Breakbulk NextGen – Noelle Burke

Noelle Burke

Americas logistics leader
GE Power, Gas Power Systems

Nominated by:
Grant Wattman, president, CEO,
Agility Project Logistics.

Reason for nomination:
Strong interpersonal skills with a range and depth of experience that establishes a strong foundation for personnel and professional growth. Proven leadership skills and a willingness to take on challenges on a shared objective or outcome. Continually seeking to learn and apply new skill sets. Proven ability to work in a complex matrix with an agile approach to management.

How you chose this industry:

I did not choose this industry – I like to think it chose me. When I graduated from college, I moved from my small town to Albany, New York. I applied to many jobs and a small freight forwarding company was my first job. I spent about one week as a receptionist until they moved me to operations. As they say, “it was love at first sight.” Because I knew I would need a larger company to grow and excel in my career, I targeted GE as an employer for the opportunities they could give me. This is where my “eyes were opened” to the breakbulk industry.

What is significant about this industry:

The people that have dedicated their lives to logistics. They truly have a passion for the industry. I have found that there are so many unique issues that arise in logistics. No issue or day is ever the same. Successful breakbulk logisticians have this incredible ability to pivot, adapt and be proactive. Logistics isn’t for everyone – it’s not a 9-5/Monday-to-Friday job. There are so many issues that happen outside of normal business hours that require attention immediately. While logistics is such a broad field, the breakbulk industry feels like a “small tight-knit family.”

A mentor or industry leader who greatly influenced you:

When I started at GE I had a manager, Randy Charboneau, that tremendously helped me grow in my career. I remember early in my career making so many mistakes, and always feeling like he had my back and really wanted me to succeed. He was a believer that mistakes were OK, as long as you learned from them and didn’t make them again. I always felt that he saw something special in me, which only fired my passion to do and be better. He has since left GE, but we still meet on a regular basis for our mentor sessions. He makes me a better employee, people leader and person.

Professional background:

I started at a small local freight forwarding company in 2003 and worked there for five years. I then joined a company contracted by GE called Granite International as a logistics coordinator. After two years I was hired by GE as a global logistics project manager. About 2.5 years later I applied to an internal GE leadership program called the Project Management Leadership Program, which exposes participants to different aspects of engineering, procurement and construction project management, while sharing best practices and lessons learned across GE businesses. After completing the program I took a role as fulfillment manager, where I was responsible for managing all internal functions (engineering, sourcing, logistics, manufacturing, planning) to ensure global projects were delivered on time. In February 2017 I took my current role as Americas logistics leader for Gas Power Systems. In this role I managed a portfolio of more than US$850 million in sales in 2017 and 2018, with direct reports that sit across the U.S., Latin America, and for the past six months, Asia.

Management style:

I have a collaborative management style. While ultimately decisions are mine to make, I believe it is more likely to get buy-in when the team feels like they participated in making a decision. I also think a high say/do ratio is important for the team to have unconditional trust in a manager. In other words, if I say I’m going to do something, I do it. When you have a team that has trust in you, I find they work harder to make the team a success. I always have an open door policy and take pride in mentoring my team and having regular career discussions.

Long-term professional goals:

To always stay true to myself and always understand my “why.” I’m an extremely passionate person in everything I do – which is why it is so important to work in a field and organization that sparks my passion. There is no “end goal” in my long-term plan – just to be happy and passionate about what I’m doing. As long as my passion and tenacity are positively affecting an organization, and I’m working for a company that appreciates and respects my expertise, I am a firm believer that everything will fall into place around that.

Your role as a developing industry leader:

I’m honored to be among the new crowd of women entering the breakbulk industry, and I think this makes me an interesting leader. I hope to be looked at as a mentor for young females interested in this profession. I believe it to be extremely important to have a mentor, both inside and outside the company you work for, that you can rely on for advice and/or guidance, and I hope to bring that to the industry. If I can do it, so can you!

Most important industry issue:

One important issue I believe the industry is facing is the lack of infrastructure to transport breakbulk cargo. We continue to ship more modularized equipment, however, there is a lack in investment to improve the infrastructure to allow us to transport. Projects are requiring massive amounts of cash up front just to determine if there is even a route feasible to deliver equipment. In the U.S. Northeast, in particular, we are finding it more and more difficult to transport breakbulk cargo. In addition, the unpredictability of third-party transportation costs can wreak havoc on a project. Due to decreasing margins on projects, the importance of accurate and predictable costs is more important than ever.