This is the fourth story in our series, Mapping Success, which shares how the Global Supply Chain Institute and UT’s supply chain management programs impact the lives and careers of professionals in the industry.
Read the others about how the MS SCM Online helped Ron Wallace transition from public education to procurement, EMBA-GSC accelerated Smita Davis’s move into senior leadership, and taking a leap of faith landed Russell McLendon a new career opportunity.
It has been over a decade since Christopher Vettel (’11), senior vice president of customer success for Redwood Logistics, was a business student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Originally from Chicago, Vettel visited Rocky Top only once before falling in love with the campus. After learning about the program’s prominent national ranking, he majored in supply chain management. Ever since, he’s built a successful career through hard work, versatility, and a willingness to take on new challenges as his company evolved and grew.
Vettel recently visited UT to speak to students in GSCI Director Thomas Deakins’s supply chain information technology course. Afterward, he discussed how studying supply chain at the Haslam College of Business has contributed to his success, shared his advice for current and future students, and discussed his excitement about partnering with the university in the coming year.
Have you kept up a relationship with UT since graduating?
Anybody in my life will tell you that I live and die on whatever happens on Saturdays in the fall. I love Tennessee sports. But from an organizational standpoint, I haven’t been able to get involved with the university until now.
When Thomas invited me, I was excited about the opportunity to share my experience and provide students with context about what happens on the business side of transportation. It may not get as much focus as other topics in the supply chain world today, but it’s pivotal for everything we do in North America.
What was the focus of your presentation for the supply chain information technology class?
My team and I presented the students with a use case: ordering a phone online after it’s broken at a football game. We talked them through how that order triggers several background processes: deciding which phone needs to be shipped and from where, when it should be shipped, and how it will ultimately reach the customer. We paired this with a demonstration of the Oracle Transportation Management System.
In part two, we introduced an essential component of digital supply chains: integration systems. At Redwood, we have a proprietary technology that serves as the piping, or the data integration layer, from cell phone provider to the Oracle TMS to the carrier’s system, connecting data among all these systems to facilitate smooth operations. Without this technology, humans would have to manually input data across different systems, which is tedious and can’t scale effectively. Businesses derive exponentially more value from their technologies when they are integrated and connected through a platform like ours.
What was it like being on the opposite side of the classroom after the time you spent as a supply chain student years ago?
I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed my time at UT, but one course resonates with me the most in terms of content and experience.
My senior year, I had a supply chain strategy course where we used case studies from various companies to introduce us to real-world supply chain challenges. Our task was to analyze these cases, propose solutions, and play the role of consultant—a role I find closely aligns with my professional life today. What stuck with me is the emphasis on problem-solving, which is the core of our work as supply chain managers. We were given criteria and context for each problem, but we navigated our way to a solution independently. That freedom significantly shaped my approach today.
So how did you wind up in the position you’re in today as an SVP in the industry?
It started with the Career Fair on campus. I had two main criteria: finding a company that resonated with me and a location where I wanted to live. I was balancing whether I wanted to be in Atlanta or Nashville. I had done two internships while at UT, one for a biotech company in California and the other for International Paper in Memphis. I could see myself at Coca-Cola, P&G, or Bridgestone.
But then I found 3PLogic, which was based in Chicago and eventually became Redwood Logistics. I didn’t even realize then that my hometown was a global hub for third-party logistics. It was a relatively small company when I joined—around 100 employees. I became part of what felt like an internal startup that has grown immensely. I started as an implementation specialist and took advantage of every opportunity that came along the way.
The one highlight for me is the role my education at UT played. When I put in my application, they knew the quality of learning students were getting here and that I’d be ready to go on Day One if they hired me.
What is your role like today at Redwood Logistics? What does your company do?
Redwood Logistics offers a unique intersection of technology and logistics services. Traditionally, businesses might seek these services from different providers. But with us, they get everything under one roof. We provide digital freight brokerage and flexible freight management, all wrapped into a revolutionary logistics and technology delivery model known as a modern 4PL. It’s like having a KPMG, Accenture, or Deloitte-like division within our broader logistics space.
We want to understand a business’s supply chain thoroughly—its physical and digital components—and then tailor a solution that fits their operations. This solution may involve us executing it on their behalf or assisting them in doing so themselves, whatever works best for their business.
“We’re not just tech people who know nothing about logistics or vice versa; we sit right in the middle. We provide logistics services while also understanding all the associated technology implications.”
I’ve been with Redwood for over 12 years and held various positions, everything from implementation to consulting, leading teams, overseeing our consulting practice, aspects of freight management, and managing customer success across our technology customers.
Currently, my focus is on ‘business transformation,’ which involves looking at both the consulting/technology and freight management sides of the business, analyzing financial numbers, and understanding different parts of the operations to identify opportunities to enhance our bottom line from an EBITA standpoint. It’s exciting to play different roles within the organization and contribute to improving it.
Is there any advice that you have for undergraduate students who may be interested in the kind of career journey you’ve had?
My main advice would be to cast your net wide when it comes to knowledge. Try not to narrow your expertise too quickly; instead, aim for breadth. Understand that lateral moves within a company or an industry can often be more beneficial than vertical ones, especially early in your career. These moves can broaden your knowledge and experience in ways that will accelerate your progress further down the line.
“Soak up as much learning as possible during the initial years of your professional journey. Keep your head down and focus on learning, helping out wherever you can, trying new things and expanding your skill set. Take every chance you get to learn something new—it could pay off significantly in the future. From my experience, there are many paths to success.”
Even though I’ve been with my company a long time, it’s okay to spend three or four years at different places that offer different experiences and perspectives. Returning to a previous organization is also an option. Many employees left Redwood Logistics for a time before returning to new roles that better fit their skill sets. They found that they enjoyed doing something different within an organization they were already familiar with. Be open-minded. Don’t be afraid of change. And most importantly, enjoy what you do.
Redwood Logistics is planning to join the Supply Chain Forum this year. Why is now the right time to partner with the University of Tennessee?
Firstly, it’s about immersing ourselves in the supply chain ecosystem. Every business in this space can learn from one another. Hearing about other companies’ experiences and challenges—and having the opportunity to collaborate with them—is incredibly valuable.
Secondly, the forum provides us with a pipeline of talented students. At Redwood Logistics, we offer a unique experience. Our organizational structure allows for incredible flexibility when it comes to career paths—something you may not find within other logistics organizations. For technically minded students who are interested in technology and software, they can get their start with us.
For instance, they could choose a path that leads to a role as a product manager focusing on tech, or they could opt for customer-facing roles like consulting and implementations. Or they may even decide to join our freight management division or brokerage department if they enjoy operations and managing daily freight movement. So many career paths are available that allow students to chart their own course based on their interests and ambitions, just like I did when I graduated from UT in 2011.
Is it still a good time for students to major in supply chain?
The COVID-19 pandemic showed the importance and complexity of global supply chains. Disruptions caused by the pandemic—like halted shipments from China—showed us how interconnected these systems are to our everyday lives. People will always need goods, and those goods have to come from somewhere. This basic human necessity isn’t going away anytime soon.
“While what the physical supply chain looks like may evolve, with changes in landscapes, strategies, and routes, the core function remains the same. It’s a puzzle that continues to need solving.”
Every physical object you see around you at any given moment has been part of a supply chain. It’s moved from one place to another before reaching its final destination.
Technologies are booming as businesses aim to make their operations as efficient as possible through digital solutions for scalability. If you’re digitally inclined, there are so many opportunities today within the industry. It’s a really exciting time for young professionals who want to continue learning, solving problems, and working with technology to make real-world impacts.
Learn more about the career benefits of majoring in supply chain management at UT Knoxville. Current students have opportunities to engage and grow from the moment they step foot on campus.
If your company is interested in exploring a partnership with the Global Supply Chain Institute, fill out the form below.