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How A Legacy Logistics Company Moved To The Front Of The Freight-tech Line

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Ryder System (NYSE: R) has adopted a decidedly futuristic mindset when it comes to investing in the new supply chain technologies that are sweeping the industry and upending traditional ways of doing business.

"Being such an old company, we could find ourselves stuck," said Kendra Phillips, CTO and VP of New Products for Ryder, the 90-year old transportation and logistics giant.

"We can't let that happen," she continued. While Ryder is interested in tech solutions that make existing systems more efficient, "when we put our dollars behind something," Phillips said, "we're looking for the disruptors, for a way to change the operating model."

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Phillips' comments came during a fireside chat with FreightWaves CEO Craig Fuller at Tuesday's virtual Supply Chain Summit. Elaborating on Ryder's investment approach, Phillips highlighted the company's new corporate venture fund, what it looks for in new startups and Ryder's top freight technology priorities.

Ryder launched the $50 million corporate venture fund in October, with a goal of ramping up considerably the company's stake in supply chain tech startups.

The fund builds on the company's earlier forays into the innovation space with products such as COOP by Ryder — a platform that connects fleet managers with idle vehicles to businesses that are looking to rent vehicles.

Another early investment is RyderShare, a real-time visibility and collaboration platform for supply chain. Additionally, Ryder has worked with new players leading the charge in electric and autonomous vehicles, charging infrastructure, and smart warehousing.

Describing what Ryder Ventures is looking for, Phillips said the fund seeks startups that address specific pain points in the industry, and then pilot that technology with Ryder, where it can help prove the business case.

Corporate venture funds have a mixed reputation, Phillips and Fuller agreed, in that some want startups to feed the corporate parent's innovation without committing to helping the founders build their company.

"Our goal is we want to partner with you and use Ryder to help you grow," Phillips said. "In the end, we're looking for a financial return."

Typical investments run around $1 million, she said, and of greatest interest are technologies that revolve around e-commerce fulfillment, electric and autonomous vehicles, and data analytics.

Toward the end of the conversation Fuller and Phillips discussed the impact of the historic mobilization underway to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. "We're the heroes of the day," said Fuller. "This is our moment."

Phillips said she "welled up with pride" when watching yesterday's cargo planes take off with the first vaccine shipments. "It shows the value of what our industry does."

Just as the pandemic accelerated interest in supply chain digitization, she added, the vaccine distribution is "going to be a great showcase" for logistics, and will only "deepen tech investments."

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