When allocating my time, I try to focus on three questions: Is it important? Does it require my involvement, or can someone else handle it? Does it need action now, or can it wait?
Benjamin Gordon is Founder and Managing Director of BG Strategic Advisors (BGSA), an investment banking firm for the supply chain sector. Benjamin consults with CEOs in the transportation, warehousing, and logistics industries and helps them maximize their companies’ value through M&As, capital-raising, merchant banking, as well as other strategic initiatives. Some of his clients include Fortune 500 leaders, logistics leaders, and private equity/venture capital firms.
Benjamin Gordon is also the Managing Partner at Cambridge Capital, a leading advisor, investor, and partner for companies in the supply chain and technology sectors. They help provide private equity to finance the expansion, recapitalization, or acquisition of growth companies, using their knowledge and expertise to help their portfolio companies achieve outstanding value.
Prior to BG Strategic Advisors and Cambridge Capital, Benjamin Gordon founded 3PLex, an online transportation management system enabling automation for third-party logistics companies. Benjamin raised $28 million through blue-chip investors such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Con-Way and was featured in the New York Times and Business Week. 3PLex was eventually acquired by Maersk.
A recognized expert on the supply chain sector, Benjamin Gordon has been quoted by national media including CNBC, The New York Times, Supply Chain Management Quarterly, and Business Week. He has also been a featured speaker, moderator, and chairman at the 3PL Summit, Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP), NASSTRAC, and the International Warehousing and Logistics Association (IWLA), among others. In addition, Benjamin leads the annual BGSA Supply Chain conference, the largest annual conference for CEOs from all segments of the global supply chain.
Benjamin Gordon is also an active civic leader who is committed to giving back to the community. As Founder and Chairman of GesherCity, a Jewish community and philanthropy group for young adults, he has boosted young adult volunteerism, expanding the organization to over 100,000 members in twenty locations. He has also served on several non-profit boards, including Palm Beach United Way, the JCCA, and the Middle East Forum.
Benjamin received a Masters in Business Administration from Harvard Business School and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale College.
Where did the idea for BG Strategic Advisors come from?
As I was building my first company, 3PLex, I got called on by a lot of investment bankers, venture capital firms, and private equity firms. I was struck by the fact that most of them didn’t really seem to understand logistics and supply chain. So I thought, “Why not start a merchant bank focused on logistics?” In 2002, I started BG Strategic Advisors. In the beginning, I ran it from my apartment in Cambridge. Since we didn’t have an office yet, we held meetings in the Charles Hotel. It was a scrappy startup, just like 3PLex, but this time I self-funded it and we were profitable from year one!
Over the course of time, we had the privilege of working with a lot of terrific companies, including NFI, GENCO, UPS, Kuehne & Nagel, New Breed, and others. We worked on over 50 deals. Then, I eventually decided that I wanted to get back into building companies, as opposed to just advising them. I realized that I could be a founder, or I could invest in businesses that others had founded. The latter was more scalable. So I started investing in logistics, supply chain, and technology companies. To do so, I established Cambridge Capital. I started by putting my money where my mouth is, and investing my own capital first. Over time we’ve brought in partners.
Over the last decade, I’ve had the good fortune to invest in more terrific companies. XPO was founded by Brad Jacobs. Its first platform, Express-1, was a small company that Brad built through organic growth and acquisitions. It’s now a publicly-traded company with an enterprise value of more than $10 billion. Grand Junction was a startup founded by Rob Howard. He had the idea of building a technology platform to help retailers give their customers a better last-mile solution. Target ended up buying the company. These are just two examples.
Our goal is to help companies by bringing more than money. We work hard to bring expertise to our companies where we can, leveraging our industry knowledge, technology experience, networks of talented executives, access to potential customers, and more.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
On most days, I wake up at 6am. I meditate for 5 minutes to clear my mind then spend 10 minutes scanning my inbox and responding to the most urgent/important issues. I work out for 30-60 minutes, typically either swimming/biking/running. And I start work with our daily huddle at 8:45am, inspired by Verne Harnish’s “Rockefeller Habits” model.
Over the course of the day, I schedule as much as possible. That makes it easier to focus visually on what I have to do. Also, it allows me to control my time allocations to match my priorities.
I also rely heavily on email. Since I can read and write faster than I can talk, it’s more efficient. I try to follow the “Getting Things Done” strategy. Touch emails once (reply, forward, or delete, with a clear action). Make the subject lines clear. Process ruthlessly!
When allocating my time, I try to focus on three questions:
Is it important?
Does it require my involvement, or can someone else handle it?
Does it need action now, or can it wait?
How do you bring ideas to life?
I read a lot. I try to read a book a week. The last book I read was “Red Notice” by Bill Browder. It tells the story of how a young strategy consultant discovered the brave new world of Eastern European privatizations in the 1990s and ended up building the biggest investment firm in Russia. It was inspiring to see how Browder went to Poland first and Russia second, with an open mind and a readiness to apply what he learned in the U.S. in a new market where the rules were different. It was also depressing to see how the Russian oligarchs and a corrupt bureaucracy fought him, ultimately driving him out of the country and murdering his lawyer. But it was uplifting to see Browder pivot into the next chapter of his life, as a human rights activist who championed the Magnitsky Act and continues to fight for justice today.
“Red Notice” helped me generate ideas for looking in emerging markets for hidden jewels in the logistics world. I’m working on one right now!
What’s one trend that excites you?
I am very excited about the intersection of transportation and technology. That’s been a major theme throughout my career. One big driver is ACES: Autonomous, Connected, Electric, and Sharing economy. We are seeing lots of fantastic businesses emerging out of these technologies. For instance, Grand Junction succeeded by connecting drivers with retailers through a technology platform and a sharing economy model. Bringg and DeliveryCircle have similar advantages, albeit in different but complementary areas.
I believe electric vehicles will come to dominate not just passenger cars, but also trucking. Over the next decade, we will see a massive shift.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I try to abide by the one-touch rule. When I get an email, I try to respond in a way that gets to closure. You can lose a lot of time with email back-and-forth chains. If possible, I try to give a clear and quick answer: yes, no, or depends on X. If you can reduce your touches, you can spend your time more productively!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Invest in the things that make you better. Reading has a multiplier effect. So does exercise, because it makes you better in other dimensions. And so does surrounding yourself with A+ people, in all areas of life. They can challenge you and make you better!
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Self-driving trucks will dominate the industry within a decade. Everyone talks about self-driving cars, but it’s already happening in trucks. Komatsu can run trucks in the mines of Australia without drivers. Driverless forklifts are already appearing in warehouses. People are petrified about the idea of a runaway truck driven by a machine that misses an important action. But this isn’t the Windows “Blue Screen of Death.” Computer-powered trucks are going through extremely rigorous testing, and will soon be ready for the road.
Also, while it’s true that self-driving trucks aren’t perfect, it is important to note that neither are humans. Tragically, 50,000 people a year die from car and truck accidents. Almost all of those fatalities are caused by human error. If machines can cut that by 90%, we might still have 5,000 fatalities a year. That would be terrible, but far better than the status quo.
Self-driving trucks can be implemented more effectively than self-driving cars, because they can be managed by companies. In sum, the driverless future will come to trucks first.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Follow through. People value you when they know they can count on you. Always do what you say, so people know your word is meaningful. I can’t stress that enough.
When I started BG Strategic Advisors, our first client was a company called Air-Road Express. The CEO asked us to sell their company. We put together a plan and timetable. It called for getting the deal done in 4 months. In hindsight, this was a mistake. Your average M&A assignment often takes 6-9 months from start to finish. But we made a commitment, and we had to figure out how to deliver on it. There were a lot of late nights, early mornings, interrupted family dinners, and last-minute trips. But it all worked out. In the end, we not only got it done in 4 months, but we also exceeded the CEO’s value expectations.
That CEO, in turn, became a vital reference for our little company as we started to grow. It all revolved around demonstrating that we did what we said, and earning trust.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
My strategy has been to be narrowly focused. In our first decade, we were strictly focused on transportation, logistics, and supply chain technology. We could have taken on many more clients, but we decided that being known in our field would pay dividends down the road.
HBS Professor Michael Porter liked to say that strategy is about saying no. If you don’t say no often enough, then you spread yourself too thin. We try to maintain that dictum. Over time, as we’ve expanded our firm, our scope has expanded a little. But we still try to keep our focus tight.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve had lots of failures! But the failures are what make you better, assuming you learn from them.
When I started 3PLex, we had a great idea. But we tried to do too much too quickly. We started with the idea of building a TMS to automate logistics. Then we added a combinatoric engine to enable companies to bid on bundles of lanes. And we also added a drayage management system. Three products was too much for one startup. We burned through a lot of money before we figured that out. I wish we had figured it out much sooner.
In the end, ironically, the product that we spent the least time and money on, in drayage, was the one that Maersk wanted.
The lesson was to listen to your customers, and ruthlessly simplify to focus on what matters.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Think about how you can combine new technologies to augment classic business models.
For instance, every retailer in the world is trying to improve their last-mile solution to compete with Amazon. If they fail in this one area, they could fail outright. There is a fortune awaiting the company that figures out how best to do this.
Can you use drones, or warehouse automation, or other technology, to deliver a solution that is equal or better than Amazon Prime? If you can figure that out, you have a tremendous opportunity.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought a Fitbit for my kids on Tuesday. They are wonderful children, but they also love reading (or acting, singing, and watching) more than exercising. For the last three days, they have been running through the house and in the backyard, counting their steps!
The old saying is true: What gets measured gets done!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
We all use email. But one thing I’ve found particularly helpful was a typing class I took when I was in middle school. Being able to type fast might have seemed like a job for a secretary at one point. Today, it’s a competitive advantage for anyone who is in business.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Lend Me Your Ears” by William Safire. It is a collection of the most inspirational speeches in world history.
Start with the uplifting words from Shakespeare’s Marc Antony that inspired Safire’s title, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” You can think of this speech as great literature, which it is. You can also think of it as enjoyable to read, which it also is. But as an entrepreneur, you can consider these words the foundation for a persuasive call to action.
Any great leader, whether in politics, business, or elsewhere, should have these powerful communication tools at his or her disposal.
What is your favorite quote?
In the “Sayings of the Fathers,” also known as the “Pirkei Avot,” Hillel said this: “When a man is needed and there is no man, strive to be that man.” Putting gender neutrality aside, this quote captures the essence of leadership to me.
What Hillel is saying is this: when you find yourself in a situation that calls for action, and you see nobody else stepping up to take on that responsibility, then the choice lies with you. Will you take the reins, or will you let the opportunity pass?
I believe great leaders, great business people, and great human beings all find ways to live in accordance with this moral precept. Think about Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Sharansky, and others in activism. And think about Jobs, Gates, Musk, and others in entrepreneurship. In all cases, great leaders saw a need and realized that it was up to them to address it. Isn’t that what it’s all about?