Attracted to transportation as a child, Brian W. Wyly is applying innovative strategies in his role as director of global logistics for Houston-based Ascend Performance Materials.
From its dedicated barge network to its own chassis fleet, Ascend is advancing Wyly’s inventive approach in moving about 1 billion pounds a year of high-quality chemicals, fibers and plastics used in a wide range of automotive, construction, textile, electrical and electronic, and consumer and industrial applications – from lightweight car dashboards to impact-resistant cable ties to long-lasting commercial carpeting.
Wyly offers readers of the American Journal of Transportation a glimpse at his pioneering methodologies and how they’ve been shaped by his early experiences.
How does a Gulf-based logistics strategy serve Ascend Performance Materials? Our focus on the U.S. Gulf is a result of our geographical presence in the South. We have managed to cooperate with both our ocean and dray carriers, leveraging our significant export lifts to induce more services and equipment.
We are especially keen to support the new U.S. Gulf services offered by the new alliance networks, and we expect these to improve our velocity to markets worldwide.
What benefits have you derived from utilization of a dedicated barge network?
Utilizing our fleet of 12 tows enhances our corporate focus of being a fully integrated Nylon 6,6 manufacturer by giving us supply chain security of assets as well as maintaining our quality specification on our manufactured intermediate chemicals and raw materials.
What precipitated the decision for Ascend to have its own chassis fleet, and how has this proven advantageous?
When the ocean carriers decided to remove themselves from the chassis provision model, we found ourselves challenged by an inefficient chassis network with some carrier-owned fleets, lease fleets and dray-provided assets. This model was costly and it left us searching for equipment.
During the process, we discovered that some of the equipment being provided was unsafe to utilize for OTR [over-the-road] transport. Choosing to build our own chassis fleet gives us security of equipment supply and also allows us to size the fleet with the proper equipment around our export strategy. For example, we now have 20-foot triaxles for overweight sea bulks.
At any given time, we have between 200 and 300 containers at our plant, and the number of chassis required to support an all-wheeled operation is not economical. For this reason, we organized our own container yard in our largest export facility with a tophandler for grounding operations. This has allowed us to shift from an all-wheeled operation while giving us the ability to reduce chassis costs on a year-over-year basis.
How are you responding on the supply chain side to the increasing demand for Ascend products, including for more polyamide for automobiles?
Our most recent challenges have involved supplying nontraditional destinations for Ascend.
We are starting to grow in emerging markets, and most recently have been focused on Latin America, which is a challenging area in which to operate. For example, the qualification process to sell into the automotive manufacturing market can take as much as two years.
And when sales begin, logistics must follow. We’ve been successful in establishing multiple domestic and international network options so that we are able to execute when we’re given the green light to move products.
How did growing up on the water and being from a family of railroaders influence your career decision? And how did more than a dozen years in operations management with Star Shipping before joining Ascend in 2011 help prepare you for your current position?
My grandfather taught me everything I know about railroading and gave me a great appreciation of transportation in general. I enjoyed building and collecting model trains as a child, so guess I started out exposed early to transportation.
Growing up in Galveston gave me another appreciation of ship operations as I used to fish in my neighborhood on Galveston Bay quite a bit. The lure of the sea was always appealing to me, and I wanted my career choice to take me somewhere near the water.
My love of the water drove my decision to pursue a maritime degree from Texas A&M in Galveston. I started working on the waterfront right out of college at the Port of Houston Barbours Cut Terminal. Working on the docks gave me a solid foundation to understand the intricacies of the maritime industry and led to my job offer with Star Shipping.
Although my primary job [for Star Shipping] was based in Atlanta, my responsibilities always ensured that I spent most of my time traveling to ports, both domestic and foreign. The operational knowledge I gained there crossed all modes of transport, and the contacts I was able to make during my 12 years gave me a great foundation for transitioning to the shipping side with Ascend.
I’ve been fortunate to be able to draw from my knowledge and contact base to help Ascend build our networks across our logistics providers so that we can continue to offer innovative solutions.