Women In Supply Chain™ Feature – Barbara Melvin

So, let’s get started with your journey – what are your earliest career memories, how did you get into supply chain and how did you get to where you are now?

I grew up in Georgia and earned my bachelor’s degree in political science from Georgia Southern University. My first foray into government relations began in the Georgia Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget as a policy analyst before moving to South Carolina to serve as the director of government relations for the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce. These roles made a great foundation for joining the South Carolina Ports Authority in 1998 to focus on government relations. I worked as the vice president of government relations, and then as the senior vice president of external affairs, overseeing all aspects of public, community, and government relations for the maritime agency.

I became fascinated with the maritime industry and worked over the years to gain a deeper understanding of the port and maritime community—investing time to learn all aspects of the operations and the people behind the jobs that keep freight moving. I earned a Masters in Business Administration in Global Supply Chain from the University of Tennessee’s Haslam School of Business. I became the senior vice president of operations and terminals in 2015 before stepping into my current role as the port’s first chief operating officer in 2018.

In my role as COO, I oversee terminal operations, carrier sales, information technology and support services, crane and equipment maintenance, engineering, environmental, Port Police, procurement, the Logistics Solutions Center, cruise operations, government relations, and communications.

It has been rewarding to watch our port grow over the past two decades into a top 10 U.S. container port that is known for efficiency, reliability, and customized solutions. This year is particularly meaningful for me, as many of our long-planned infrastructure projects are coming online, all while our amazing workforce continues to keep supply chains fluid while facing unprecedented challenges. It is an honor to work alongside our team and the broader maritime community.

What do you consider being some of the biggest risks you took in your career?

Since 2011, I have led the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project for SC Ports—a hugely important initiative for both SC Ports and South Carolina. It is a research-intensive project that involves great collaboration among many regulatory agencies. It was paramount to successfully convey the importance of deepening Charleston Harbor to our federal, state, and local partners to secure support and funding. I worked closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Charleston District on the extensive permitting and approvals processes. This project has taught me the power of collaboration as we work with federal, state, and local governments, as well as resource agencies and community partners.

The $558 million project is now fully funded—thanks to our S.C. Legislature, Congressional delegation, and the Obama and Trump administrations, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers.  The project is on track to achieve 52 feet of depth this year, with completion slated for 2022. The 52-foot depth will ensure the port’s global competitiveness, benefitting S.C. businesses for decades to come. To see this project being realized after a decade of hard work and partnership is deeply rewarding.

What challenges did you have along the way?

Everything we undertake at SC Ports involves great collaboration. It is crucial that our workforce feels motivated, valued, and empowered. We are constantly looking to grow leaders from within and encouraging our teammates to be decisive.

Do you have any tips for other women to help overcome challenges that come up along the way?

My tips apply to anyone overcoming challenges in their career:

  • Take the time to know your business and the people in your organization. This enables you to find solutions and take on challenging projects that further growth. Learn how to get to “yes” when so many people are used to saying “no.”
  • Be decisive.
  • Celebrate the victories.

As an industry, how far do you think we have come when it comes to diversity and what can we do to help moving the needle forward?

We have made great strides in this area and I believe we will continue to do so. At SC Ports, three of our six senior management positions are held by women, including myself serving as COO. 

We all must play a role to increase diversity in the supply chain, in part, by paying attention to who we hire, train and promote. I look forward to the day when I am on no longer on a panel being asked about how to advance women in our industry because it will no longer be top of mind.

How important is it to business that we keep driving diversity forward?

Ports are incredibly fast-paced environments where new challenges present themselves every day. It is imperative to have diversity across the board — regarding sex, race, age and culture — to strengthen organizations. Diversity creates space for different ways of thinking and new ideas. I believe in surrounding one’s self with team members who bring different perspectives, experiences and knowledge to the table.

What do you think we will see in the next 5-10 in supply chain?

Ports with excellent infrastructure and well-run terminals will continue to capture more cargo and grow above the market. Cargo owners want reliability and speed to market now more than ever. We have planned our infrastructure, operations and workforce to ensure the swift movement of cargo. We are prepared to efficiently handle our customers’ growing supply chain and capacity needs.

What advice do you have for young supply chain professionals? How do we get the next generation excited about supply chain?

For those in school, it is important that supply chain jobs are discussed in the classroom and that relevant training is offered. This could mean a commercial driver’s license program for motor carriers, a six-month shadowing program for crane operators, which we offer, or the opportunity for mentorship that could lead to supply chain management degrees. SC Ports works with schools and community groups to teach students about port operations and career opportunities, which can spark a lifelong interest.

For those already in the workforce, it is important to pursue additional training and educational opportunities. Be committed to excelling in your job, sharing ideas and being decisive.

What’s next for Barbara?

I plan to continue nurturing our excellent team and pursuing innovative solutions in the supply chain to ensure we remain the preferred U.S. container port.

Meet Our Sponsor

This Women In Supply Chain™ feature was made possible by our sponsor, Fastenal. As a company focused on empowering supply chain partnerships, Fastenal is proud to sponsor Women In Supply Chain™. With more than 100,000 point-of-use vending machines around the world, Fastenal is dedicated to helping organizations lower their total cost of ownership. Learn more here.

About The Author:

Naomi GarniceNaomi Garnice is the Director of Marketing for MicroAge where she leads the marketing team and creative strategy. Naomi has been a content marketer for 14 years and is passionate about creating engaging content that matters. Throughout her career in marketing for technology, healthcare and supply chain organizations, Naomi has advocated to highlight female thought leaders in male-dominated industries.

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