The art of taking risks

From the December 2023 print edition

It’s common for people to work in supply chain by starting in other business areas, like operations or finance.

It’s rare, however, to enter the field through the civilian logistical operations of the US military in Afghanistan. Yet that’s the route Matthew Zarzycki took when he started his supply chain career in 2010.

“I don’t know too many people that actually went to school and said, ‘I want to get into logistics,’ or ‘I want to do transportation,’ or anything like that,” says Zarzycki, now chief operating officer with Amplify Logistics. “Once they do, they kind of fall in love with it because they didn’t realize how interesting it is. But I went to school for political science and wanted to do foreign affairs.”

The St. Catharines, Ontario-native began looking for a position in foreign affairs after completing his Bachelor of Arts in international relations and affairs at Ottawa’s Carlton University in 2009. During his job search, someone asked whether Zarzycki was interested in a logistics position. At first, he had limited enthusiasm for the field, but decided to give it a shot.

That first job proved more interesting than Zarzycki had expected and started what he calls his ‘addiction’ to logistics. The position was as a coordinator, and he was quickly promoted to logistics supervisor, for Fluor, a global engineering and construction company. He was located at the Bagram Air Base, in the Parwan Province of Afghanistan. Zarzycki worked on a project called LOGCAP IV – the civilian component of logistics for the US military.

Zarzycki worked on freight forwarding, logistics, and various other projects during his tenure there. He was also able to do ‘some pretty cool stuff,’ he notes, like riding in C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft or flying in CH-47 Chinook helicopters to pick up containers and take them back to bases.

The year-long experience in Afghanistan set the tone for much of Zarzycki’s career in logistics, he says.

“It also set the path for my work ethic and realization that small things in life matter most, and the simplicity of things, because what you learn and do and how you live over there changes your perspective,” he says.

While he worked in Afghanistan, Zarzycki and his wife decided they wanted to start a family. Yet his career overseas made that difficult, so he returned to Canada in 2011. Due to his colourful and varied career until then, he thought finding employment in the field would be straight forward.

“It didn’t work out that way,” he says of his renewed job search. “A lot of people didn’t know how to take that experience, because it’s so unique and not very typical. A lot of people said, ‘this is interesting. I love it. But it’s hard to use you.’”

Zarzycki briefly considered becoming a police officer, figuring his Afghanistan experience would help him land employment. He went to a job fair in Toronto, but no police forces attended. But representatives from Bison Transport were there, and Zarzycki spoke to Grant Naslund, the director of the Toronto terminal for the company. Naslund ended up offering Zarzycki a job. “So that’s how I got started min the transportation-logistics business here in Canada,” he says. “It kind of went from there.”

Zarzycki joined Bison Transport in March 2012 and worked there until 2017. He was responsible for a variety of tasks and moved up quickly. But he also realized that he wanted to get back into project freight rather than staying in trucking. He then joined another company for about three months.

At this point, Zarzycki found the pace of project freight too slow. Working on long-term projects, then waiting for those projects to roll out, had become difficult after several years doing faster-paced work at Bison. From there, Zarzycki joined Fuel Transport Inc., reporting to the CEO and VP of operations as he helped to set up the company’s Toronto office. After about five months, he made the switch to Traffix, a logistics solutions specialist.

The company asked Zarzycki to take on a project in Kingsville, near Leamington, Ontario. It was also at Traffix that he developed an interest in food and cold chain logistics. The niche is fast-paced and fits his personality and love of variety.

Zarzycki worked at Traffix for over two-and-a-half years. By that time, he had known Pawel Sandhu, CEO of Amplify Logistics and Cargo County, for some time.

“We knew Matthew from Fuel Transport and he would always be willing to help carriers and build relationships instead of just transactional loads,” says Sandhu of Zarzycki. “We became friends from there, and always talked about the industry. Over time, we decided it would be good to work together and tackle some challenges together.”

Always different
Zarzycki, who completed the CITT-Certified Logistics Professional designation in 2017,
is now the chief operating officer with Amplify Logistics and Cargo County. The company is split into asset and non-asset divisions, with logistics the non-asset division and the warehouse under the Amplify banner. The company’s trucks fall under the Cargo County banner.

Like most logistics professionals, Zarzycki rarely has what he can describe as a typical day. That’s especially true in a fast-growing company, he says. Everyone in Amplify’s senior leadership wears different hats, depending on what needs to be done. Some days, Zarzycki has had to hop on a forklift. Other days, he has helped to load and unload trailers.

“There was a time when we did that, at the beginning when I joined, because we were shorthanded or we didn’t have personnel able to do it,” he says. “Other times, I’m helping to find trucks to cover loads. So, the typical day is always rapidly changing. One thing is, it really centres around coaching and developing, both internally and externally – having conversations with our managers or supervisors about how they can approach different things, and how they can see it from a different perspective. A lot of our team is on the younger side. Our average age of our office workers is 28 years old, and our average age for drivers is 29, 30 years old. I’m one of the older people in the office.”

It pays to stay nimble in such a setting, Zarzycki says. Some days, he may plan to focus on sales, customer development, or marketing. But if the team needs help, he adds, he’ll dive into the trenches and lend a hand. On those days, it pays to review afterwards to look for ways to streamline the process and avoid spending all day putting out fires.
Yet a varied, fast-paced, and unpredictable environment suits Zarzycki. A position with
a set routine wouldn’t work well for how he organizes his thoughts and tasks.
“I enjoy jumping into the middle of things and helping sort them out, straighten them out and get them back on track,” he says.

Zarzycki notes that he’s lucky he can review his career so far with satisfaction. “Every aspect, every little piece, every change that I’ve done throughout my journey, I’ve really enjoyed,” he says. “Maybe not in the moment, but when I look back at it, I have a sense of accomplishment.”

One career highlight for Zarzycki was working at the Milton facility for Target, during his time at Bison Transport. The assignment helped him see operations from the perspective of both the customer and the retailer. Helping to set up the Toronto office for Fuel Transport also stands out, as Zarzycki enjoyed the start-up mentality the company fostered.

Zarzycki credits his wife’s support for helping him progress in his career. That support was especially important working in Afghanistan, as the couple were newlyweds at the time.

“She’s been really kind of the rock in supporting me,” he says. The first few months working overseas were tough, and Zarzycki wondered sometimes if he had made the right decision accepting the job. “But once I broke through that mental wall, I realized you can really accomplish anything in life. It put things in perspective and helped me shape what I wanted to do going forward. Since then, looking at the brighter side and taking on challenges as they come have been very successful for me.”

Meeting challenges
These days, one of the biggest challenges companies face is diversifying their offerings, Zarzycki notes. Organizations can get stuck with the same things, simply because they’ve always operated that way. Those companies struggle the most. To meet that demand, Amplify Logistics has worked to move away from being only a truckload, dry, or reefer carrier towards diversifying their offerings, including a warehouse component.

Another challenge across logistics involves driver recruitment and retention. Amplify Logistics, which has a young leadership team, works to hire younger drivers while focusing on training. The company often gives drivers the weekends off, which appeals to younger drivers. These policies signal to clients that Amplify Logistics plans to be around for the long haul.

“When you have a company where the average age is mid-50s, a lot of companies are going ‘Well, what are you guys doing with your retiring population?’” Zarzycki says. “Lots of truck companies don’t know what to do. They have no succession plan. That’s a lot of the challenge right now, where you’re seeing mergers and acquisitions in the marketplace.”

Going forward, the company plans to shift towards a direct-to-store distribution model,
as it takes on more smaller parcels, Zarzycki says. There is opportunity in the cold chain warehousing space, as well as cold chain LTL, he notes.

Amplify is also working to reduce its emissions footprint. The company is focusing on multi-temperature reefers to provide multiple temperatures on a single trailer. Retailers can then have dry, frozen, and fresh goods delivered simultaneously.
As a pilot project, the company has begun taking on the supply chain functions of SMEs, from end to end, a project that Zarzycki notes has been successful.

On a personal note, Zarzycki is considering a master’s degree in business and supply chain. At the same time, he would also like to get his Professional Freight Forwarder designation from CIFFA. He is active on social media and advocates for logistics professionals to have a more active role on sites like LinkedIn.

“I find a lot of people in logistics don’t use social media, at least in Canada, as well as they should,” he says. “There are a few that do, but the vast majority kind of shy away from it, and so I’d love to have more exposure for the industry on social media – how interesting things are done in logistics that are beyond the reach of the regular person. I’m going to continue focusing on that kind of marketing of how do we,
as an industry, become more observed.”

In his free time, Zarzycki enjoys travelling with his family. He also enjoys reading, and his interests span fiction and non-fiction.

“I also don’t see work as work,” he says. “It’s a bit of a hobby so when I’m not working on Amplify things, I tend to read a lot of what’s going on in logistics, different things that are happening in the world or different segments of the business.”

Zarzycki has recently become interested in artificial intelligence (AI). He’s learning about its use, what it’s capable of, and how AI might change society. Despite some foreboding predictions about the technology, Zarzycki likens AI’s rise to the spread of personal computers: it’s simply a tool that people can use.

Yet, it has limitations and will always need people to guide it. Hopefully, the technology will bring more opportunities for regular people to work less while still making a decent living.

“But it’s not going to be the end of dispatching,” Zarzycki says of AI’s logistics role.
“It might not be the end of the routing person. You still need people in the end for a lot of different things in life. You still need people to buy things. You still need people to do and experience things and not just function. I think AI is just a functioning tool. Without experiences, it’s hard to make it the omni-person that everybody is making it out to be.”

A place for everyone
Regarding advice for those interested in a supply chain career, Zarzycki says he now wishes that he had known about the field earlier. There’s so much opportunity in supply chain and logistics. Entrepreneurs, software developers, logistics specialists, and other professionals can all find a place. Zarzycki notes that his career has focused on his interest in foreign affairs. He can travel, visit ports, meet interesting people, negotiate trade agreements, and create contracts – a combination of pursuits potentially impossible outside of supply chain.

Opportunities in the field are growing. Young people can, for example, drive a truck for a few years to save money. Along with the cash, doing so provides travel opportunities and work experience. One of Zarzycki’s acquaintances, an airplane pilot, drove a truck to earn extra money in a way that fit his schedule.

“And it isn’t just trucking,” he says. “You can go work on the ocean liner ships and travel the oceans for a couple of years. You can go on planes and be a load master. There are so many different avenues. You can go work on the railroads. There are so many cool, different things that we touch in supply chain that people aren’t aware of that they could do that, I think, is super exciting. The awareness is something that we in the industry could be better at doing to help attract younger people and get them into supply chain.”

Above all, those in the profession should embrace taking risks, Zarzycki says. Canadians are sometimes wary of such daring action. Yet, the notion of avoiding reasonable risks needs to be put aside to pursue the possibility of success.

“It’s OK to fail. I’ve failed a whole bunch of times in my career. That doesn’t mean that
I didn’t get up as many times as I failed. Failure is part of that experience.”