Reflections on UPS Disaster Management with Ken Sternad

Ken Sternad is well known in the disaster management profession. As head of the UPS Foundation since 2009, Ken has overseen the foundation’s strategic re-focus to areas more closely aligned with the company's strengths and interests. These include urgent humanitarian relief, road safety, environmental sustainability, diversity, and volunteer capacity building for the nonprofit sector.

As co-chair of BCLC’s Disaster Assistance and Recovery group (along with co-chair Mary Wong, president of the Office Depot Foundation), Ken has played a key role in helping not only BCLC, but also other business executives and NGO leaders, examine ways that we can manage the disaster cycle – together – more effectively.

Ken has recently announced his retirement, and BCLC will miss his leadership on our board and in our disaster group. Ed Martinez, who has been a critical voice alongside Ken at UPS and in the business community at large, will take the helm at the UPS Foundation this month.

Below is a final BCLC interview with Ken. We wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors!

BCLC: What have been some turning points in the disaster management discipline that you are glad to have witnessed during your time at UPS?

Ken Sternad: About four years ago, we decided to fundamentally change our approach to urgent humanitarian relief, from a reactionary strategy around disasters to a proactive, capacity-building approach with the preeminent NGOs in this area. It was part of an overall strategy by the UPS Foundation to better integrate our intellectual skills, physical assets, and passions of our people with our funding.

We now have UPS logisticians, technologists, and transportation experts engaged with the non-profits, helping with warehouse design, commodity tracking systems, transportation networks, and more. It is very rewarding to see how our core competencies are making a real difference for these humanitarian relief organizations and helping to save lives.

It is very rewarding to see how our core competencies are making a real difference for these humanitarian relief organizations and helping to save lives.

BCLC: What hot-button issues do you think still need some clarity or resolution?

KS:I think this entire area of disaster response is still very fragmented and reactionary. Companies want to engage in a more meaningful way. For many of them, disaster response is not a priority area for their philanthropy, but they are willing to step up with their dollars when a disaster strikes. If we can help develop a better understanding of the disaster life-cycle, where and how companies can engage to fit with their own strengths and interests, it could bring more clarity and a better-defined process around disasters.

I know that the BCLC is working in this area, and it could ultimately have a very important impact on the overall effectiveness of urgent humanitarian relief.

BCLC: Would you say effective disaster management is now part of UPS’s culture?

KS: I don’t know if it is a part of our “culture” yet, but there is a growing awareness and engagement throughout the company around disaster management.

We have trained responders positioned around the country and throughout the world; we have employees on assignments with organizations like CARE, American Red Cross, UNICEF, and the St. Bernard Project; we have senior management involvement; our overall volunteer hours around disaster management are increasing dramatically.

I think our people understand that UPS has some unique and valuable skills to bring to this issue, and they get excited to be a part of it. As you know, we love logistics at UPS!

BCLC: How has BCLC helped you and UPS achieve greater disaster knowledge and strategies?

KS: One of BCLC’s core competencies is being a convener of experts around disaster management. I don’t know of any organization that has been more effective in bringing government agencies, NGOs, and the private sector together to exchange knowledge, collectively try to solve issues, and make the disaster response process more efficient.

I don’t know of any organization that has been more effective in bringing government agencies, NGOs, and the private sector together.

BCLC is also a great champion for the work of the private sector in disaster response. Companies are proud of the work we do in this area. We want the public to know of the good things we are doing and, importantly, we want more doors of opportunity to open so that we can help save and improve more lives when disasters strike. The BCLC provides a great forum for this to happen.

BCLC: What are you most proud of accomplishing during your tenure as president of the UPS Foundation?

KS: I think I am most proud of the increased focus we have brought to the UPS Foundation over the past several years. The strategy of concentrating our efforts on areas that better align to the company’s strengths, capabilities, intellectual capital, and passions is producing greater impact around our investments. Our overall goal is to help build stronger communities and to touch lives in a deeper, more meaningful way.

Concentrating our efforts on areas that better align to the company’s strengths, capabilities, intellectual capital, and passions is producing greater impact.