Krista Williams on the creation of a new CI Council with leadership participation from every company.
To Krista Williams, the gravel roads and endless cornfields of rural Indiana will always feel like home. Raised in a small town, she expressed early interest in becoming an engineer to design prosthetic limbs for veteran amputees and set her post-secondary sights on admission to the prestigious (and at the time all-male) Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in nearby Terre Haute.
“My dad is one of the greatest influences in my life,” she said. “He also taught me to fight for what I believe in, so when I found out that the best undergraduate engineering school in the country would not admit females, I didn’t let that stop me from setting my sites on admission. I was in the third class of female graduates from Rose-Hulman with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and a minor in Biomedical Engineering.”
As an engineering intern at a textile factory during her sophomore year, she spent any hours she could spare on the factory floor and in the maintenance shop.
“That’s where I fell in love with process and became fascinated with how people were choreographed together to accomplish an end product,” she said. “That experience led me to focus on process engineering as a career path post-graduation.”
An easy ‘yes’
When Saltchuk began building its Continuous Improvement framework in 2016, the company benchmarked several other companies and Williams crossed paths with Saltchuk personnel often.
“I was impressed by the strong executive commitment to improvement and the intentionality Saltchuk had to not just copy the methods and tools of other companies,” she explained. “They wanted to create something true to their culture.”
When a call came in 2018 asking Williams if she’d be interested in joining Saltchuk as the company’s Director of Operations and Continuous Improvement, “it was an easy ‘yes.’” Her first month or so, she explained, was lonely.
“I was the only person in my department and in a relatively new position,” she said. “It wasn’t until I traveled to operations for the first time that everything clicked for me. That first visit was to Tropical Shipping’s Medley Warehouse in South Florida, and it will always be one of my favorite projects. Not only did the team introduce me to the magic of Cuban coffee, but it was the first time I realized that I wasn’t on a team of one at Saltchuk, I was on a team of 6,000-plus.”
In November of 2020, Williams transitioned into her current role as Vice President of Saltchuk Logistics.
“What I love most about my job is working with team members to show them just how critical their work is to serving our customers and achieving our strategic goals. We can’t become the best without leveraging the collective brilliance of every single team member in the Saltchuk family, so having the opportunity to teach our team members how to see and solve problems is the best part of my job.”
Williams said Saltchuk employees around the world believe in the company’s commitment to Continuous Improvement, not because the leadership team says it’s committed, but because employees experience that commitment firsthand.
“They need to see that when they speak up about a problem or an improvement idea, they have the power and the support to collaborate with their colleagues to try something new,” she said. “In 2021, we’ll be decentralizing Continuous Improvement ownership from the Saltchuk Corporate Home office to a cross-company Council with leadership participation from every company. We believe this will help us give every team member those problem-solving experiences faster while keeping us all aligned to our shared Saltchuk improvement principles and values.”
An incredible privilege
Beyond her career at Saltchuk, Williams is passionately engaged in a slew of international causes.
“If I could change one thing about my past, I’d have spent some time studying abroad in college,” she revealed. “Being from small-town Indiana, my world view was very narrow. When I started traveling internationally as an adult, it completely changed every aspect of my life.”
According to Williams, it led her and her husband to build their family through international adoption from Ethiopia, fund clean water wells in Uganda, and build and launch hundreds of small, women-owned businesses in East Africa and the Caribbean.
“I feel like I could have made a larger impact much earlier had I taken an opportunity to see more of the world when I was younger,” she said. “Several years ago, I had the opportunity to launch an artisan cooperative in Haiti to enable women to earn a sustainable income to care for their children. Not only was the business profitable, but the pride those women had when they saw their beautiful workroom, their product catalog, and their website was a day that I will never forget.”
Williams said the cooperative has continued to grow and expand its product lines and is giving more and more Haitian families a pathway out of poverty.
“People often joke that I’m perpetually positive and cheerful, but that’s because I learned from those women in Haiti that having an opportunity to work is an incredible privilege that millions of people don’t have. I will never take that for granted.”
Williams often travels for work and prefers to spend “every free moment” with her family – paddleboarding, hiking, and, in the winter months, curling.
“It’s much more challenging (and fun) than it looks when watching the Winter Olympics,” she laughed. “It truly is like chess on ice.”
Having recently transitioned to the Saltchuk Logistics leadership team, she said she’s excited to spend the near-future learning and growing the company’s Logistics Business Unit.
“I didn’t grasp the opportunities that existed within the Saltchuk family when I was first hired, and I’ve been amazed by the support and encouragement to learn and grow within the company,” she said. “On a personal level, my 10-year-old son wants our family to fund a school in his birth village in Ethiopia to teach kids English and computer programming, so in parallel, I can also see that adventure in our future.”
Throughout her career, Williams said she’s been most surprised by how welcoming and approachable people are within our companies.
“I get invited into some of our messiest and most complex problems, and at all levels of our operating companies, I’ve been amazed by how open and transparent people are, and also how willing and committed they are to improve. I see Saltchuk continuing to innovate, leverage technology, and introduce new service offerings to be positioned as a critical partner to our current and future retail and consumer customers over the next several years.”