Women's Network

Chicago Booth Alumni Special Interest Group

Jenny Xu, ’11

Jenny Xu, ‘11
Interviewed by Nora Peterson

Jenny Xu, ‘11, is the managing director at FreightWaves, a data provider for freight markets. Her focus is specifically on partnership and business development. Pre-MBA she worked at Kellogg’s for six years in various finance roles, including a JV in China. She subsequently held strategy roles at Deloitte Consulting and US Foods, and as head of commercial emerging technology at Bridgestone.

You began your career in finance at a CPG company (Kellogg’s) and have found your way to the trucking industry—tell us about that transition.

My first experience riding in a semi-truck was at Kellogg’s. As a young professional, it was great first-hand learning to get to know our customers, and the people involved in bringing a box of Cheez-Its to the shelf of a Target store. I was shocked by the drivers’ passion, pride and smiles at a seemingly mundane job; I don’t think they get enough recognition. They are so much more than just a driver; they serve as the front line customer service rep, culture ambassador and the salesperson.

Subsequently, when I joined US Foods I would go on ride-alongs with the drivers and it was my favorite way to learn the new business. This is when my appreciation for trucking and supply chain started. When I was headhunted to build Bridgestone’s Business Strategy capability, starting with the commercial trucking business, I was ready to jump in.

What's one unexpected thing that most people don't realize about careers in transportation & trucking?

Most people are surprised by the impact transportation has on the global economy and in our daily lives. Trucking alone is an over $1 trillion industry and touches everything we consume. Transportation and logistics jobs have been experiencing unprecedented upskilling and will continue at an accelerated pace. Several factors will continue to drive this trend:

  • More data from mobile and digital upgrades
  • Increasingly tech-enabled hard tech (e,g., autonomous, IoT-enabled track and trace) and soft tech (e.g., AI enabled optimization and blockchain)
  • The Amazon effect and rising consumerism globally

As a result, all industries involved in the physical goods economy are looking for new ways to compete. Logistics has been mostly considered Cost Center for decades. But, recently, more and more companies have declared Logistics as the source of strategic differentiation or revenue generation. Supply chain and logistics has one of the widest reaches and all the megatrends still have a long runway to play out their impacts. People with diverse experience and growth mindset have a multitude of opportunities to accel, or pivot, their career in the space.

Speaking of, you recently made a big career change. Can you talk it little more about that experience?

I’d love to! This past March I decided to take a break from an up-and-up corporation career and quit the “dream job” I had created for myself at Bridgestone, which was an open-innovation group I had founded that had a focus on future of mobility and transportation, and led venture investing in early stage startups. It took me over nine months to work up the courage to finally type up the resignation letter. I did so after I realized that I needed to figure out “why do I feel I need a change?” This was followed by another self-discovery of “what truly drives me?” Fast forward, I took four months off and in August 2018 began a new job as the Managing Director at FreightWaves, the #1 source for navigating the freight markets. This new venture aligns with the key ingredients that drive me—ability to make an impact quickly, and proximity to cutting-edge innovation that will materially advance humanity.

How is the trucking industry preparing for the eventual automation of trucks and drivers?

There are many schools of thought on how soon the true autonomous truck/car will be here. I’m in the camp that true driverless trucks are far away, as in 25–30 years from being a reality. The most active innovation is solving for the long-distance highway autonomous driving, which is the most mundane and toughest on one’s lifestyle. Ironically, today, a majority of the trucking industry is solving for driver shortage. Driver turnover is close to 100% in large fleets, which are mostly in long hauls.

I don’t think it’s a problem that can be solved within one industry. I believe that such structural change over many industries need a much larger groups of private industries and the public to prepare for. There will be many other jobs that will be “replaced” by automation or AI. In general, the more rule-based and repetitive a task is, the more likely it will be replaced and sooner. On the bright side, there will be more new job types, and presumably these will be more creative jobs, like YouTuber and Podcaster were new to us a decade ago. I’m a believer that training is a huge component to the solution set.

Post-MBA, which skills have been most critical to your success?

Hands down, sales and how to influence with empathy. The ability to get others to buy into my idea, product, or service, while making them feel good about the choice, is an art form that takes practice. The behavioral economics classes at Booth set a great foundation, but it took me a while to realize that the sales and influence skill is very personal and needs to be practiced with authenticity. 

If you were to go back to Booth as a professor, which course would you teach?

Growth mindset, I do think it’s a learnable skill.

As an angel investor, do you seek out any specific types of investments?

I definitely have a bias toward women entrepreneurs. I believe that we have to vote with our dollars to the extent we can. I am also passionate about leveraging science and technology to exponentially enhance humanity, focus on transportation and aging care industries.

What advice would you give any woman entering a male dominated industry?

Be your authentic self, but do project your confidence louder and quicker. In my experience, trucking or logistics is a strong “show me” culture, regardless of gender or tenure. So don’t take it personally—show your intelligence and value.

How can people connect with you?  LinkedIn

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