Archives for January 2012

The Pause That Rededicates

By Art van Bodegraven | 01/28/2012 | 7:11 AM

The soft drink formerly known as Coca-Cola used to promote itself as the pause that refreshes. It might have been even more refreshing in the original formulation, but that's a story for another day.

We all have an opportunity to pause for reflection and redirection at the commencement of each New Year. Disclosure: My mind was elsewhere at the time (as usual) come 1 January. To my great relief, we got another shot at it with the Chinese New Year.

Given that event, which is ultimately about more than lots of food and firecrackers, and the sad passing of Don Schneider, I began to reflect on the state of leadership in the supply chain universe. I suppose that similar observations might be made at almost any juncture, but it does seem that we, in the collective, are witnessing the passing of our "greatest generation" (to borrow from Tom Brokaw).

The innovators, visionaries, rule-breakers, pioneers, and rebels who departed from the conventional wisdom and time-tested practices to create a strategic profession out of a collection of tactical jobs are leaving us.

As this generation of leaders and mentors fades, what will we do to recognize and honor its superstars? How can we best build from the foundation that they have laid? For openers, we can refuse to accept the supply chain world as it is today as the finally evolved state of the profession. We can - and should - continue building and innovating. And, when it comes our time to leave, challenge the next generation to keep on re-inventing our world.

What we can't afford to become is a collection of functional managers and doers (not to be confused with Dewar's) who seek ways to cope with and manage the continuous change that defines our business lives. We owe it to those who came before, and those yet to come, to be seekers of change, embracers of change, creators of change, and leaders of change.

It is not possible to see the direction to the future when the chosen survival tactic is keeping one's head down.

Hello, 911 - I've Just Shot Myself In The Brain

By Art van Bodegraven | 01/16/2012 | 9:00 AM

So, I was in a zone with Adele, draining my brain of all but the purity of the instrument of her voice, which has been cleverly disguised as a human being. Used to be that "brain drain" referred to the exodus of the best and brightest from (fill in name of country here) to work and make fortunes in the US.

The situation has been somewhat reversed these days. Students from around the globe come to our universally recognized world-class universities to study, often in the prized STEM (science, technlogy, engineering, mathematics) specialties. Then, they go home to apply what they've learned against us in global economic competition.

Some research suggests that they'd go home at some point, anyway. But, other reports cite a definite desire to stay here and work. My admittedly limited and anecdotal experience, especially in working with students in a world-leading MBLE (Master in Business Logistics Engineering) program overwhelmingly supports the idea that these international students want to stay in the US, nearly desperately.

Make no mistake, these students make up the current generation of the best and brightest, and they could add amazing intellectual candlepower to the beacon of our light on the world. Would they be displacing American workers? All mindless nativist rhetoric aside, not a chance. These classes are made up of - overwhelmingly - young scholars from other lands, often comprising 100% of a given class. Native-born participants are such a tiny minority that they amount to a curiosity.

We might speculate endlessly about why this is, but the ultimate reality is that the talent we ought to prize, and fight to keep, is the latest version of the stream of immigrants that have been powering our ascendance for our entire history as a nation. And, we are pushing them away, diluting our talent pool and strengthening our international competitors.

There appear to be two villains in the story, one frightened and cautious, and the other watchfully paranoid. This is not my area of expertise, so I am speculating a bit, but the appearance is this. On paper, a progression from student visa status, through the optional OPT program, into H1B temporary working visa status, and then to a full-fledged green card (resident) classification is straightforward.

But, post-9/11 and thanks to some fraud and other chicanery, our government has made it more difficult to go beyond the student visa status. Not impossible, but difficult and with quotas. Imagine! Quotas when the skills involved are 1) critical to the economic future of the nation, and 2) in short supply.

Employers - or prospective employers - play a role in this mystery. H1B and green card status both require employer sponsorship. And, getting an employer commitment has been, for the brilliant student that I've been working with, very difficuly. Not impossible, but a discouraging prospect for a significant number.

Why employers don't/won't make the commitment may be debated. Are they reluctant to roll the dice on a (possibly) short-term employee? Is it a matter of investment versus payback? Do governmental constraints discourage them from even trying? I don't honestly know. But, it is painful to hear about shortages of high-tech skills at the same time that we are driving high-tech talent away.

Seems to me that we need a concentrated national effort to encourage and stimulate easier visa acquisition for highly desirable individuals. That means less red tape and higher (or no) quotas. It might also mean incentives for employers who invest in sponsorship.

Bt somehow we need to find a way to keep a much greater number of these fine minds we are educating here in this country, and use those resources in our national interest. The current course of (in)action is fostering a brain drain that we will pay dearly for in the future if it is not reversed.












Business Relationships And Customer Service And . . .Oh, Fudge!

By Art van Bodegraven | 01/09/2012 | 6:58 AM

As is my sometimes habit, I ordered holiday gifts a few weeks ago from the very fine chocolatiers at Chicago's own Vosges Haut-Chocolat for some colleagues, collaborators, and unindicted co-conspirators. That I received no "thank yous" when the orders should have arrived was not suprising, given the sketchy backgrounds of a few of the recipients. But, when no acknowledgments at all showed up, I began to suspect that somehting was amiss.

Amiss hardly begins to describe the impossible series of events that concluded with both no gift shipments and no record whatsoever of the transaction, but I'll spare you the gory details. The net status was that: I had egg, or worse, on my face; some of the customary recipients surmised that I might have died; and I was seen to not reciprocate the generosity of those who had already sent me gifts.

In short, some key business relationships were made a shambles overnight. And, I felt compelled to break my brand-new resolution to be more tolerant, understanding, and forgiving in 2012.

When we talk or write about superlative and definitive customer service, we usuall pick on the usual suspects: Nordstrom, Infiniti, Ritz-Carlton, and the like. But, there are smaller companies who are as good as, or perhaps even better than, the household names - and it just might be more important to the smaller business to excel at customer service.

In Vosges' case, the Manager of their Concierge Service jumped on the issue with both feet. And, the founder and CEO was openly pushing for a positive resolution - ASAP. In short, my requests were met, and my expectations were exceeded - also ASAP. The calls and collaboration in finding a solution were one thing. But, a hand-written note when the dust had settled? Seldom heard of. So, I was brought back from the brink to a customer-for-life state of mind.

There are a few lessons for anyone remotely interested in customer service (and the maintenance of strong business relationships) to take away from this homely example.

One is that positive attitudes cannnot be taught. Oh, you can smooth out the rough edges a little, but a great attitude is hard-wired into some people's brains. It should be part of evaluations in the hiring process; technique and process can be taught, but a person who is pre-wired in the right way is a pearl of great price.

Another is that strong business relationship bonds are not made permanent by never, ever making a mistake. But, an amazing correction of an error is treasured by customers more than uninterrupted smooth sailing, and strengthens the relationship.

Yet another is the recognition by customer-service mentalities that fixing a problem is not an annoying cost of doing business, but is a high-payback investment in a longer-term revenue stream and, by the way, a source of referrals.

So, a potential catastrophe can turn into a love feast when it is managed the right way. Before I forget (another by-the-way), don't go looking for Grandma's fudge at Vosges; save that craving for the neighborhood candy store. Do bring your taste buds, though; they'll thank you.

The Great Equalizer

By Art van Bodegraven | 01/03/2012 | 7:37 AM

Over the past couple of years I've had a good time talking with supply chain and logistics colleagues about one blog or another, with some lively face-to-face exchanges. More recently, some of my writing has appeared in other venues, and I have been amazed at the vitriolic ad hominem attacks that seem to pop up almost immediately.

One borderline illiterate took me to task for gently pointing out that a public forum question relating to the importance of spelling and grammar in electronic communications contained an obvious grammatical error (in the context of a thoughtful response to the question, itself). He felt compelled to make the point - several times - that he talked American, not spoke English, and that anything that sounded right to his ear was by definition correct American.

Last week, a public piece on a local logistics issue appeared to rouse the Occupy Anything brigade, and the on-line responses were personal, off-point, south of literate, and factually wrong.

Upon reflection, it is clear that, as with nuclear fission, there are both upsides and downsides to technology. Anyone with access to a PC, Mac, tablet, or smart phone can connect with pretty much anyone and anything, and say/write almost any banal, illiterate, or obscene thing that comes to mind - and believe that his (or her, but it's mostly guys) voice has equal weight, validity, and gravitas with anyone else's.

Too often, we are confusing connectivity with relationships. Don't get me wrong, the positive power of connectivity is fantastic. But, it can best only support a relationship, and not substitute for one.

So, we get this army, happily dispersed and disorganized, of conspiracy theorists, malcontents, and dysfunctional individuals weighing in on anything that catches the antennae in their tinfoil hats. I picture someone generally resembling Zach Galifianakis sitting at the keyboard in his underwear, living with a cot and a card table in his parents' basement, and with an aura of old food surrounding him.

The point of all this is really to thank the supply chain community for being short on dimwits, and long on collegial relationships that can engage in stimulating civil discourse. We are beyond fortunate in having thoughtful and forward-looking leaders among us, and in not having to bear the burden of a population that is short of both teeth and Stanford-Binet points.


The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

About Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven (1939 - 2017) was Managing Principal of the van Bodegraven Associates consultancy and Founding Principal of Discovery Executive Services, which develops and delivers supply chain educational programs. He was formerly Chair of the Supply Chain Group AG, Partner at The Progress Group LLC, Development Executive at CSCMP, Practice Leader with S4 Consulting, and a Managing Director in Coopers & Lybrand's consulting practice. Concentrating in supply chain management and logistics for over 20 years in his 50+ year business career, he has led ground-breaking strategic, operational, and educational projects for leading US and global clients. Art was principal co-author of DC Velocity's Basic Training monthly column for a decade, and was the principal co-author, with Ken Ackerman, of Fundamentals of Supply Chain Management, the definitive primer in the field. His popular blog, The Art of Art, has been a staple of DC Velocity's web site since its inception.


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