3 Days in Berlin: A supply chain conference that you want to watch over and over

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If you read my last blog, “400 Miles in the Desert”, you would have understood how 5 hours of driving in the desert shaped my view of the Gartner Supply Chain conference.   Well, 9.5 hours of flying from Berlin to Frankfurt and then to Boston gave me a ton of time to reflect on the European SCL Summit. The World Trade Group held its 15th annual European Supply Chain & Logistics Summit this past week in Berlin, Germany.  Having been around the block with supply chain conferences these past 23 years, I must say that this event was one of the best content-wise.  From the keynotes to the breakout sessions, I thoroughly enjoyed the depth of content, the experience of the presenters and the discussions during the question & answer periods. The event centered around five key themes: Supply Chain Strategies for Growth, Supply Planning, Global Logistics & Distribution, Global Sourcing Transparency & Agility, and Performance Management.   I was honored to speak in the Supply Planning track on “Delivering on the S&OP promise for the 21st Century”. The memorable standout for me was Barry Gibbons’ presentation.  Barry Gibbons is the former Global CEO of Burger King, and I definitely understand why Fortune magazine gave him the title “Turnaround Champ”.  I came from Apple, where they teach you how to minimize the words on your slides and use pictures and references.  You are taught to understand your audience, look at them and read how they are capturing your message.   There was a “goal” at Apple to have a presentation where there were zero words on the slides.  Well, Barry Gibbons accomplished what I thought was a fantastic presentation.  His title slide went up, and Barry walked across the stage engaging the audience with insightful stories and a captivating message of staying ahead by keeping yourself, your products and your company fresh.  At the end of the hour, Barry had not shown one slide.  The title slide was still there, and the audience wanted another hour. Barry asked each of the supply chain leaders in the audience to take an exercise back to their companies.   They were to pull their team together and have each of them write one or two words on the back of their business cards that describes what the company stands for.  Then, collect the cards and see how many words match. Barry was making the point that companies need to understand the fundamental questions of: ‘Where do our customers see us going forward? What do we stand for? What are the principles guiding our business?’  This is what he believes will separate the winners from the losers in the coming years.  I loved it when he described this time as the “Age of Alienation”.  With where the world is today: social and political unrest, high consumer and government debt and complex globalization, we have become alienated from the customer. I agree 100% with what Barry stated.  From a high-tech perspective, online consumers are so integrated that “consume” has become a “node” in the traditional plan/buy/make/deliver model.  Online customers are changing the structure of supply chain planning, inventory models, network designs and overall KPI’s such as pricing, cost to serve and segmented profitability.  I plan to blog more about this concept going forward and provide a high level value proposition on this shift below.  Suffice it to say, Barry Gibbons is hitting directly on how companies and supply chains need to connect with the customer in a whole new way.

I also loved Barry’s humor in sharing stories about taking a “commodity” and making it different — so different, that what was once a common service becomes memorable for a lifetime.  Barry talked about the airline industry, and after years of flying, he became numb to the preflight speech.  We’ve all heard it, and most of us, like Barry, tune it out and go about reading emails, texting or listening to iTunes.  But on a Southwest flight, Barry’s head looked up.  The Southwest flight attendant was singing the preflight announcement.  This person took what had become a commodity, and made it a memorable service.  That’s how we need to view our business and understand how the customer sees us as memorable. There were two other sessions I would highly recommend watching the recording on the WTG site when they become available next week:  “How we can improve the competitiveness and future resilience of European supply chains” and “Inside the strength of Lenovo’s supply chain: Building resiliency and risk management strategies into your network design”. During the “Future resilience of the European supply chain” session, the panel included Edwin van der Meerendonk, VP European Operations for Walt Disney; Ivanka Janssen, Supply Chain Director for Diageo; Julie Maes, Director Supply Chain Support for Volvo Powertrain and Marcel Mourits, Supply Chain Optimization Lead for AIMMS. They shared insights on European supply chain talent and unique challenges.  Then, they spoke about methods to improve collaboration for both short term & long term stability. The Lenovo session was eye opening for understanding the impact of supply chain disruption.   Mick Jones, Vice President Global Logistics Worldwide at Lenovo shared how their supply chain managed the impact of the Japanese earthquake & tsunami.  The Lenovo team is not only going after a robust risk management plan, but also considering the speed of response and the profitability of the ‘return-to-normal’ state.   Now, coming from Kinaxis, I was especially interested in Mick’s use of end-to-end supply chain visibility to manage risks. All this brings me to my closing thought …my presentation, “Delivering on the S&OP promise for the 21st CenturyCertainly I’d love to have you watch the entire replay of my speech.  As an ex practitioner, I know you have limited time, so take a view of the first 5 minutes (which will be available on the WTG site shortly). In it, I share a story about my old CEO, who provided a memorable piece of advice.  I asked if he had any guidance for me as a new employee.  And, Steve Jobs told me this….. “Know what you know, and know what you don’t know….and surround yourself with people who know what you don’t know…” I challenge people to consider what you truly know in supply chain.  When you are doing demand and supply balancing, how far back in the network do you know the impact? When you are consolidating demand plans, how much do you know about the segmented customer demand?  When you are publishing the margin plans, how much do you know of the tradeoffs across business units?   Mick Jones is right when he says “visibility” is critical.  Do you have visibility, real time, to all the nodes of your network?  The expert panel was dead-on when they said “collaboration” is required to make it through this difficult time.  You may collaborate, but how well do you know the margin and profit impact to all your partners when you make a change?  And, finally, Barry Gibbons asked the audience “what do we stand for?” Our customers want to know. Take his challenge, and ask every partner in your supply network to write down what they believe this supply chain network stands for.  You would be amazed at the varying responses.  If you write down profitability, your contract manufacturer writes down cost avoidance, and your retailer writes down inventory reduction, you better get to “KNOW” your supply chain…..

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