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Monday, August 09, 2004

Draft the CEOs!

An old military saying has it, "Amateurs talk strategy; professionals talk logistics." In other words, the key to warfare is supplying soldiers at the front with enough ammunition, medical supplies, gasoline, food, water, and so on. Logistics are vital enough that a few key supply lines of past wars have taken on mythic stature: the "Cracker Line" at Chattanooga during the Civil War, the "Voie Sacree" (Sacred Road) at Verdun in World War I, the "Red Ball Express" in France during World War II.

And yet, the best private sector expertise is rarely available to the military. The only corporate executive I can think of in a position of high authority in the U.S. military was General McClellan during the Civil War. Although often criticized as overly cautious, few deny that he was a brilliant organizer and manager.

There are a number of former corporate executives in Bush's Defense Department, but these guys seem to have been hired as rainmakers, mainly for their contacts. In any event, the GAO [big pdf] and the Army have documented numerous logistics problems confronting U.S. troops even during the brief march to Baghdad. For example, shortages of spare parts forced troops to cannibalize parts from one vehicle to repair others. General Stratman, who ran the Army's supply operations seems to have had a pretty typical military career, jumping from commanding a division to working in the training bureaucracy to a staff position in Bosnia. No doubt he's pretty talented, but his biography doesn't make him sound like a career logistician. The U.S. military seems to do pretty well, but it's no FedEx.

So how about drafting some executives from FedEx? Admittedly, FedEx CEO Fred Smith has done his time in the military. But I bet our forces in Iraq could make good use of the services of Doug Witt, President and CEO of FedEx Supply Chain Services.


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