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Executive Talent in the Transportation and Logistics Industry

December 2022

The transportation and logistics industry continues to stare in the face of disruption. Digitalization, new and nimbler competitors, and the COVID-19 pandemic and its longer effects have left the largest and longest-established companies in the industry grappling with a changing business model. The recent supply chain volatility and economic uncertainty have only exacerbated these issues. To contend with these trends, industry leaders need the skills and experience to succeed.

With this in mind, we recently analyzed the 15 largest transportation and logistics companies in the world and the composition of their executive leadership teams — 162 leaders in total — including their profiles, tenures and backgrounds. The information, based on 2021 data compared with similar data compiled in 2019, offers insight into how leadership is evolving in these industries, and points to the important opportunities ahead.

Below we look at some of the key trends that have arisen from the data.

More companies look for external talent

Transportation and logistics remains an industry where open positions are typically filled from within; in fact, 56% of all T&L leaders have spent their whole careers in the industry. However, there is at least some evidence of an increased willingness to look outside the industry for top talent.

Overall, a greater share of leaders were recruited from outside the T&L industry in 2021, — 25%, compared with 17% in 2019. Executives who have experience in at least four other industries increased from 9% to 17% over the past three years. And when specifically looking at new hires in the past year, 80% of them worked in a different sector than T&L at some point in the past 20 years.

The three new CEOs hired since 2021 were external hires: one directly from another company within the industry, one brought in through an acquisition, and one promoted months after joining the firm in a different c-suite position. Further, companies seem to at least look outward for functional leadership positions; 46% of functional leaders came from outside companies.

Still, overall, about two-thirds of leadership-level hires are internal — including 69% of CEOs, 80% of divisional heads and 82% of regional heads.

Outside-the-sector experience is in demand in a few key areas

A company seeking outside-the-industry talent is even rarer than one seeking talent outside the company. But this is also evolving as well. One area where companies seem willing to look outside the industry is supply chain experience, highlighted in several operations and supply chain leaders who were brought in from consumer goods and e-commerce.

From an industry standpoint, P&L leaders most typically come from retail, consumer goods, e-commerce and distribution. At the functional level, targeted sectors for external hires include industrial, chemicals, professional services and financial services.

Gender diversity ticks upward

Female representation has been on a slow but steady rise since we first analyzed the industry’s leadership composition in 2019. In 2021, 17% of the 162 leaders we examined were women, compared with 13% in 2019, and two of the 15 companies we looked at have female CEOs. Meanwhile, seven of the 20 new leaders hired in the past year are women. In an industry where so many hires come from within, the numbers point to the need to identify and cultivate future female leaders earlier in their career paths.

Digital becomes a key hiring factor

As digital technology plays an ever-greater role in this industry, some roles are gradually gaining more prominence in industry C-suite structures, including strategy, digital, transformation and technology leads — roles that companies are looking to fill with external candidates. Automation is also growing in importance, which requires talent that understands the technology and how to embed it into the business.

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As the industry contends with change — digitization, disruptive competitors, uncertain economic conditions — top talent will be the key to success. There remain many opportunities for top transportation and logistics companies to thrive, even as more change awaits.