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Tractor Supply CEO urges servant leadership in logistics

Feb 13, 2017

A servant leadership approach is critical to enhancing the supply chain, according to the chief executive of the largest U.S. rural lifestyle retailer.

Opening the Retail Industry Leaders Association’s Retail Supply Chain Conference in Orlando, Tractor Supply Co. CEO Greg Sandfort urged logistics executives to be servant leaders in an era of increasing digital commerce.

“Without our supply chain doing what they’re doing, we could not operate,” said Sandfort, whose company has more than 1,700 stores in 49 states (all but Alaska) and recorded 2016 sales of $6.8 billion.

Sandfort told the gathering of 1,800 leaders of retail companies and logistics providers that the supply chain should be “a transformational piece” of operations, always trying to improve by being “relentlessly dissatisfied,” employing a philosophy of, “No matter how good it is, it could be better.”

This is particularly important, Sandfort said, with the rapid increase in digital business. He said the share of time customers engage with Tractor Supply that is via mobile device has increased in just two years to 60 percent from 2 percent, but, he added, “Stores still matter.”

Indeed, Sandfort views employees carrying purchased products to the customer’s vehicle as a final supply chain step.

Sandfort said it is imperative that Tractor Supply have what the customer wants when and where it is desired – or else that customer will find a seller who can deliver on such terms.

“I never want to say to the customer, ‘It’ll be on the next truck,’” he said.

To be a good servant leader, according to Sandfort, it is vital to embody 10 characteristics: Listening, empathy, healing, self-awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, growth of people and building community.

“Servant leadership is easy to talk to, difficult to execute,” he said.

Sandfort’s presentation was a fitting start to the RILA conference, which this year is themed, “The Customer-centric Supply Chain.”

Comprehensive coverage of the RILA conference is slated to appear in the Feb. 27 edition of the American Journal of Transportation.

Tractor Supply Chain Co. CEO Greg Sandfort opens the Retail Industry Leaders Association’s Retail Supply Chain Conference. (Photo by Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT)
Tractor Supply Chain Co. CEO Greg Sandfort opens the Retail Industry Leaders Association’s Retail Supply Chain Conference. (Photo by Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT)
Author Photo

For more than a quarter of a century, Paul Scott Abbott has been writing and shooting images for the American Journal of Transportation, applying four decades of experience as an award-winning journalist.

A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, with a master’s magna cum laude from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Abbott has served as president of chapters of the Propeller Club of the United States, Florida Public Relations Association and Society of Professional Journalists.

Abbott honed his skills on several daily newspapers, including The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Richmond (Va.) News Leader, Albuquerque Journal and (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, and was editor and publisher of The County Line, a weekly newspaper he founded in suburban Richmond, Va.

A native Chicagoan, he is a member of American Mensa and an ever-optimistic fan of the Chicago Cubs.

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