Four rising stars share their views on how to attract and retain their peers.
By Gina Veazey

There is no single path to a career in the cold storage industry. The stories of how four ambitious young professionals came to the industry — and what makes them stay — offer encouragement to leaders who remain challenged by the ongoing labor shortage. They also share their perspectives on leadership and the cold storage industry’s unique challenges and opportunities to attract and retain talented pros in a modern labor market.

Coming to Cold Storage

It is fair to say that the cold storage industry found Cliff Alt. Today, Alt is the Operations Manager for InterChange Group. Before that, he was a rising star in the poultry industry, having worked for two major producers. By age 25, he had been tapped to manage a poultry plant employing about 500 workers.

At the time, Alt says the move to InterChange Group was a hard decision to make. Ultimately, it was the culture that clinched it for him. After meeting with the owners and senior leadership team, Alt says “I just felt really good about the culture more than anything. So, it was worth the gamble to me.”

A second cold storage standout, Judina Arends, heard about the cold storage industry through a friend. She had an interview with Bradner Cold Storage, where she is now Operations Manager. Arends started as a customer service representative in 2017, a role she says she “was a natural at.” She picked up the details quickly and developed strong, lasting relationships with customers. “I loved problem solving and finding solutions for both the warehouse team and our customers,” she recalls.

Brian Magnus already knew a lot about cold storage because his father worked in the industry for 40-plus years. But Magnus didn’t set out to follow in his father’s footsteps.

With a college degree in hand but no clear career path to follow, Magnus accepted a position in logistics. Little did he know that decision would ultimately help him get connected to United States Cold Storage, where he is now General Manager, Midwest Logistics.

“I never imagined ending up in the same industry as my father, however I lean on him for advice each and every day given the abundance of knowledge he has,” says Magnus.

Kulsoom Khan says she was looking for something “more challenging and more suitable for my career ambitions,” when she joined Congebec Inc. in 2020 as its Energy Efficiency Manager.

With little experience in the cold chain industry, Khan says her background in refrigeration made the transition easier. “I did not have much experience in the cold chain industry but was familiar with refrigeration, which helped with my transition in the new role,” she says.

Staying In the Industry

While it was the culture that initially got Alt to say yes to InterChange Group, it is the job that keeps him coming back.

“It’s what I do here, it’s the development piece,” he says. “That’s a whole different challenge. Seeing something you’re putting your mark on as it grows has been just so much fun.”

As Operations Manager, Alt heads cold storage, leads expansion projects and is part of the strategic leadership team. “It’s everything cold,” he jokes.

For Arends, the scope of opportunity is a motivating force.

“I’m a curious person by nature, and I absorb information from the people around me and learn from them,” she says. “I always went above and beyond, and the dedication that I gave to my work was recognized by leadership.”

Within her first year with Bradner, Arends was at the top of the list to attend Cold Chain Institute (formerly WFLO Institute). She graduated from the program in 2020.

“I was never denied an opportunity,” she recalls. In fact, Arends was promoted to the Manager of Operations post when her mentor was promoted from that role to Director of Operations. “I don’t know what my next role will be at Bradner, but I do know that we will continue to grow, and my future is bright!”

For Magnus and Khan, the industry’s overall impact and the opportunity they have to be part of it are motivators. “The cold storage industry is vital to our economy,” Magnus says. “Being part of an operation that delivers food to families across the world keeps me motivated.”

“I think what motivates me to stay is knowing that the work I do is very important not only for our industry but for the planet as a whole,” says Khan. “In addition, I see the importance of our business in the global food supply chain and know that my role supports in maintaining and optimizing this supply chain.”

Team Spirit

For as long as there have been teams, leaders have been asking and answering how to keep a team focused and morale high. According to Alt, that might be for a good reason. “Everybody’s different so there’s not one answer. You’ve got to learn what drives each person to keep them motivated,” he says.

Magnus agrees. “Knowing your employees is important when managing a team, the relationships you build allow for goals to become attainable,” he says. “Seeing individuals grow their careers motivates me every day to ensure I am providing the necessary tools for them to reach their full potential.”

Similarly, Khan says she focuses on “having high engagement with my team members and making sure they have the opportunity to see the results that I am seeing for the organization.”

At Bradner Cold Storage, Arends says keeping morale high starts with hiring the right people. “We have found that it’s important to hire based on personality and attitude rather than on the specific skillset the individual has,” she says. “If someone has the right attitude, we are willing to train skills. People enjoy coming to work when the people they work with are positive, hardworking and everyone is striving for the same end goal.”

“I give a lot of ownership to the supervisors that report under me,” Arends says. “I coach and train them to make informed decisions and execute on those decisions within their own team. Having highly successful operational teams in each of the warehouses ensures that we are meeting organizational goals.”

Balancing Work and Life

Work-life balance takes on a different meaning in the cold storage industry. Unlike in industries dominated by desk jobs, many cold storage employees do not have an opportunity for hybrid work.

Instead, Alt says, “to us it’s more about learning to cover for each other as a team.” Something he says comes back to culture.

The company’s 420,000 square-foot facility operates on two schedules. On one side, the 24/7 schedule matches a customer. It has four shifts on 12-hour schedules. Another area of the facility operates Monday through Friday on eight-hour shifts.

“A 12-hour shift is hard. Those supervisors on 12-hour shifts work Monday, Tuesday, off Wednesday, Thursday, work Friday, Saturday, Sunday and then it’s the opposite the following week.”

In that environment, Alt says supporting employees in maintaining a work-life balance – and maintaining his own balance – is all about fostering a flexible culture. For example, the standardized schedules make it easier for supervisors, operators and front-line employees to cover for one another when somebody needs to take a day off when they were scheduled to work.

“Little things like that can effect work-life balance,” Alt says. To make it work in an operation the size of InterChange Group, Alt says cross-training is key. It gives management the most flexibility to schedule employees in other departments and to approve flexible schedules.

Magnus echoes Alt’s sentiment, commenting on the importance of teamwork. “Building a family first culture is important to me, family must always come before building success. Delegating responsibilities and working as a team is the best way to execute a manageable work-life balance,” he says.

Khan’s unique role in energy efficiency does allow her to work remotely, she says, but that arrangement can come with its own unique challenges. To ensure work doesn’t creep into evening hours, Khan maintains a daily schedule and to-do list. “I also try to stay active by going to gym and hiking on trails around my neighborhood to keep myself going,” she says, and promotes the same habits with her team. “I am a huge believer in ‘work hard, play hard.’”

Arends says it is important to understand that “there are different seasons to life and work. There will be weeks where my focus is dedicated to my work to get through the projects we are working on. There will be a slower season, and I have given myself permission that it’s okay to reduce hours during those slower periods and incorporate more rest and time away from work into my schedule.”

Recruiting for Cold Storage

Views of cold storage career opportunities are probably both undesirable and uninformed, acknowledges Alt. “You’ve got to ask yourself, ‘How does the outside world look at our industry?’”

Magnus agrees with Alt. “The supply chain industry has a perception of being ‘old school’ and ‘blue collar’ and is usually marketed by word of mouth,” he says.

From data analytics to human resources, accounting to automation, cold storage careers offer opportunities for a range of disciplines. And, of course, the industry needs marketing expertise to overcome misconceptions.

Magnus says the cold chain industry could benefit from changing how and where it communicates. “Social media! The easiest way to connect with young, inspired individuals is through the variety of platforms in social media. Utilizing current marketing strategies and leaning towards social media will help attract and sell the modern supply chain experience. Technology, innovation, and analytics is a huge component of modern supply chain. There is a huge market of young professionals with these skill sets, and social media is the answer.”

“We want opportunities to continue to grow within the companies we work for,” says Arends. “It’s important for potential new hires to know during the interview process that there is a lot of opportunity to grow within the company. We always take the time to showcase a few of our leaders and how we moved up from entry-level positions to leadership positions.”

Khan sees the ongoing use of technology in warehouses as important for attracting and retaining the younger generation. She also says training to share industry knowledge and maintain interest in the cold storage business will be important.

“Young and talented professionals care a lot about current issues such as global warming, failing economy, human welfare, green energy, etc., so it is important for the industry to ensure these professionals know how their work is impacting these causes in a positive way,” observes Khan.


June 29, 2023