UPS' spiffy brown trucks may carry 6 percent of the U.S. GDP,
but the company's real growth engine lies behind the closed doors
of warehouses far from the tarmac.
In Joe Pyne's office at the United Parcel Service headquarters in
Atlanta, there is no chalkboard covered in wildly scrawled org
charts, no leaning piles of books bristling with yellow stickies,
no wire trash can overflowing with crumpled sheets of notebook
paper. There is no dart board, no Ping putters, no Nerf
basketballs, nor any of the other usual signs that you are in the
presence of the company "visionary."
Pyne, UPS' senior vice president for corporate development, stares
straight ahead, rarely blinking, an archetype of the corporate
executive in his immaculate white shirt, red tie, and dark suit. He
would seem equally at home managing a steel mill or coal mine or
timber company. Most corporate vision guys favor the first-person
pronoun, and their résumés are gilded with such words as "first"
and "pioneering" and "published." But Pyne is modest, inclusive. He
relies on the word "we" and doesn't like to talk of his own history
at UPS, other than to note that like most of his colleagues in
upper management, he started on the sorting-room floor.
Indeed, spend about an hour with Pyne, and UPS' "vision guy"
doesn't seem all that distinct from the legions of lesser UPS execs
in white shirts and red ties who stalk purposefully through the
headquarters' plush, quiet corridors, or dine in its airy, leafy
While many workers find such environments reassuring, High
Corporate is generally not known for attracting or breeding High
Concept. Still, somewhere at UPS, someone is thinking wildly
creative thoughts. Someone, somewhere, created and fine-tuned the
business model that made the company one of the few true
beneficiaries of the dot-com-daffy, globally-gaga '90s. A company
that 10 years ago was largely a mover of cardboard wrapped around
Styrofoam peanuts has become - literally and figuratively - a hub
of cross-border business and e-commerce.