Dammer Finds New Comfort Zone

    HOLLAND — Applying today’s emerging technology to a fragmented industry provided the right opportunity, with the right business model, at the right time for Tom Dammer.

    After helping an e-commerce venture, FreeMarkets, grow into a $100 million company, Dammer was looking for a new challenge after returning home last year to Michigan.

    He found it in LeanLogistics Inc., a Holland e-commerce company that provides Web-based logistical services to the transportation industry.

    “We’re essentially a new breed of cat,” Dammer said of LeanLogistics, which automates clients’ logistical operations, including tendering and billing.

    Founded in 1999 by Craig Hall, a veteran of the logistics industry who founded Total Logistics Control Inc. in Holland several years ago, LeanLogistics has what Dammer calls the right “scalability” that balances costs with sales and market opportunity. Many of the dot-coms that have died off in the last two years did so because they failed to properly strike that balance and grew too big more quickly than they should have, Dammer said.

    LeanLogistics takes a measured, deliberate approach designed to build the company “one customer at a time,” he said.

    “We don’t intend to implode because of our own burn rate,” Dammer said. “It’s out intention to frame the market first, and then build the company around that market.”

    Dammer, 37, moved into the world of e-commerce after beginning his career in the pharmaceutical industry. But the career path following his 1986 graduation from Hope College with a degree in chemistry had to wait.

    Feeling his wasn’t quite ready for the career path, the Kalamazoo native wanted to take off and do something that would help to shape him as he prepared to go forward.

    “I wanted to see the world, for lack of a better term,” he said. “Simply finding a job and settling down probably was a mistake.”

    Working through a program that Hope College has with the Presbyterian Church, Dammer wound up in Taiwan, where he spent a year teaching English in a small, rural town located about six hours from the capital city of Taipei. The situation pretty much lacked all of the comforts of home, including plumbing. While there were times in Taiwan where “I wondered if it was such a good idea,” Dammer today credits the program with giving him the self-confidence and maturity he needed.

    “I was forced out of my comfort zone,” Dammer said. “That kind of independence, you either sink or swim.”

    After finishing his year of service in Taiwan, Dammer returned to Kalamazoo and landed a job two months later doing sales at the former Upjohn Corp. He worked for Upjohn for six years, rising into the managerial ranks, before leaving in 1993 to go to work for Smith Kline Beechum in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he rose to director of business development, handling corporate acquisitions.

    Dammer — who describes himself as “not a big-company guy” — eventually grew wary of the corporate bureaucracy and “wasn’t enamored” with the industry’s future. He decided to leave Smith Kline in 1998 for FreeMarkets Inc., a Internet-based global sourcing company.

    Dammer had met FreeMarkets CEO Glenn Meakem months earlier. After eight months of being recruited by Meakem, Dammer decided to leave Smith Kline to become FreeMarkets’ vice president of sales and marketing.

    At the time, FreeMarkets had just three customers and “several former customers.” Today, the firm has more than 100 clients worldwide and posted revenues of nearly $100 million in 2000. Dammer also was part of the management team that steered FreeMarkets through a December 1999 initial public offering.

    But as the company grew, it was changing, as was Dammer’s role. Those changes eventually led Dammer and his wife, Kim, to decide to move their family back home to Michigan.

    “We were going to move for the quality of life, and not for the job, for the first time in our life,” Dammer said.

    After returning home, Dammer initially worked for a Chicago venture capital firm, Arch Development Fund, that was investing in Midwest information technology and life sciences ventures. Through his contacts, Dammer was introduced to Craig Hall.

    Several meetings later, Dammer decided to join LeanLogistics as CEO. He began July 9.

    Drawing him to the company was the expertise LeanLogistics’ founders and executives possess in the logistics business, as well as the business model that balances costs with sales. Following the philosophy will prevent LeanLogistics from making the same mistakes that led to the demise of so many other dot-coms, Dammer said.

    “Making e-commerce successful is not rocket science,” he said.

    But, he added, “If you aren’t careful, you can end up pursuing a very good idea that can’t be successful.”

    LeanLogistics, he said, can steer clear of that situation because it is supported by veteran logistics and IT professionals “with an entrepreneurial spirit and a clear vision of the opportunities before us.”

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