A history of success

From the April 2022 print edition

While John Kreller has a keen interest in European military history, his first forays into the supply chain profession were less than strategic. Like many who choose it for their career, Kreller notes that he mostly fell into the field, almost as if by accident.

Mike Ford Photography

“After high school I did a trip through Europe,” says the Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario native. Kreller is now warehouse manager at Eaton, an intelligent power management company. “You kind of plan your future while you’re doing that. There were many things I was considering. Supply chain was not on the list at that moment in time. But again, as I said, like a lot of people I kind of fell into my career.”

When he returned to Canada from Europe, Kreller began working on a production line at MTD Products, a designer and manufacturer of outdoor power equipment such as lawnmowers and snow blowers. When he realized that he wanted his career to take a different path, he enrolled at Wilfred Laurier University
in Waterloo, Ontario as a mature student. While studying there, he earned a diploma in Business Administration and Small Business Management.

Getting started
After that, when Kreller was about 22, he jumped into a job loading trucks at Al’s Cartage in Kitchener. That position, he now says, is where he began his warehousing and supply chain career. Kreller worked at Al’s Cartage for about a year, gaining experience before taking a warehouse job at Kaufman Footwear. His duties at that company included loading bins, picking orders, clean up as well as general labour tasks. He eventually moved into a shipper position.

It was also around this time that Kreller got married and bought a house. After 10 years working at Kaufman Footwear, he made a switch to a position at Spaenaur in Kitchener, a manufacturer of fasteners and related products. Kreller found working with such hardware fascinating and enjoyed the courses
the company offered that went into detail regarding the various components in the company’s warehouses.

“I ended up running their secondary overflow warehouse which supplied the main building, which was located out in Breslau, Ontario,” he says. “We did a lot of the receiving there, and putaway. I went through the “train the trainer” program for reach trucks and forklifts and basically became responsible for teaching staff how to drive the equipment safely. I was there for probably a year. I had just received a promotion to their order desk when I got the opportunity to move over to Research in Motion.”

At the Waterloo, Ontario software company, Kreller began working as a shipper. He learned a lot about import, export and customs, as well as Blackberry’s products. He worked there for three-and-a-half years, enjoying the time as an employee of the company. But the organization was moving to a 24/7 shift rotation pattern, he says. The new schedule would mean difficult shifts, and Kreller couldn’t imagine going to work at, say, 7pm on a Saturday evening. Such schedules would cut too deeply into time with his family. As a result, in 2003, Kreller decided to leave Research In Motion.

“A lot of good people came out of there,” he says of the company and its staff. “It was an excellent training ground for people in supply chain as well as other departments, so there is that facet of it.”

Kreller’s next position was in a supervisory role at Kaperal Corp. in Waterloo. The organization was another high-tech company that built communications housings. He worked there for about six-and-a-half years, eventually becoming warehouse and logistics manager. In the end, the company’s Germany-based parent organization decided to move manufacturing to China. That decision meant closing its Canadian operation.

Once that happened, Kreller worked for about six months at a medical equipment company called Excel-Tech. While he credits the organization for having the most diversified product he has ever shipped in his career, he eventually left for a job closer to home. That move led to a position at Rimowa North America, a manufacturer of luxury luggage, suitcases and bags. He spent seven years as a logistics and shipping manager at the Cambridge-based company.

Eventually, Kreller landed his current position as warehouse supervisor at Eaton Corporation. He has 21 employees he supervises in 12,000 square feet of warehouse spread across the company’s manufacturing facility.

“What’s interesting about Eaton is that they have what they call the “Eaton University, and it has all kinds of different courses that that they want you to take as part of their onboarding process, which I find very interesting,” Kreller note. “It’s a company that’s very interested in, and is a leader in, inclusion and diversity.”

Day in the life
Now, Kreller’s day-to-day routine is varied. His work day starts at 6am, when he meets with his team members. The group lays out what the day is going to look like – a process Kreller says he bases on safety and quality, as well as delivery and cost targets. All that varies throughout the week depending on what’s happening.

“We look at some of our metrics like inbound and outbound traffic, our putaway rate and things like that,” he says. “Right now, the supply chain is in a lot of pain because of slowdowns elsewhere, the economy and the world.”

Other morning tasks Kreller handles include doing daily payroll, along with going through emails to see what items cropped up during the night shift.

“Things like that, morning priorities for production,” Kreller says. “I’ll do a walkaround on the floor, make sure everybody is set for the day, that trucks are properly engaged at the docks and all the safety equipment is in place, making sure everyone has their PPE, including masks. Those type of things.”

Kreller also participates in a series of meetings with various stakeholders, called tier meetings, that occur throughout the morning. Those meetings end around 9:15am. Much of the tasks after that focus on maintaining the flow of the day. Trucks must be loaded with parts, offloaded and received, as well as put into their proper locations. That happens twice a day, in the morning and again in the afternoon.

“That’s the day-to-day,” Kreller says. “In between, there are other meetings. There’s training. There are emails to deal with. It’s a very good crew. They’re all very helpful and responsive in helping out a new guy learn his position.”

Along with his degree from Wilfred Laurier University, Kreller has taken various courses
at Conestoga College. He recently completed an online analytics course through Laurentian University. He has also continued his education through reading and has enjoyed the work of leadership author John Maxwell, as well as other books on the topic of leadership.

Kreller notes that he’s faced both challenges and opportunities as his career has progressed. For example, while working at Rimowa North America, US Customs asked to review the company’s product to ensure that it complied with NAFTA regulations. Perhaps, Kreller speculates, they found it difficult to believe that the company was actually manufacturing luxury luggage in Cambridge, Ontario.

US customs officials remained onsite in the company’s boardroom for several days, perusing product samples and touring production facilities. The officials finally accepted that the items were all made in Canada and the cost of whatever was imported didn’t outweigh what was produced domestically. “We were able to resolve the issue with US customs and continue on our way,” Kreller says. “Also at Rimowa, I did a duty drawback with the CBSA and brought back over a million dollars of import duties into the company coffers. I was pretty proud of that achievement.”

One change within the warehouse introduced while Kreller was at Rimowa involved introducing a kit picking process. When he first started at the company, production staff would go through the warehouse picking their own parts. There was little inventory control, so parts could get mixed up. The kit picking process provided visibility into inventories out to a week or two, depending on how far in advance picking took place. Inventory shortfalls were easy to spot in advance.

That way, Kreller says, production supervisors no longer had to ask purchasing staff where their parts were. The warehouse unit could easily report on the shortages, which could then be ordered more quickly.
“It was a constantly evolving process,” Kreller says. “When I started at Rimowa, I was the third person on the team. And subsequently that team grew to 47 staff members with three supervisors and two shifts. It was quite the growth over the seven years that I was there.”

When the pandemic began, Kreller’s company at the time began noticing issues with customers in Quebec closing their doors, while other areas began responding in various ways as well. Kreller’s company was considered an essential service and continued operating while others closed their doors and shut down their operations.

Suppliers stuck with Kreller’s company once they learned it had been deemed essential, he says. And while supply chain issues continued from China, there wasn’t much that could be done about that. The situation was challenging both professionally and personally, he notes.

Interests abroad
Kreller has long been interested in spending time working overseas, he says. Such an opportunity may end up presenting itself at his current company, which is a worldwide corporation.

“One thing I’ll say about my career is, I’ve never been afraid of those challenges of change,” he says. “But ideally, I’d like to get to a nice country in Europe where I can do some exploring on the weekends and satisfy my interest in history.”

Kreller is an avid reader, with most of his time spent reading military history. Ancient Greece and Rome, early North American and Medieval European history count among his specific interests. Studying history – looking at mistakes made in the past – can help to inform the decisions that we make in the present day, Kreller notes.

“Just about anything, really,” he says of his interest in the subject. “It really fascinates me.
I think there is a lot to be learned from history. I’m constantly reading, whether it’s about leadership or history. Sometimes, they’re one and the same, so this allows me to continue my education.”

Kreller also has an interest in gardening and the outdoors. Throughout the pandemic, he built extra vegetable gardens on his property.

It has been small actions like these that acted as stress relievers during an uncertain and trying period, he notes. Growing vegetables, as well as keeping a bee garden – designed with nectar and pollen producing plants – relieve some of that stress while also contributing to the wellness of the environment.

“I also sit on the board of directors of the Kitchener Rangers Hockey Club, that’s another interest,” he says of his role with the major junior hockey team.

For those who are either new to the supply chain field or looking to advance a career that’s already underway, Kreller stresses the importance of finding a mentor. Such a coach can work with a supply professional to illustrate to them what the challenges are in the field, as well as providing the opportunity to work through some of the issues they face, Kreller says.

At this point in his career, Kreller finds himself in the position of wanting to offer such guidance to others in the field.

“I’m really looking to develop future leaders,” he says. “I’ve moved around a lot, and I think in most places I’ve left a company in very good shape. Succession planning is a big piece of that, so I’m always looking for the next leader to come up behind so that I can potentially move up or move on myself.”

Whenever possible, it’s important for supply professionals to seek out such arrangements, where they are able to learn from one of their peers, he notes.

“All boats rise, hopefully, working together as a team,” he says. “Continue your education. Learn as much as you can about what’s going on in various industries, because it can all be applied to other fields. Information is not so focused that you can’t learn from seeing other entities and what they do to improve themselves.”