A Personal and Procurement Journey: Sean Devine Launches Partage (Part 2)

This is the second post in a series from an interview Spend Matters conducted with Sean Devine, co-owner of Partage, a new partial truckload brokerage based in Chicago. Click here for Part 1.

Sean: John Labrie, then a SVP at Con-way Inc. responsible for some smaller business units and most of their shared services, had hired Emptoris to execute a broad procurement transformation project with their software and consulting capabilities. We had a big two-year savings target, and some great low-hanging-fruit projects to tackle. I worked as hard as I could work on that project, and about nine months in, John asked me to join the Con-way team as the VP of Enterprise Engineering and Supply Management. It seemed like a dream job and in many ways it was. I was given responsibility for over $3 billion in spend, and was asked to take a leadership role in many continuous improvement projects at the parent company and with its business units.

Not long after I came on board and we completed some of the bigger supply management initiatives, John was made President of Con-way Freight, the company's biggest business unit. I went with him as the VP of Engineering, and we immediately began a complete reorganization of the company's three operating units into a single national carrier. It was an incredibly difficult project, but among the most rewarding few months of my career. Not long after, I was also given responsibility for Pricing shortly before the biggest demand crisis in the history of LTL. In spite of the reorganization, Con-way still had way more capacity than demand to fill its network and it only got worse as the economy deteriorated.

What a no-win situation. If you keep prices high, costs skyrocket and employee engagement plummets. If you keep prices low, margins also drop and out-year capital requirements balloon. Either way, things aren't going to go well. I actually think that we got much of the juggling act right, but some of it wrong too. In particular, we weren't aggressive enough with price increases when the housing stimulus money ramped up demand quickly in Q1 2009 and our network suffered from the huge influx in freight. It took awhile to dig out of that hole, and by the time things had stabilized, I was gone.

At this point, I felt I actually knew what I was doing in transportation, procurement, strategy, analytics and technology -- at least more so than before. While I was still capable of making things very difficult for myself, at least I was growing up. A few months later, I moved to Chicago and took a job as VP of Strategy at Echo Global Logistics. In many ways, the company was a great fit. It was in a city I liked and in a business that I understood very well. I got to work quickly on a number of sourcing and growth initiatives, most of which are still active and are going very well. Even though I left only seven months after joining in order to start my dream business, I wish Echo all the best and am very thankful for the experience that I had there.

Jason: Now that we know how you got to where you are today, tell us a little more about what you're up to with this new idea. What's your goal with it?

Sean: Partage is the first partial truckload specialty brokerage. The idea is really quite simple -- we are going to bring shippers consistently smart savings options for shipments between five and twenty-five thousand pounds. We believe that this is the most poorly served segment in North American transportation, and we're excited to offer something fundamentally better.

The partial truckload market is incredibly underserved by asset-based LTL and TL carriers and by transportation brokerages. For LTL carriers, five to twenty-five thousand pound shipments can be very disruptive to many parts of their networks. Big shipments can provide cheap revenue that utilizes excess line haul capacity, but only some days and in some lanes. Since the median LTL shipment is under 500 pounds, their networks just weren't designed to be dependable sources of capacity for shipments larger than 5 thousand pounds. Since a full truckload typically has 40,000 pounds of capacity, it is also extremely inefficient to run these shipments by themselves, but customers often have no other choice. If they don't use an LTL carrier, they either waste money by underutilizing full truckloads, or by paying too much with brokerages that don't specialize in serving the partial truckload market. We're going to solve this problem.

Jason Busch

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