40 Under 40: Q&A with Joel Clum, COO of Worldwide Express

Dallas Business Journal
July 21, 2023

Named a Dallas Business Journal "40 Under 40" award winner for 2023, Worldwide Express COO Joel Clum talks about his rise to leadership, how he's making a difference within the company and the logistics industry, and what he sees on the road ahead for Worldwide Express.

What do you do within your role at your company?

In my role as COO, I work across all parts of our organization to ensure that we're delivering an incredible experience to our customers and moving forward as a business to be better tomorrow than we are today.

Tell us about a problem or challenge that you have faced or are currently facing as a leader. How have you or how are you currently overcoming that issue?

When I joined WWEX in 2015, we had about 50 corporate employees and did $700 million in revenue through a completely franchise-based system. Today, we have nearly 3,000 employees and did close to $5 billion last year through our direct and partner channels. One of the biggest challenges we've had over the years is keeping a culture focused on growth and scrappiness, despite how much the company has evolved.

I give all the credit to our CEO for maintaining that culture, with a style of running the business that keeps everyone focused on growth and customer experience. But, as a private equity-backed organization, we've also had the benefit to deploy mechanisms to include large groups of our team to benefit financially with the success of the organization. Having people who don't just act as owners, but literally be owners and band together as one has made all the difference in navigating the challenges we've encountered over the past few years. It took years of very deliberate decisions, dating back to how our founder started the company, to create and maintain such a strong ownership culture, but it has become one of our most enduring strengths as an organization.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A decade ago, I lived in Chicago and worked at a boot-strapped logistics startup that had launched multiple models to find one that actually made money, we ended up finding it. Despite working constantly, I enjoyed every moment because I was learning so much and traveling to wherever the most interesting challenges existed.

Today, life looks different. I'm at an amazing company that has a clear model, with an incredible team of people who run the business. I still work a lot, but it's more to execute strategic initiatives or remove obstacles so our team can deliver incredible customer experiences. And though I still travel, having a family gives me a reason to make trips short so I don't miss a moment at home.

In the next 10 years, I hope I'll still get to do work that will provide me with a lot of growth. But more importantly than before, I'm more excited about the growth of others and how I can be part of what makes them say, "Wow, those were the good old days" about their time at WWEX. I was lucky to have people help me throughout my career, and I'm genuinely enjoying paying that forward to others.

What are the challenges you see in your market now and how do you expect to overcome them?

Over the past couple of years, companies have had to actively manage their supply chains like never before. Whether it was delays in inventory because of COVID-19 shutdowns, not being able to find carrier capacity or having to reconfigure their cost structures because of changing demand from their customers, most businesses have struggled to keep up with an ever-changing supply chain.

WWEX exists to help businesses, particularly small to mid-sized ones without large supply chain teams, manage their logistics so they can focus on what they do best.  With the tumultuousness of the market, we had a lot of new customers choose to partner with us, resulting in us needing to make significant investments in our own business to make sure we had the most talented people, a complete solution set and robust technology offering to meet their needs. And though growth is a good problem to have, making those investments all while keeping our customers' needs in constant focus required everyone at the company to perform at a higher level of execution than ever before. All that said, it's comforting to know just how well our team can operate to take care of our customers, no matter what the conditions.

What is a lesson you learned throughout your career that you wish you learned sooner?

When you're in your 20s, there's this belief that you need to have this clear path laid out for your career. But the reality is that the best journeys aren't linear, and generally include a lot of unexpected twists and turns that get you to the really good stuff both professionally and personally.

The best parts of my life have come from the unexpected twists that were the result of trusting in the process and not just going down the path that made logical sense, but the one that my gut told me would be interesting and expose me to something new that would challenge me and help me grow. I probably wouldn't do many things differently if I had the chance, but I could've avoided a few sleepless nights if I knew to trust more in the process.

Outside of your company's culture and its people, how do you maintain a cutting-edge approach that sets you apart in your industry?

We aren't afraid to try something new, even at the risk of failure. Just kidding. I think a lot of companies do that or at least say that they do. But I genuinely think the way we do that is what really sets us apart. We don't innovate for the sake of innovation but rather take the approach of constant incremental iterations that builds off the approaches we know work today.

What happens with that, in our experience, is that you don't always feel like you're doing anything broadly sweeping or massively innovative at the time. But when you commit to constant incremental iterations, and your team is empowered to make changes when they encounter new issues, you end up making huge strides forward with the results feeling more like a natural evolution of your business, rather than a jarring change. As I look across our company, the most innovative and impactful parts of what we do came about organically as a natural extension of what we were doing before.

What are the opportunities that you and your company see through the end of 2023 into 2024? How do you expect to implement those?

We're really excited about the things we're doing to inject new technology into the experience for our customers. We've always used technology as an enabler of the business, but over the past few years, we've been working hard on building and rolling out a new system that we believe will give us even more ways to provide our customers with a next-level experience. At the core of it is our belief that just because you're a big company, you don't have to give customers an institutional experience. We're finding ways to use technology to either avoid a problem completely or when an issue does arise, as they always will in the logistics space, we can use those tools to provide customers a more personal, tailored experience to make things right for them.

Favorite place for work happy hour? The Charles

Favorite place for work coffee? White Rhino Coffee in The Stack

What is a trend you participated in your personal life that you wish you hadn't? The frosted-tip hairstyle trend in high school

What's a song that makes you feel good every time you hear it? Everyday by Logic

What is a personality trait or quirk that you're known for in the workplace? Walking laps around the office, throwing out the drive-by "Hey, what's happening?"

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