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Thinking outside the boxcar

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in Workplace Communication

On a four-hour drive through Nebraska, as hundreds of refrigerated trucks whizzed eastward, Diane Duren realized that her employer, Union Pacific Railroad, could grab some of that business.

The usual idea is to push more along established routes. Duren’s “new” idea actually resurrected an old one: create a “fresh express” produce route that would take relatively small batches of fruits and vegetables straight from western farmers to eastern distributors.

It took some selling. Duren, vice president of marketing and sales, worked with farmers to save 30% in shipping costs. Within months, Duren launched the lucrative route.

It snagged $20 million the first year with just one destination. In the third quarter of 2007 alone, Union Pacific’s revenue from commodities, including produce, shot up 12% over 2006. Soaring fuel prices goosed the trend, but now Duren is expanding the veggie express, gunning for $200 million a year.

Lessons: “The fun part,” Duren says, “is coming up with an idea we aren’t looking for.” The payoff lies in following through.

—Adapted from “Pink’s Top 15 Women in Business: The Innovators,” Joanne Cleaver, Pink.

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