NextGen Leader: Kory Jacobson

The regional procurement director for Border States learned the value of work ethic and continuing education from his educator parents, and has used that to carve out a supply chain career

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Editor's note: Supply Chain Management Review's monthly NextGen Leader series profiles supply chain leaders climbing the career ladder to success. The series appears on the fourth Friday of each month. If you know of someone that you believe may be a fit, please reach out to Editor in Chief Brian Straight at [email protected].

Growing up, Kory Jacobson learned the value of hard work and investing in yourself and your education.

“As teachers, my parents always held two jobs to make ends meet. We also always had encyclopedias and other books around the house, and invested in a computer early in the 90s.  They taught me the two most important values that prepared me for my career—hard work and continuous learning,” he tells Supply Chain Management Review.


The other lesson that prepared Jacobson for his career? Fatherhood.

“I was in a dead-end job as a courier for an independent transportation company,” he says. “I had just started a family and knew that I needed to find a career to provide them with a future.  I was lucky enough to get hired [at Border States] and from there I just dove in, learning as much as I could about the industry and the supply chain.”

Jacobson’s mother-in-law worked for Border States at the time, so Jacobson had a path to a career at an employee-owned business. He started as a buyer, but through the lessons imparted on him by his family and coworkers along the way, combined with his desire to continually learn, Jacobson has moved up the ladder at the Grand Forks, North Dakota electrical distributor.

“With each step in my career, I followed that same pattern of hard work and continuous learning,” Jacobson says. “I shifted into reading books on predictive analytics and inventory management which influenced policies that I have set to improve our asset performance, as well as tools we have built to allow our planners to do their work more efficiently.”

Now the regional procurement director for the company, Jacobson has carved out a career of increasing responsibility—something he was looking for when he left the courier job years before.

Keys to success

Many people have a vision for the typical tasks a procurement director tackles each day, but Jacobson says that, like other supply chain jobs in 2024, “a good part of your day is spent doing something you didn’t plan on doing.  You must be able to adapt to thrive in supply chain as no two days look alike, and your plan always changes.”

One of the keys to success that Jacobson tries to follow each day is setting aside an hour for “whitespace.”

“This is time away from my computer with just a pen and paper thinking strategically about the business,” he says. “It allows me to take a step back and gain perspective. Innovation is driven by the day-to-day conflict and pressure you experience in the moment, but you can’t think creatively in that moment. You need to step out of it, reflect, and gain clarity before you can truly innovate.”

Jacobson says the idea for daily whitespace came from a leadership book—part of his educational journey that harkens back to the lessons his parents taught him.

“There are sometimes where everything just gets crazy. … As I got direct reports, I started reading leadership books,” he says. “It struck me that I was spending too much time ‘working in the business’ and I needed to spend more time working on the business to support my employees.”

Solving problems

One of the keys to leadership is the ability to solve problems. That often starts with communication, something Jacobson says he struggled with early in his career.

“I have several mentors at Border States that I go to for advice,” he says. “They have really helped me understand the importance of effective communication. That is one of the skills that I struggled with the most in my career. Inventory management is complex. There are many different statistical equations and principles used across several roles within an organization to service the customer at a high rate with efficient use of working capital. Everyone needs to be working toward the same goal to make that happen, and communication is key to getting that done.”

Jacobson notes that solving complex problems is one of his favorite parts of the job, like a recent problem the company had coming out of the Covid-drive supply chain crisis from 2021-2022.

“Our lead times were just not being updated correctly,” he says. “Manufacturers were shipping things in nine days and then in 300 days. We had a hard time [getting a handle on delivery timelines].”

So Border States enlisted the help of its technology partner GAINS Systems. The goal: improve the visibility into shipping times. The solution: Deploy machine learning.

Automation is the answer

Border States sought GAINS’s help to automate processes and provide more visibility into the process. The companies worked for 18 months to develop a solution that resulted in a 90% improvement in purchase order automation in three months, a 97% improvement in material availability after right-sizing inventory levels, and a 32% reduction in purchase orders despite a 25% increase in locations. The cloud-based solution is also flexible enough to allow Border States to expand as needed.

“In recent years we have added automation through AI and our partner GAINS,” Jacobson says. “ Simple things like bots that read PDF acknowledgments from our suppliers and enter them into our ERP system, to the extensive work we have done with GAINS to automate internal transfers and external purchase orders transforms the way we work.”

Jacobson says that neither company was compensated for the work, “we were both just engaged to find a better way.”

Border States, which is deploying the solution across its organization of 120 locations in 29 states, can now see when lead times increase or decrease and proactively address concerns with suppliers.

“I remember several times where I got really good grades on tests, but I mailed it in [and they knew it],” he says. “It was always about the effort that I put in. And that has just followed me through in my career.”

“I think it is one of those things that changes the way we work because it is not just giving us analytics, it is telling us what is going on in the supply chain,” Jacobson says, noting that the automation solution has not led to the elimination of staff. “It’s allowing our employee-owners to focus on strategic work that has a greater impact on our company and the customers we serve.”

For Jacobson, it is solving problems like this that keeps him focused in his career.

“I am most engaged at work when trying to solve a complex problem for the organization.  One of the key skills I have is the ability to innovate.  I can look at a disparate process or tool used in another department or organization and envision how to make it work for the problem I am trying to solve.  Developing a solution that transforms our work is what fuels me,” he says.

That, and the work ethic instilled in him by his parents, who taught him it was the effort more than the result that mattered.

“I remember several times where I got really good grades on tests, but I mailed it in [and they knew it],” he says. “It was always about the effort that I put in. And that has just followed me through in my career.”


Kory Jacobson grew up with two educators as parents. That taught him the value of effort and education, two qualities that have driven his supply chain success at Border States.
(Photo: Kory Jacobson/Border States)
Kory Jacobson grew up with two educators as parents. That taught him the value of effort and education, two qualities that have driven his supply chain success at Border States.

About the Author

Brian Straight, SCMR Editor in Chief
Brian Straight's Bio Photo

Brian Straight is the Editor in Chief of Supply Chain Management Review. He has covered trucking, logistics and the broader supply chain for more than 15 years. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and two children. He can be reached at [email protected], @TruckingTalk, on LinkedIn, or by phone at 774-440-3870.

View Brian's author profile.


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