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Logistics giant CH Robinson just hired Whole Foods’ former CTO as its first chief product officer – and it shows how high the digital stakes are for the whole industry

Arun Rajan, who starts at C.H. Robinson September 1, was most recently CTO for Amazon’s Whole Foods Market.

  • C.H. Robinson is one of the largest logistics companies in the world.
  • Arun Rajan, former CTO at Amazon’s Whole Foods Market, will be its first chief product officer.
  • CEO Bob Biesterfeld told Insider he intentionally filled the role from outside his industry.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As the logistics industry becomes increasingly consumed by e-commerce, top-10 global logistics provider C.H. Robinson has hired an online veteran as its first ever chief product officer, reporting directly to CEO Bob Biesterfeld.

Arun Rajan, who starts September 1, was most recently CTO for Amazon’s Whole Foods Market. Before that he was COO and CTO of e-commerce legend Zappos. He also served stints as CTO at travel booking site Travelocity in Europe and online furniture seller One Kings Lane.

E-commerce is becoming a dominant force in the logistics industry, with virtually every player attempting to cut off a slice. C.H. Robinson, for one, has in recent years been making acquisitions and building online tools to tailor its trucking and freight forwarding services to retailers and parcel carriers. That work, combined with an unprecedented freight environment, pushed the company to a 52% year-over-year increase in Q2 revenue, as well as a 22% year-over-year jump in adjusted gross profit.

But even more than e-commerce and his years building online shopping tools, it was Rajan’s experience in digitally-native businesses that attracted Biesterfeld.

“I was less focused on the logistics expertise, as I was on finding someone that had built and scaled platform companies with a real focus on customer centricity. And obviously, Zappos is world renowned for their customer centricity,” Biesterfeld told Insider. He added that Rajan is a strategic thinker who can help with the vision behind C.H. Robinson’s digital platform in addition to leading the team that builds it.

The CEO is also hoping that some of the hallmarks of digitally-native businesses like Zappos will rub off at C.H. Robinson, specifically the taste for constant experimentation and “fail fast” style of continuous improvement. Elements that trucking companies are not generally known for – slick digital products with smooth user experiences – can create stark differences between competitors.

There’s a lot of talk about e-commerce order tracking in the freight industry, for example, and it’s not because of the undeniable business opportunity online shopping has created. Tracking is top of mind because e-commerce has set the bar for customer experience.

The more granular the detail on a package’s path to its destination, the more satisfied the customer. Cargo owners with goods to move by truck, ocean, rail, and air, after seeing tracking in their consumer lives, are more likely to expect a similar experience with their freight.

“The consumer world has grown accustomed to the look and feel of modern technology. And so bringing some of that consumer expertise to the business was definitely part of the goal,” Biesterfeld said.

Mimicking the ease of online consumer experiences for logistics processes will be on Rajan’s plate come September.

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