John Henderson
President and CEO, AEL-Span

John Henderson is the president and CEO of AEL-Span, LLC, an automotive industry-focused 3PL. He has more than 35 years of business-management experience and has held senior-management and board-level positions in banking, venture capital management, contract logistics and electronics manufacturing. John earned his BA in Business Administration at the University of Washington, a Master’s from the University of Delaware’s Stonier Graduate School of Banking and an MBA from the University of Washington. He is also a former United States Marine.

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What attracted you to Kellogg specifically?

  • I didn’t know much about Kellogg initially. A few years ago, an entity I’m part of hosted a week-long customized training here. Afterward, I was really impressed. I have earned several degrees, but the timing and content of these programs was so relevant to my company’s needs. While I was here, I heard about the Competitive Strategy program and it really stood out to me. It’s one of the most profound programs I’ve ever taken, and I re-designed my company’s value propositions around what I learned.

What is something you took back and applied immediately?

  • One of the main takeaways from my time at Kellogg is the value propositions I built for my company. We originally started as a joint venture, but then we grew and developed our own infrastructure along with our own IT, Finance and HR departments. While I was here, it became clear to me that we really weren’t using the other company’s strategy. The value propositions I designed triggered our growth for the next couple years. It defined who we are as an integrated inbound-to-plant logistics company, which was critical. We were able to find our niche

How did the Kellogg faculty enhance your experience here?

  • There’s one faculty member in particular I really liked. During Merger Week I met Ed Zajac. I’d never known a professor who made a lifelong career out of strategic alliances and joint ventures. It’s a unique skill set and one that I think I have, and it’s how I built my business in an industry where scale is a critical component to success. I happen to believe that it’s also a key to developing business-model innovation in today’s business environment. I talked to him about a white paper I’m working on and what I’m doing with my dot-org, Thought Leadership Series, and he immediately offered to help me. His and other faculty members’ willingness to participate and get involved is genuine. That’s what I think is unique about Kellogg.

What value do you place on continuous learning?

  • I highly value continuous learning–it’s part of my personal growth philosophy. I’m always looking for the latest “mousetrap.” I did my MBA in my 20s and a lot has happened since then. At the time I got it, I wasn’t a CEO. Now I am, and there’s a whole other set of learning that is required to operate effectively. There's a different reflective mirror I look at today as a CEO. I needed a different kind of learning—not just by rote, but around people who’ve actually done what I’m seeking to do. The professors that I’ve met have done it and know it. Some of the content that was really interesting was strategy and re-focusing my leadership style as the company grew. I also think a lot about how to execute innovation and have developed strong personal philosophies about it.

How does being in the Allen Center enhance the program experience?

  • The food is great! It may sound flippant, but the service and people here are fantastic. It’s a wonderful experience coming here. We’re on the lakeshore, so it feels like a retreat. The days are long and intense, but it is a retreat. I plan on sending my wife to a program here, and I wouldn’t send her anywhere where she wouldn’t grow AND enjoy herself.

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