Q&A: Samuel Shapiro’s Angela Czajkowski on the Interconnected Supply Chain

by · Jun 20, 2019

Angela CzajkowskiThis month we’re proud to feature Angela Czajkowski in our Women in Supply Chain blog series. Angela is the director of supply chain at Samuel Shapiro, an international shipping and logistics business. She has more than a decade of experience in logistics and supply chain. Her passion? Saving time and resources by offering strategic solutions to process and route design.

Angela shares what brought her to the industry and some of the challenges she’s faced and tackled.

What inspired you to take this career path?

So many either stumble into this business or find themselves in the industry by happenstance. I sought out a career in supply chain—specifically in the international logistics segment—after studying abroad in Italy followed by an undergrad international business law course. We started talking about bills of lading and international commerce. I was hooked.

The appeal of world travel may have had something to do with it too, but it was the idea of the constant complexity. This dynamic environment made me think I would never get bored. There would always be new challenges; something to learn and that would excite me throughout life. So far, I was right.

I was fortunate to find a position at Samuel Shapiro as a junior region specialist. I cut bills of lading, tracked cargo, and helped the transportation department doing whatever they needed. I dived in, and I loved it. My entire tenure in the industry has been at Shapiro, my first and only home.

Where has the chain taken you from there?

I’ve been given amazing opportunities over the years. I’ve expanded my knowledge base and my skill sets and have been challenged in each and every role. I’ve been lucky enough to be supported by both my peers and my leaders. And while I know that no path is always easy, but I consider myself lucky each time.

I’ve always been able to contribute to our company’s mission, and that is wonderfully fulfilling. Currently I am the director of supply chain. I have the pleasure of overseeing the logistics side of our operations and the privilege of working closely with our IT Department to drive our logistics and supply chain management platforms forward.

I contribute to propelling our 100-year old organization forward into the next 100 years—that’s an honor.

What have your hurdles been along the way?

It’s tough to be the new kid on the block. The first thing I noticed working in freight forwarding and customs brokerage is that this industry is heavily relationship-based. Everyone seems to know everyone from a prior role, employer or project. So being a new face was really intimidating at first.

I had amazing people who guided me and helped me understand the interconnectedness of the business. The people I’ve met have helped me overcome these challenges and make the work more rewarding. I want to do the same for the next generation.

Secondly, expertise is heavily experience-based, especially in international Logistics and Customs Brokerage. You can’t simply study to know how to deal with the challenges we encounter each day. Building an arsenal of solutions took time and a real commitment to learning; I’ve made myself into a sponge and absorbed every drop. I want to pass that message forward: how we can support one another in giving people experiences, bringing others to the table and including people who want to grow in the industry. I want to be the hand that extends to help bring others into the community.

How do you maintain trust when dealing with issues outside of your control, (like many in freight forwarding and logistics)?

Trust is earned. I’ve had incredible mentors along the way who helped shape my leadership perspective and style and through that I’ve been given the chance to prove myself over the years to both my teammates and to management. We aren’t a hands-off company. I don’t think this is a hands-off business for leaders in general. The chance to dig in with my teams for over a decade has been rewarding, but has also helped us established a great deal of trust.

That’s the role I want to play, that we all support one another, and we develop that mutual trust. Fighting fires in our business is one thing, but it’s what you do after the fire is out, the customers are happy the freight is delivered that things return to business as usual for me.

That’s where I dig in as a leader and determine how we prevent this fire next time. We all face issues that are out of our control but understanding what I could control to prevent it is essential to success.

Always work to find the root cause to make sure you don’t face that same fire again. Philosophically as a leader, this is something I learned very early on.

Another point is to embrace your failures. I’m happy to share them. I’ll own them. I’ll learn from them. I’ll be the cautionary tale for everyone, and I’ll do better next time. It’s a developed humility over the years that my teams, my peers and my leadership recognize and take the same approach so we are continuing to support each other and growing together.

How are you helping to drive your business forward?

When I see a manual process, my first thought is why? In our business we can all agree there are a lot of manual processes. There’s a lot of paperwork required to make our industry run. We all look at it from a different angle.

We see different opportunity and choosing to tackle it, knowing where we are going and where we are strategically moving towards is paramount.

There’s a remarkable amount of data being exchanged. We’re always asking, do we have good dataWe are exchanging it, both sending and receiving, and it must be timely.  There are many providers coming into the space, more than I’ve ever seen, and that’s so exciting. But it’s important to know the correct partners and how they fit into this new space. And then what we choose to do with our tech investment—how we choose to spend our resources, making our process as efficient as possible—removing manual work, eliminating waste and errors in the process.

There’s so much opportunity for innovation there—we’re in a transformative state, it’s exciting.

How can women supply chain leaders like you build relationships with clients in our male-dominated industry?

My entire career has been spent at an organization run by a woman, the #1 woman-owned business in Baltimore. So, throughout my entire professional experience, the tone has been set that regardless of whether it’s a male-dominated industry or a woman-owned business, building relationships should not be gender-influenced.

Approach all relationships with genuine sincerity; I cannot stress that enough. We can all be better while supporting one another. So be authentic regardless of gender and be willing to give support and to ask for it.

We are all improving and helping to make the experience better for everyone through real authentic connections.

What’s the best advice you have for our readers?

Recognize the complexity of what we do in supply chain because it’s really fascinating, and make opportunity where you don’t see one. My career has been built on opportunities that may or may not have really been available.

Seize the moment, go for it and take a chance on asking for more; on asking for an experience and asking to learn. Make opportunity and seize the chances you’re given—every time.

Be sure to catch our other Women in Supply Chain guests:

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