Excelling at Plan B: Kate Van Dyke of Coyote Logistics

  • Copy by: Erica Gellerman

Graduating with a degree in real estate finance while the economy was still reeling from the recession may have thrown some people for a loop. But Kate Van Dyke embraced the change of plans and ended up finding a career with a company that is a perfect fit.

When it looked as though a career in real estate wasn’t the right career path post-college, Kate packed her senior year schedule full of interviews and focused on finding the right company culture. She was offered a job in logistics and jumped into the fast paced role, even though she wasn’t quite sure what a job in logistics entailed. After six years at the company it’s clear that her ability to adapt to change not only helped her to find a great career after school, but has also helped her to advance so quickly—now she’s AVP of logistics, a job that requires a great deal of flexibility and change management. 

While a career in logistics wasn’t quite what she planned, it’s safe to say that Kate’s ability to embrace her “plan B” has definitely paid off.

Name: Kate Van Dyke          
Age: 28
Location: Chicago     
Current title: AVP, Operations, Coyote Logistics
Education: Finance- Real Estate, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University

You graduated in 2010 with a degree in real estate finance and because of the economy you quickly realized you needed a “plan B.” Were you hesitant to jump into something completely different than what you had imagined?
Not really, actually! My fall semester senior year was packed full of job interviews. My goal was to get as much practice interviewing as possible, from my dream employers to smaller, startup companies. As I went through the drawn out process, I noted the company qualities that I was drawn too while conversed with the recruiters. A young workforce, rapid company growth, and a fast paced, challenging atmosphere were among some of the buzz words that made my ears perk up.  When it came time to choose a job, I tried to focus more on the companies that fulfilled my “must haves” versus the job title on paper.

How did you get connected and then hired with Coyote Logistics?
I met a recruiter from Coyote at a career fair. I actually stopped and chatted with her because it was one of the least intimidating booths at the venue. Twenty minutes later, I was interested in what this small, fast growing, “work hard play hard” company had to offer. I signed up for an interview the next day!

I tried to focus more on the companies that fulfilled my “must haves” versus the job title on paper

You work with huge companies (like Coca Cola) to figure out the best way to ship product all over the country. Can you tell us a little more about what that looks like day-to-day?
For our larger customers, such as Coca Cola, we use our technology to help price large network RFP’s and then are awarded shipping lanes (e.g. Coca Cola Detroit facility to a Walmart in Chicago) that we service until the contract is up for renewal. For some of our strategic partners, we analyze their network and offer suggestions where they can cut transportation costs, implement new technology, or modify their current processes in favor of customers, employees, and drivers.

When you first joined Coyote you didn’t really know what a job in logistics entailed and now you’re the AVP of Operations. What do you think has enabled you to be so successful so quickly?
Working for a company that is bursting at the seams with growth requires you to be flexible and comfortable with change. You aren’t going to have a detailed, organized list outlining tasks and responsibilities. You have to be able to bend with the company’s needs and wear multiple hats at once. I think one of the things that has helped me in my career up until this point is my willingness to take on new challenges head on and not look back.

When you started six years ago, Coyote was a 250-person company and it has now grown to 2200 people! What has it been like to work at a company that has seen such change so quickly?
Such an amazing experience! I think that the accelerated growth forced us to rally together at early stages in our careers. There is no way we could have been successful without everyone working together and supporting one another along the way. My co-workers have evolved from colleagues to my bridesmaids, roommates, and forever friends.

My coworkers have evolved from colleagues to my bridesmaids, roommates, and forever friends

What advice do you have for others who might be looking at “plan B” career options? 
Keep an open mind! Just because you focused on a specific topic in college doesn’t mean that has to be the be all end all. Explore as many opportunities as you can and network as much as possible.  Just because you meet someone now that works for a company you aren’t interested in doesn’t mean your paths won’t cross in the future under different circumstances.

And be patient. If you’re pursuing an opportunity that doesn’t feel right in your gut, move onto the next one.

What are some of your responsibilities as the AVP of Operations? What are the greatest rewards and biggest challenges?
I oversee our Chicago senior manager team and spearhead our continuous improvement projects for Coyote’s operations department. In addition, I am responsible for the engagement, profitability, growth, and service of these employees and their customers.

The greatest reward in my job is seeing my team grow and develop in their professional career. It’s so cool to see some of the people I managed when they were in entry-level positions rise the ranks and now report to me as senior managers.

One of my biggest challenges continues to be prioritizing tasks and not getting sidetracked when something else pops up. At Coyote, a typical day is extremely fast paced and highly demanding. With emails piling up, IMs coming from all directions, people pulling you into meetings, etc. it’s a challenge to stay organized and not refocus your attention on the most recent inquiry.

Just because you focused on on a specific topic in college doesn’t mean that’s the be-all end-all. Explore as many opportunities as you can and network as much as possible.

Best moment of your career so far? 
The day we were purchased by UPS was pretty cool. It was such a feeling of accomplishment, especially for the employees that were with Coyote from the beginning.

What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Tackle every opportunity wholeheartedly. Always maintain your integrity. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Soak in the crazy ride.

Kate Van Dyke is The Everygirl…

Current guilty pleasure?
I’m obsessed with popcorn.

If I won the lottery I would…
travel the world. First stop, an African Safari!

Favorite place to vacation?
I love skiing, so I would normally say the mountains (my favorite ski destination is Jackson Hole), but at this very moment I am so sick of the long, cold, Chicago winter that I would have to go with Mexico. I’m craving a margarita, lounge chair, and some good ol’ vitamin D.

I wish I knew how to…
swing dance.

Show Comments +