Jim Berlin, founder and CEO of Logistics Plus Inc., is a 2017 Pittsburgh Smart 50 honoree
Jim Berlin started Logistics Plus Inc. with one customer and three employees.
“I’d been a truck driver for 10 years, and then a terminal manager for 10 years. I had a big mouth both places, even though I was very successful,” he says. “I got fired in ’96 and I had to decide what to do with my life.”
Rather than take a similar job, Berlin took a risk. His only business experience was running a company store that sold hats and shirts with the business’s logo.
More than a job
Berlin was fired after he made too much noise about a failed delivery. He went to bat for a customer — that happened to be GE. It wasn’t the only reason Berlin started with a $120,000 purchase order to manage GE’s inbound domestic transportation, but it helped. A few years later, when GE globalized, Berlin suddenly was operating in eight countries.
“It was just luck of the draw that the timing was right on that,” he says. “So, there’s luck involved, but also, we did well at the opportunities we were given.”
Twenty-two years later, GE is still a customer. Logistics Plus employs about 400 people and could earn close to $200 million in revenue.
Berlin’s company remains unorthodox. It doesn’t have budgets or business plans, there’s no bureaucracy and meetings are rare.
“You have to suspend belief a little bit, but it’s fun that way. It’s more of an adventure than a job,” Berlin says.
It’s about saying yes to customers, communicating and overcoming obstacles. In addition, growth is important to Berlin, who still is driven by the Great Recession. Those were Logistics Plus’ most profitable years, but he hated laying people off.
Culture is a big part of Logistics Plus’ success, but it’s hard to maintain and nearly impossible to instill in its overseas locations.
Recently, Logistics Plus hired 20 people. Berlin did the interviews to ensure the culture isn’t diluted. His experience requirements are low; it’s more about attitude — having a thick skin and an ability to multitask.
One woman quit after her second day. Berlin was glad she recognized it wasn’t a good fit. He tried to scare people off, letting them know they’d need to stay available.
“You’ve got to solve the problem today, not Monday,” he says.
It’s also helpful that the company’s headquarters — 120 people in an old train station — is in Erie. Few competitors try to recruit away its employees, and it auditions local university talent through internship programs.