CEO Profile: Billy Robinson, CEO of Port City Logistics

Charlotte Nauert

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

If you ever run into Billy Robinson at a cocktail party, you won’t suffer for conversation. The CEO of Port City Logistics understands one thing few Americans do: the many complicated steps involved in getting goods into the hands of consumers.

“If you look around yourself every day, most everything you encounter was, at one time or another, on a truck,” Robinson explains. “Goods have to move. Our business is very physical.”

That very physical business began in late 2001 when the company was formed. Robinson served initially as a silent partner, before leaving his job of 17 years as a branch manager at Samson Industrial to take the leap into logistics.

“The port in Savannah was growing like crazy,” Robinson recollects. That was ten years ago, when he officially came on board as a co-owner of Port City Courier & Storage—now simply Port City Logistics, or PCL. “One of [Samson Industrial’s] vendors was Port City Express, owned by Larry Hearn. Larry and I became friends and decided to go into business together,” Robinson says. “When I decided to join full time in 2004, Larry and I bought out the other three partners. I had gained a tremendous amount of business knowledge over the years at Samson Industrial and was ready and willing to give it a go on my own.” The rest, as they say, is history.

Logistics is a complicated process, involving a multitude of different factors. Port City Logistics has a hand in every aspect of supply chain management—the flow of goods from manufacturer to consumer. “We’re a Third Party Logistics company (3PL). We’re the middle man between the owner of the goods and their customer,” Robinson says humbly. But logistics is a lucrative—and vital—game. “We make money from all of the different activities being performed: handling the cargo inbound and outbound, storing the product, and trucking the inbound container from the port to our warehouse.”

As CEO, Robinson divides his time between the different business units that make up Port City Logistics: sales, operations, and finance. In a company of 160 employees, with a director over each of these key segments, Robinson remains highly involved. “I work closely with each director to make sure they have everything they need to properly operate their division,” he explains. “Between recruiting new business with the sales team, constantly monitoring operations to find better and more efficient ways to service our customers, and working with finance to make sure all of our costs are in line, we stay very busy.” Robinson is right—with six locations adding up to 1.2 million square feet, he has his hands full.

In a rapidly evolving industry with stakeholders all over the globe, cutting edge technology is key to everyday operations at Port City Logistics. Robinson and his crew rely on a Warehouse Management System (software that manages the ins and outs of cargo), a Transportation Management System (software that manages all aspects of trucking), and Electronic Data Interchange (an electronic communication system that allows for exchanging data via any electronic means). Other tools of the trade include barcode scanning, an advanced Internet portal offering customers access to their inventory, and equipment tracking devices using GPS technology.

With this highly evolved approach, Port City Logistics offers an age-old commodity: quality service. “One of the most interesting aspects of this job is the number of different people you meet from all over the world,” Robinson says. Considering PCL manages cargo ranging from food products to chemicals and building materials to retail clothing, it’s no surprise Robinson has made friends—and contacts—far and wide.

“What I love is the fact that you never know what might come your way next,” he reflects. That said, translating an ability to juggle logistics into an ability to juggle the work-life balance is no easy feat. “In this world of global trade where technology is 24/7, things never stop,” Robinson says. “The key, in my opinion, is to surround yourself with a great team of people within the organization. When the team is solid and hitting on all cylinders and understands what is expected of them, you can share responsibilities amongst each other. When you have that trained, solid staff within the walls of the company, you can be away from the business and feel comfortable that things are in good hands and are going to get done.” 

With powerhouse clients including BASF, Hilton Properties, Marriott Properties, International Paper, Georgia Pacific, Pier One, and Gulfstream, it’s clear that Robinson understands what it takes to be a leader. “Set responsibilities for each team member and hold them accountable,” he advises. “Pay attention to the details and make sure you understand every aspect of your business—especially costs. Treat people as you wish to be treated. Act swiftly when a decision clearly needs to be made. Share the wins with the team.” But best of all, Robinson adds, “Have fun along the way!”

One of Port City Logistics’ biggest victories was winning the Heineken account through a company called Satellite Logistics out of Houston, Texas. “The cool thing is, wherever you are within the seven southeastern states, every time you see a Heineken beer product you know at some point in the recent past that product was in our warehouse,” Robinson says, “—and it wouldn’t be on that shelf or in that cooler if it weren’t for PCL doing their job.”

So if you run into Robinson at that cocktail party, settle back, order a Heineken, and ask him a thing or two about logistics.