’t really see it, and then I get it, it’s like, ‘Oh, hit me with a bus!’ and so this week I had a car accident, and I was literally hit by the bus, a big bus and when the highway patrolman came and I was laughing, he asked why I was laughing. So I said, ‘Because I was literally hit by a bus!’
Natasha: You’re like, ‘You have no idea what this is doing for me right now!’
Luisa: That is a true story, yeah. But another one that is relevant to women is that, whenever back in the Cory days and I was usually the only woman in these meetings, it was like, ‘Luisa, what can we do for you? What can I do for you? How can I help you?’ [laughter] I kind of got tired of that question. One day I said, ‘You know what? I need a wife.’ and they all looked at me like I was from out of space. ‘What do you mean you need a wife? You have your husband, José.’ I said, ‘Yeah, and you have a wife and your wife prepares your breakfast and your smoothie, and you go on a trip, and she packs your suitcase, and you come home, and she unpacks your suitcase, and she cooks your meals. I have José, and José does what you do. He works! And guess what? I have to do what I do here, plus what your wife does. I have to pack his lunch…’ and so they were like, ‘Oh…’ [laughter] So I ended up getting two cleaning women. I had a housekeeper and then another one. So that was my compromise, but yes, I needed a wife…
Natasha: Oh, talk to any woman, and she’ll tell you she needs a wife.
Luisa: …that was a funny moment. But listen, now during this time, I have no wives. I have zero people except me!
Natasha: Yes, outsourcing is the best thing possible. Hopefully, your maid will be back soon.
Natasha: Well, thank you so much for being on the podcast today. It was such a pleasure talking to you, and I can’t wait until the pandemic is over and we can actually see each other in person and chat and learn more about and follow your new journey. Awesome.
Luisa: Me too. I can’t wait.
Natasha: Thank you again and talk to you soon.
Natasha: Thank you so much for listening to the Over the Threshold Podcast. If you liked what you heard on this episode, I’d love it if you’d subscribe, leave a review or share with a friend you know who would like to hear it, too. To learn more about CODE certifications, visit our website codetrained.com