Kellogg Magazine | Features

Alumnus Founder of FourKites Helps Customers Get Their COVID Logistics Right

Matt Elenjickal

One of the biggest challenges of the COVID crisis has been logistics.

With some sectors shut down and others faced with skyrocketing demand, managing the movement of goods — from toilet paper to deodorant to frozen sausage — among countries and states has become much more complex and constrained.

Here, companies like FourKites, founded by Matt Elenjickal '14, have been critical to business continuity.

“We offer real-time visibility, tracking, and other logistics solutions for global companies of all sizes,” says Elenjickal, the company’s CEO. “Mostly on the B2B side: food and beverage, CPG, retail, and others. We have over 380 of the world’s leading companies on our platform, including Procter & Gamble, Kraft Heinz, Smithfield, Tyson, and many others.”

Elenjickal launched the business as he graduated from Kellogg in 2014. Today, it has close to 500 employees worldwide, mostly in the Chicago headquarters and India office.

As CEO, Elenjickal has overseen strategic initiatives to benefit FourKites employees and customers alike during the COVID pandemic.

Ensuring employee health and mobility

Luckily, mobilizing FourKites’s global team for remote work was a smooth process, Elenjickal says: “Everyone already has a laptop and all the technology required to work from home. So we were mostly focused on making sure people had the right direction and were focused on the right things.”

To sharpen that focus, Elenjickal and other leaders created a COVID taskforce to manage internal communications and set clear objectives. “We have biweekly meetings to ensure people are happy, healthy, and getting what they need,” he says.

Having a healthy, effective FourKites workforce has been critical to help the business’s other key stakeholder group: customers, which include some of the sectors and companies most impacted by the pandemic. “Our customers are going through a challenging time,” Elenjickal says, “given all the shortages of toilet paper, food, cleaning supplies, and other essential products.”

Harnessing supply chain information

FourKites’ core data and tracking capabilities have been paramount to helping customers through their COVID challenges.

For example, the platform is able to detect global supply chain patterns to anticipate the highest-impact trends, such as the fast drop-off in shipping container volumes from China as the coronavirus spread through that region. “We saw that on our platform,” Elenjickal says, “along with a huge spike in demand for domestic shipments from CPG and food and beverage companies. We wanted to use our massive amount of data to serve the supply chain community and help our customers maintain business continuity.”

That motivation has yielded multiple FourKites initiatives as the company helps its customers manage their delivery logistics among global transportation challenges. “There are a lot of disruptions with trucks waiting at the borders between the US, Canada, and Mexico,” Elenjickal says. “States like Pennsylvania have closed truck stops due to COVID. That impacts the supply chain.”

To help, FourKites analyzed and aggregated key data points onto a free Network Congestion Map that provides critical information such as border-crossing times between the US, Mexico, Canada and Europe; congestion times at 230 global ports and marine terminals; and truck movement and wait time trends throughout the US. The company also made its ocean-tracking platform free of charge.

Providing information on truck traffic patterns has also been critical, as Elenjickal notes: “Once all the automotive production stopped, the trucks serving those industries started serving others like food and beverage. That changes traffic patterns; there’s nothing going out of Detroit, but a lot going to South Dakota and other states where companies like P&G and Tyson have manufacturing plants. We make information on all this available.” Companies can use the information to inform their logistics and set internal and external expectations, like those for delivery times.

Repurposing and redirecting

FourKites has also helped businesses strategically repurpose COVID-idled assets. Elenjickal says, “Food distributors like Sysco have all these trucks, tens of thousands, that normally service restaurant chains but can’t because many restaurants have completely shut down. We can help them reposition those assets to serve grocery chains or others.” The company then goes one further by making it easier for truck drivers to use e-documentation at facilities and elsewhere, to avoid personal contact and to maximize efficiency.

Alongside these efforts, FourKites worked with the New York City Economic Development Corporation to proactively manage food distribution. “They were trying to match demand signals with supply,” Elenjickal says. “So we provided information on food shipments flowing to all NYC Zip codes, so the organization could closely monitor geographic disparities or product-level trends over time that need further investigation.” Similarly, Elenjickal has overseen efforts to help customers in the healthcare space track their shipments of personal protective equipment to ensure they’re able to address rising demand across the globe.

Given the remote workforce and heightened supply chain tracking needs of its customers, FourKites has also seen a surge in new users, and a resulting need to train those users to maximize the value of the FourKites platform. In addition to increased user trainings, the company also launched an online COVID-19 community where customers can share advice and best practices on crisis management, and can easily find onboarding and technical FAQ materials relevant to managing a supply chain in a pandemic.

Promoting collaboration

Throughout the current pandemic, the FourKites founder has relied on a key principle he embraced at Kellogg: collaboration.

“Everything at Kellogg was team-oriented,” Elenjickal says. “Case studies, even final exams. And the current crisis is highlighting the need for collaboration between companies.” Elenjickal provides the example of Network Visibility, where supply chain partners can share information on the vendors and distributors they share in common in order to maximize efficiencies when it comes to planning and inventory management. He’s also helping to create industry councils and other groups to brainstorm supply chain strategies.

“At a high level, supply chain is a team sport,” Elenjickal says. “It’s about companies helping each other navigate this crisis and other problems.”