Humbly growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, Valencia Taylor never wanted a typical restaurant or store job.
Blessed with a full scholarship to the University of Louisville, Taylor pursued a career in logistics, allowing her to travel the world successfully meeting the challenges of moving project cargo assemblies of “mind-blowing” proportions.
As manager of logistics at Louisville-based Babcock Power Inc. subsidiary Vogt Power International Inc., Taylor confidently deploys strategic thinking in directing collaborative transport of multiple heat recovery steam generators, or HRSGs, each weighing as many as 350 tons and measuring more than 100 feet in length.
Someday, she may apply her calculated approach at a casino table, but, for now, she’s happy drawing winning hands on her smartphone’s blackjack app – when she’s not busy moving HRSGs or faithfully spending time with her family – as she shares in an exclusive interview with AJOT.
What logistical challenges do you face in transport of HRSGs, and how are you successfully responding?
Our logistical challenges obviously are related to both size and weight. The turbines are getting larger and larger, and that has an impact on how big the heat recovery system must be to recover the heat and reduce the emissions coming off the turbine.
While we own the know-how, our units are manufactured by third-party fabricators in Asia – in Thailand or Korea.
The modular design units are prefabricated assemblies and save construction time in the field. This means bigger modules are better. The result is mind-blowing when you think about it: Modules more than 100 feet long, 16 feet wide and 20 feet tall and more than 700,000 pounds [350 tons].
And it’s not just one piece: We may have multiple modules for a single project. Take Citrus [a Duke Energy project in Crystal River, Florida]. We moved 40 modules by four different ships, including more than 250 truckloads of casing and structural steel and 150-plus containers.
First, the modules were trucked from the factory in Korea to Masan Port. We discharged the cargo at Port Manatee, Florida, from a BBC Chartering vessel. The modules went by 400-foot-by-100-foot deck barge, and the complexity requires expertise and strict supervision, especially going via intracoastal waterways, while coordinating simultaneously with the project forwarder, U.S. Coast Guard and EPC [engineering, procurement and construction firm].
The site was about 16 hours by barge north of Port Manatee. There’s a canal you turn into, called Crystal River, which is protected by environmental regulations. You can’t introduce nonindigenous species into the water, so we figured out a way to get the ballast tanks of the barge emptied and the saltwater replaced with freshwater before entering the channel.
For TVA Allen [the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Allen Fossil Plant in Memphis], with Kiewit as EPC, some of the modules were 715,000 pounds [357.5 tons]. We booked direct with the ocean and heavyhaul carriers for better control and transparency on cost, schedule and operations.
We discharged the BBC ship at New Orleans, coming from South Korea, and the tallest modules required removal of the tweendeck to be able to close the hatch. BBC designed and made a subfloor on the ship to accomplish this. The calcs [calculations] and method statement were vetted and surveyed by Eagle Maritime [Consultants Inc.]. The framing system was innovative and robust enough to handle the load and sail halfway around the world safely.
Barnhart [Crane & Rigging] prepared the barges to receive the modules and drums from ship’s gear in New Orleans. McDonough Marine supplied the barges, tugging them upstream on the Mississippi River to Memphis. With all of that, we came five days early at our point of destination.
This job was cool, because offloading wasn’t in our scope. The delivery terms were FOB [free on board], but we had to come together and discuss many things to ensure a smooth and safe offloading, while trying to mitigate the cost of demurrage.
Planning on-time delivery requires everyone to come together and agree on the fine print on where one’s responsibility ends and where the other’s responsibility begins. From the shipper to the stevedores, carriers and client, everyone must be on the exact same page.
I think of it as a windup doll, trying to get it across the room. You’ve got to keep winding or it will come to a stop. It takes constant pushing and motivating of all people involved to go in the direction I need them to go.
There are other challenges, for example with the DOTs [U.S. and state departments of transportation]. Infrastructural limitations and obstructions created by utility lines and bridges are another challenge. There are so many different rules, and, when you’re trying to cross state lines, one state has this rule and another state has a different rule. One state might only let you move by night and the other only by day,
How have you applied your prior experience, including nearly 10 years with GE, as well as your studies at the University of Louisville – earning a bachelor’s in business, management, marketing and related support services – to your work since 2013 at VPI?
I started working at the age of 15 at a restaurant and then at a hardware store at 16. That made me realize I never wanted to work in a restaurant or a store.
GE gave me a lot of experience. At 19, I first went to work at GE Appliances. That was my first taste of planning, expediting, working with trucking, and I became really good at it. They promoted me to account rep for Lowe’s.
I wanted more experience beyond calling and handling people and getting chewed out because their product wasn’t there. You’d call the railroad, and they’re like, ‘Yeah, we’ll be there in a month.’ And you’re past due 60 days already. I didn’t like getting chewed out every day for something beyond my control.
So I went to American Air Filter, and I learned so much with respect to shipping internationally before going back to GE, this time GE Energy, which ended up being GE Power & Water. There, I was moving inlet filter houses [for the front end of turbines] from the Czech Republic to job sites in places like Jamaica, plus tons of oversized cargo out of Mexico. Then I became the project controls lead, helping project managers with their budgets, forecasting, inventory control and revenue recognition in an Oracle ERP [enterprise resource planning] platform.
One thing GE taught me was how to leverage tools and technology and data. They educated everyone to think strategically instead of taking risk or making decisions on a gut feeling alone.
What I took away from U of L that helped me was logic – understanding a premise that supports the conclusion and question one’s assertions, make other people think about what they’re saying or get to the root of what they’re trying to say. It helps me challenge processes and not necessarily people. You cannot solve a repeated problem or achieve the goal if you don’t have a good process in place.
What makes project cargo logistics so exciting?
It’s definitely the challenge. I love to travel and see parts of the world I’ve never been to before. And I love the camaraderie and how, at the end of the day, we make it all come together. Then there’s that big sense of accomplishment when it is all delivered.
What roles do faith and family play in your life?
My family, faith in God and deep connection to the universe is all what gives me purpose. I work hard and give it my all because it represents my character, intellect, strength and my ability to provide and take care of my family.
I know that my purpose in life was not only to be a logistics manager. I know there’s a higher calling for me to be a leader, and I’m still working on that part. I’m very grateful for the vision that allows myself to zoom out from the chaos, politics and bureaucracy to find comfort in light, love, laughter and food, and know there is a force of life that moves through us everyday.
I grew up in Louisville in a single-family home. I made straight A’s in school, B’s from time to time, and I received a four-year academic scholarship to U of L.
The joys of my life now are my children – Serena, 14, Cameron, 9, and Marvin J., 3 – and my husband, Marvin.
The spiritual side helps me understand purpose. I’m not here to be a logistics manager. I know there’s a higher calling for me, and I’m still working on that part. It allows me to zoom out from the reality here on earth of politics and bureaucracy and find comfort knowing there is a greater being.
What nonwork interests do you enjoy pursuing?
I enjoy cooking, wine tasting, exercising and hanging out with my friends.
I like to play the blackjack app. I’m pretty good at it.
So do you go to the casino and play for real?
No, because I’m too scared. I’m afraid of losing money. But one day I will, for fun.