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Phoenix Forward

Elena Asher built her career on flexible skills — and now she’s teaching others to do the same

Elena Asher teaches flexible skills

Elena Asher defies natural disasters, embraces outsourcing and thrives on logistical adversity. She admits it’s the kind of flexible job skills not typically affiliated with the public’s nuts-and-bolts concept of manufacturing, but for this senior customs and logistics manager at Gear For Sports Inc., they help her deliver the company’s customized clothing goods — literally.

“You have all this adversity that happens every day that [logistics employees] must figure around: global weather events, domestic trucking issues, shipping routes changing, foreign companies folding, raw material prices going up,” explains Asher, a Kansas-based University of Phoenix School of Business instructor and 2003 graduate of its MBA program. “For me, there is a great thrill and sense of satisfaction in overcoming these hurdles,” she adds. “I literally make the global supply chain work on a daily basis.”

Asher says she’d fail at her job without flexible skills. Adaptability, she tells her students, may take years to develop, but they have to start by recognizing its overall importance within manufacturing.

For me, there is a great thrill and sense of satisfaction in overcoming these hurdles. I literally make the global supply chain work on a daily basis.

Yet Asher readily admits that dodging global commerce's logistical bullets wasn’t always her prime career choice. Seventeen years ago, she wasn’t sure what to do with her political science and Spanish undergraduate degree.

“When I set out working after college,” she explains. “I didn’t have a set agenda for what I wanted to do.” So she half-heartedly took a job as an international traffic manager for a Missouri company’s export department. There she negotiated shipping contracts, and coordinated shipments with steamships, air carriers and international freight forwarders. It wasn’t glamorous, she admits, but she was good at it and liked the daily challenges. “Logistics: It gets in your blood.”

Yet, over the years, Asher says the advancing complexity of global commerce made her realize that she wanted an MBA to understand the business theories behind the job, and that she had to possess flexible skills to maintain her value. She teaches her students to demonstrate strong leadership, be strong with finances, develop problem-solving skills, relate to various cultural differences and even embrace outsourcing. Any combination of factors, she explains, may change your job at a moment’s notice.

“You have to ‘be’ the triple-A supply chain concept,” she tells her students, referring to a concept, created by Stanford University’s Dr. Hau Lee, that encourages companies to follow the three “A’s” of supply chain success: agility, adaptability and alignment. Without personally adopting this concept, Asher is convinced that she wouldn’t be as valuable to her company as she is today.

“My challenge is finding reliable transportation providers and partnerships and finding the best fastest way to route the freight,” she says. “I have to think on my feet.”