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Reading the tea leaves: What does the Trump presidency mean for logisticians?

By Steve Geary | 12/24/2016 | 7:55 AM

There are some very serious rumblings taking place at the federal level, in the wake of the election of Donald Trump, that should give us all pause. From what the President-elect is doing to the people he is nominating, we all need to figure out the implications.

As a logistician, there is reason to be optimistic about where the federal government is going.  We hear that there will be less regulation. We know there will be experienced business people—not bureaucrats and politicians—at the helm. It is reasonable to say that the federal government will have leadership that understands—I mean really understands—global business.

Just look no further than the nominee for Secretary of State. Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobil, knows a thing or two about global trade. Exxon Mobil is, after all, number 9 on the Forbes Global 2000 list. Whether you like him or not, and whether or not you like what what Exxon does, there is no doubt that the man understands trade and the players in the global markets.

Global trade is a critical engine for driving business and logistics, and it would appear that Rex Tillerson is a friend of global trade.

Alas, there is also reason for logisticians to be worried. We’ve already heard saber rattling over tariffs and the erection of trade barriers, coming from the President-elect. The EU is smoldering as Brexit proceeds, and the President-elect has made some troubling speeches. And there is always the possibility that aggressive immigration enforcement can spill over into trade.

If things get hot with China, will it impact trade?  And if it impacts trade, how will that impact logistics as an industry vertical?  What will Long Beach look like if trade with China dries up?  Given the President-elect’s engagement with Taiwan, we can surely see some fireworks as a possibility.

Officially, China has said that they are “deeply concerned.”  And subsequently, China dropped arms on islands—whose ownership is in dispute—and dared the world to do something. To add insult to injury, China then seized an underwater drone in international waters being operated by the U.S. Navy.

That’s the sort of behavior on the high seas that brought us the first international landing by the Marines a couple of hundred years ago in Tripoli. And we have a nominee as Secretary of Defense who is a Marine. General Mattis once said, "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet." 

And this no-holds-barred approach fits well with the President-elect’s approach. A popular Mattis quote, dating from early in Operation Iraqi Freedom, said during a meeting with Sheiks as General Mattis tried to stabilize the country, “I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you f*!% with me, I’ll kill you all.”

Put it all together, and logisticians find themselves entering uncertain times. I learned a long time ago to both fear and embrace uncertainty. Limit downside risk, and look to find opportunity in turmoil.

As we all reflect on where the federal government may be heading, there is wisdom to be found by logisticians in nursery rhymes.

"Jack be nimble,

Jack be quick,

Jack jump over

The candlestick."

There are storms on the horizon, and logisticians may have to rethink some things to be ready if a storm hits. Across the spectrum of the Federal Government, we may be in for a tumultuous four years.

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About Steve Geary

Steve Geary

Steve Geary is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Tennessee's College of Business Administration, and is on the faculty at The Gordon Institute at Tufts University, where he teaches supply chain management. He is the President of the Supply Chain Visions family of companies, and Chief Operating Officer at ROSE Solutions, consultancies that work across the government sector. Steve is a contributing editor at DC Velocity, and editor-at-large for CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly. He is listed in Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in Science and Engineering, and Who's Who in Executives and Professionals. In November of 2007, Steve was recognized for "Selfless Service to Our Nation and the People of Iraq" by the Deputy Secretary of Defense.


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