People take centre stage at eft’s CSCO Forum in Venlo

By Hugh Williams, managing director, Hughenden Consulting and CSCO Forum chair

After so many years of hearing about how we’re moving from being a supply to a demand-driven economy, I am convinced it’s finally happening. Why? After several years of chairing various eft conferences, a quiet revolution took place during the recent CSCO Forum I chaired in historic Venlo: everybody was talking about the importance of people in supply chain; much less so about systems.

How does this change in emphasis relate to the modern demand-driven economy? To me it follows logically. As supply chains are re-engineered from being production-driven to having to respond to ongoing changes in human sentiment and behaviour, planning for them naturally requires people. Not only numerate types, but people with a range of skills and experiences coming together to interpret and make decisions using the data that all of our new technology is generating.

Kicking off the event’s heavyweight speaker line-up was the inspiring serial CEO Tom Schmitt. Currently board member of DB Schenker, the Harvard educated German has held several board and executive posts, including President & CEO FedEx Global Supply Chain Services. Despite all his success, he was incredibly humble and seemed to regard leadership as a service, rather than an entitlement. He urged delegates to ‘put people at the centre of everything you do’. A leader, he said, should ‘leave a place better than they found it’ and “be ambitious for the cause, for the sake of their people”. What a perfect way to set the stage for what followed.

Day two’s keynote Chris Roe, Amazon’s Head of EU Supply Chain Finance told his audience that following a near quadruple jump in revenue between 2014 ($1.94 bn) and 2015 ($7.3bn) his biggest constraint was people at every level and came specifically to recruit. I saw more than a few people furiously taking notes!

CollectPlus CEO Neil Ashworth expanded on the talent theme in dry, humorous British fashion and even channelled Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko when he said, “If you want loyalty, get a dog.” On a more serious note, he challenged the audience to recruit people for their values rather than capabilities. The latter, he reckons, are much easier to learn and instil. Drawing on his experiences at Tesco, Kingfisher Group and Woolworths, Ashworth reminded delegates of the important role people play in service: “success relies on the human touch; people want to talk to a real person.” In our modern age of ‘robocalling’ and online support, I saw more than a few nodding heads in agreement.

Even people like John Munnelly, Head of Operations for John Lewis’ distribution centre, Magna Park - who you might expect to focus more on processes and technology - emphasised the importance of putting ‘happiness of all its members” (company employees) at its core.

The speakers’ people-centred themes tallied with the conclusions from the ‘Transformation’ interactive workshop I ran on the day before the main conference. The group identified key principles to follow, all of which depended chiefly on people bringing a wide range of what I called ‘advanced skills’ and some new behaviours into supply chain:

●     Strong and engaged leadership

●     Clear direction and strategy

●     Focus on effective communication

●     Challenge the structure of the business

●     Use systems to enable change

●     Be courageous and embrace new technology

●     Invest to make it sustainable

After so many years of evangelising the importance of people in supply chain, I’d like to be able to say that “my work here is done”. However, I have a feeling it’s only just beginning.

See you at next year’s event!


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