Driving Kenco’s Innovation Initiative
Kristi Montgomery has built an impressive career in supply chain technology over the past 27 years at Kenco Logistics, the largest woman-owned third party logistics company in the United States. Kristi has built her career from the ground up during her time at Kenco, and currently leads the company’s innovation initiative as VP of Innovation at Kenco Logistics.
Kristi Montgomery, VP of Innovation at Kenco.
SCN: Can you talk about your first job ever and how your career has progressed throughout the years at Kenco?
KM: I started at Kenco in 1990 as a part-time PC technician. Most of my time was spent consolidating payroll from each of our facilities around the country, so I ended up focusing less on the technology side of things and more on administrative work. Back then, consolidating payroll was done on a computer and the company didn’t have the level of knowledge at the time to pull it all together, so my job was to accomplish that task. Quickly, Kenco recognized the advent of computer technology as a market need and it would soon be a driver of business in the supply chain industry.
SCN: How has your career progressed throughout the years at Kenco?
KM: I transitioned into a full-time position within eight months of being hired for the PC technician role and spent about five years in that role before moving into a management position, where I was tasked with larger projects. From there, I was promoted into a director level position before becoming VP of IT, where I managed the entire IT department for about six years, driving business value from IT solutions.
During my time as VP of IT, I felt that one of the company’s largest gaps to fill was innovation. We weren’t able to look at what was trending to become mainstream three to five years in the future and start working toward preparing the company to be ready for those. We spent most our time maintaining existing systems, getting new facilities set up and onboarding new customers, which are all critically important for an IT department to do, but we couldn’t step into that next realm of looking ahead and seeing what’s coming. About five years ago, Kenco changed ownership and customers were responding to our annual reviews requesting to see more innovation offered. There was also a desire to bring in new IT leadership. At this time, I was offered the opportunity to move out of IT and become the VP of Innovation at Kenco Logistics to create the innovation initiative for the company, and build a new department dedicated to innovation in the supply chain. Kenco is a great organization and has allowed me to grow in the direction I’ve wanted to over the past 27 years.
SCN: Can you talk about your volunteer experience?
KM: This year, I’m vice chair for the Chattanooga Technology Council, a non-profit dedicated to connecting the technology community to promote economic growth, and improving STEM education in the local area; I will be named chairwoman of the board next year. I also volunteer for Girls, Inc., a national organization focused on inspiring girls to be strong, smart, and bold through direct advocacy and programming. Through both organizations, I have the opportunity to help recruit young women into the IT field, as it’s a declining field of interest for young ladies coming out of high school and entering college to pursue.
In addition to working with high schoolers, I visit middle schools and speak with girls in fifth and sixth grades about different career options in technology. Many relate IT to programming, but it’s more than that so I’m working to raise awareness that there are endless career opportunities within the technology field, whether it’s database management, business intelligence or emerging technologies, such as working with robotics and drones. Girls Inc. enables me to watch these girls develop their passions and career goals in middle school through college and even enter into the IT field, which has been extremely rewarding.
I strongly believe that when we’re given talents and opportunities in our lives, it’s our responsibility to give back, and this is my way of doing so. I truly enjoy spending time with these girls and opening their eyes to all the different opportunities they have; It’s amazing to watch them grow from not knowing much about programming to seeing them build their own websites and chatrooms. When given the right resources, these young, intelligent, and knowledge-hungry women will go far.
SCN: Kenco is a woman-owned organization. Can you talk about how that’s had an impact on your career?
KM: It’s been great to see the progression of women over the years within this organization. When I was promoted to the director level in IT, there were only a few women in leadership roles at Kenco and that’s changed drastically. The reason is not because it’s a woman-owned organization, but due to Kenco understanding the importance in recognizing who’s right for the role, male or female, and who’s the best fit. Kenco really values this and promotes from within when it makes sense.
SCN: What’s your proudest achievement?
KM: My proudest achievement is presenting to leadership an opportunity around innovation within the supply chain and third party logistics (3PL) industry that was not being capitalized as a company. After showing the group how my particular skillset, experiences and talent can be leveraged to bring this opportunity forward, I was given the green light to develop the company’s innovation initiative from the ground up and lead the new focus on innovation as the VP of Innovation at Kenco Logistics. Being able to bring this new vision to the organization has been very rewarding, especially since Kenco had not significantly invested in research, development or innovation in the past.
Through this, I’ve built the innovation department from scratch, decided what methodology to use to develop innovative ideas, built vendor and academic partnerships and fostered customer relationships, all while prototyping new solutions. Kenco gave me a lot of latitude to build this initiative, which has been very successful. So much so that I’ve had other companies including smaller 3PLs ask if they can spend time with Kenco Innovation Labs to see how it was created. Additionally, my team and I are frequently asked to share our insights around how to build a successful innovation center and innovate within the supply chain. Professionally, this initiative has been rewarding and has provided me with both business and personal value, and continues to challenge me every day.
Want to learn more? Listen to Kristi, as she discusses Kenco’s work with JDA here. Additionally, her colleague, Matt McLelland, talks about the Kenco Innovation Labs work with JDA Labs, which you can watch to here.