How Lean Solutions Group’s Robert Cadena Built a 7,000-person Team That’s One Step Ahead of the Fast-moving Transportation and Logistics Sector
Lean Solutions Group is a leading nearshore service provider delivering high-quality business solutions in staffing, IT, marketing and sales for U.S.-based companies primarily in the transportation and logistics (T&L) sectors. Founded in 2012 and headquartered in Florida, with satellite offices across Colombia and Guatemala, LSG today has nearly 7,000 employees and is growing significantly month over month. LSG employees support over 400 U.S.-based T&L customers to achieve greater efficiencies and grow sustainably. FTV was the first outside investor in LSG in 2020, convinced this fast-growing, bootstrapped company led by a dynamic team could accelerate growth and achieve even more success.
We recently sat down with Co-founder and CEO Robert Cadena to learn how he has grown LSG more than 100 percent a year, all while maintaining a unique company culture employees love.
You started Lean Solutions Group in 2012 after previously having founded and grown a successful transportation brokerage business. What drove you to start LSG?
The T&L sector has always faced some big challenges, especially with the global shift to e-commerce and mounting supply chain issues of the last two years. As someone who has worked in T&L for decades, I knew firsthand the daily hurdles that T&L companies face, and one of the biggest is hiring.
In 2001, I started a transportation brokerage called Chain Express and as we were scaling over the next decade my biggest challenge was finding, training and keeping employees. I’m Colombian-American, so I set up a Colombia office to tap into the highly educated, bilingual workforce there. This model worked so well that when I sold Chain Express in 2011, I thought, why not set up a nearshoring company with operations in Colombia to help all T&L companies tackle their staffing challenges? The best companies are ones that solve a big problem, and that’s true for LSG.
The T&L industries are indeed undergoing rapid change, but the market also holds tremendous opportunity. Some estimates put the global market size at nearly $13 trillion by 2027. How has LSG adapted to capitalize on this complex market opportunity?
The pandemic, as challenging as it was, accelerated our business as an increasing number of T&L companies turned to us to fill positions. And then there’s the great cultural shift, where employers have realized most jobs can be done, and done well, on a remote basis. Just before the pandemic hit, we had 1,300 employees, and now have nearly 7,000 and are still adding many new employees each month. I’m proud of that growth, but more importantly, that our turnover is less than five percent.
What is unique about LSG that leads to such low turnover, and what advice would you give to other founders on how to foster a great company culture?
To create a culture that employees love, ask them regularly what they need to feel supported. Employee feedback has influenced many of our practices, such as training, regular management check-ins and career path planning. There is also something special about LSG because we are a bi-cultural company. Growing up in Colombia, but also being half-American, I’ve made a concerted effort to build a company culture that spans both worlds. I want the social, collaborative and customer-centric nature of an American workplace to further influence our Colombian workforce, but I also deeply respect the very warm and open culture of my home country, which positively influences our U.S. clients and partners.
LSG has built a technology portal that enables U.S. companies to engage with their Latin American teams. What role does tech play in the future evolution of LSG?
Technology is the backbone of everything we do and a tool to bring people together. First and foremost our portal is a hiring tool, allowing us to source talent from all over Latin America. But it’s also an employee engagement platform used by LSG management and all our customers. On the portal, we can hire, onboard and set KPIs for each employee, and our customers can engage with their remote teams to help them set and reach goals.
People ask if LSG takes American jobs, but it’s actually the opposite. LSG employees help American T&L companies cut costs and mitigate legal and compliance risks, which in turn helps them grow their businesses and hire more people in the U.S. to do higher-value work. Additionally, we provide hard-to find talent and spin up teams to help businesses, whether startups or established enterprises, launch new initiatives more quickly, which translates to more rapid company expansions and the subsequent hiring needed to support that growth.
LSG has grown tremendously fast. What leadership strategies have you used to steer the ship during hypergrowth?
My leadership strategy can be summed up by my belief that if you hire good people with good hearts, then growth will drive itself. LSG’s core management team is comprised of people I previously worked with in the freight brokerage business, and the well-being of every single employee is my top priority. To know that LSG has helped thousands of people thrive in jobs they love inspires me to keep going.
What’s next for LSG?
My personal goal is to become the largest employer in Latin America. I see LSG helping support and grow local economies in Latin America, while enabling U.S. T&L companies to benefit from the fantastic talent there. We continue to expand our offerings to other sectors and our LeanTech arm to offer more tech-centered and IT staffing solutions. I can see LSG being a billion-dollar public company one day soon, and I would be proud to be the first person from Cartagena to build such a global success story.