Dave Clark

Ryan Petersen is back at the controls of Flexport. Half a year after the founder of the digital forwarder handed the reins to ex-Amazon executive Dave Clark (above), the company’s founder is again assuming control of Flexport after Mr Clark’s abrupt departure.

In a memo to Flexport staff yesterday, Mr Clark announced he was leaving as a result of a change in direction in the company’s strategy.

“Today, Ryan and I discussed his desire to return to focusing on growth in the core freight business. In light of that, I feel that he is best suited to lead the company in that direction,” he wrote.

“Founders have the right to change their mind,” he commented.

Mr Clark joined Flexport last year after two decades at Amazon, where he was widely credited for driving the development of the e-commerce giant’s logistics and fulfilment network. In his first six months at the digital forwarder he served as co-CEO with Mr Petersen until taking over full control in March, as the company founder transitioned to the role of executive chairman.

According to one report, Mr Clark found it tough to embrace the different culture at Flexport, which requires more interaction with customers than the Amazon model.

The Wall Street Journal suggested that Mr Clark was considering a pursuit of political office, aiming for the governorship of the state of Texas, where he had moved with his family before leaving Amazon.

Neither Mr Clark nor Flexport offered any further comment on his departure, and the company thanked the departing CEO for his leadership.

Rick Watson, founder & CEO of e-commerce consulting firm RW Commerce Consult, commented that “Dave Clark and Flexport were never a fit. It’s a case of a virtual logistics business meeting a logistics infrastructure builder.”

The founder’s decision to focus on the freight business was likely the trigger for Mr Clark’s exit, he suggested.

“Flexport’s new ‘new’ direction – freight – is a commodity and in no way a future Flexport is going to justify anything near its valuation,” he said.

Mr Watson added that the announcement may suggest that Flexport could sell its fulfilment business, which is largely based on the acquisition of Deliverr this year from Shopify.

The e-commerce payment facilitator had originally tried to build up its own fulfilment capability using Deliverr and other operations to that end, but changed course in May when it announced that Flexport was taking over the delivery platform, as well as dozens of warehouses and sorting centres, in a stock transaction that gave Shopify a 13% stake in the logistics firm.

At the time, Mr Clark described the deal as “the last piece of the puzzle that enables us to drive technology-fuelled solutions across the entire product life cycle, from the manufacturer’s floor, across the oceans and skies, through ports and fulfilment and, now, right into the hands of customers”.

According to him, this was “a game-changer” for the industry.

“For Flexport, this acquisition enables our vision for a full digital transformation of the global supply chain,” he proclaimed. “Traditional supply chain technology has failed to create a single system for end-to-end supply chain planning, visibility and execution. Flexport intends to change all that, reducing out-of-stocks for customers, costs for companies and decreasing the environmental impact of the movement of goods.”

It will be interesting to see where the change in management will leave the fulfilment aspect for Flexport. For Shopify, the ramifications could be ominous.

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