May 14, 2021Print | PDF
On April 22, virtual attendees from across Canada logged into a special webinar to hear what three of the country’s most accomplished supply chain leaders had to say about the impact of the pandemic on their respective companies.
Managing Global Supply Chains in a Riskier World was hosted by the Lazaridis School of Business & Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University in partnership with the Lazaridis Master of Supply Chain Management program and the Laurier Centre for Supply Chain Management with support from the Graham Munro Charitable Foundation.
The panelists included Andaleeb Dobson (BBA ’97), vice president of merchandizing and supply chain at The Source; Mike Ward (BBA ’86), CEO and chief sustainability officer at IKEA Canada; and Jim Peeples, president and COO of Challenger Motor Freight.
The discussion was moderated by professor Michael Haughton, CN Fellow in Supply Chain Management and director of the Lazaridis School’s newest professionally focused master’s degree, the Master of Supply Chain Management. It was Haughton’s job to gain as many insights as he could from the more than seven decades of professional experience assembled for the hour-long conversation.
“The repercussions are not being felt evenly,” she explained. “This is affecting women, mothers, and minorities in a disproportionate way with women leaving the workforce at ten times the rate of men. This leaves them vulnerable to skills erosion and we’ll be dealing with this for years to come.”
“It has certainly been an interesting and challenging year,” noted Peeples who described how the seriousness of the pandemic gradually became apparent to everyone at Challenger. “We had no idea what we were in for and initially thought it wouldn’t last that long. That changed when we started to realize businesses were being forced to shut their doors if they weren’t essential, and despite our company being listed as essential, we saw our revenue drop 35 per cent by week three.”
The suddenness of the pandemic also caught the leadership team of IKEA Canada by surprise when overnight, March 18, 2020 to be exact, all stores shut down across Canada, affecting about 8,000 employees.
For Dobson’s team at The Source, the challenge of keeping the company’s sense of togetherness was an immediate concern. “We saw the very fast division between our office staff who were asked to work from home and our warehouse staff who needed to stay on-site and process orders. Our goals were focused on keeping everyone safe in a way that made sure we still felt like one company, regardless of where you physically worked.”
All three panelists shared examples of how the pandemic threw plans into overdrive as they faced an overwhelming need to increase their agility.
Ward explained how IKEA Canada was already undergoing a three-year business change project when they were forced to accelerate their timelines. “We did things in weeks that otherwise would have taken us years because the situation was changing so quickly,” said Ward.
“We originally anticipated a drop in demand, so we shut down our global supply chain,” Ward explained. “The biggest lesson we learned was that we should have kept supply going because when many people started working from home, they had new needs for home and office products. As a result, business starting booming and we had to race to catch up with demand.”
Peeples credits the investment in Challenger’s aim to be a people-first company as the key to their success. “Our long-haul drivers were heading across the border into hotspots every day so we had to ensure we had a process designed to keep them safe. If they didn’t feel safe, they knew they could choose different routes because we made sure they knew their safety was our first priority.”
Dobson took a wider view of what impact the pandemic will have on our society and workforce. “The repercussions are not being felt evenly,” she explained. “This is affecting women, mothers, and minorities in a disproportionate way with women leaving the workforce at ten times the rate of men. This leaves them vulnerable to skills erosion and we’ll be dealing with this for years to come.”
As a professor in a school of business and economics focused on assessing the future world of work and preparing our students for it, Haughton asked the panelists to comment on the extent to which global supply chains would become more local.
“To execute this would require undoing decades of work,” said Dobson. “It’s especially difficult in the technology sector because components are assembled across many locations.” She added that the end of lean supply chains is likely on the horizon to mitigate the risks associated with demand fluctuations. Despite these changes, Dobson said companies are unlikely to bring more manufacturing back in-house, “instead they will likely start buying stakes in their suppliers to ensure their supply chains can withstand more serious economic shifts.”
Peeples agreed with Dobson’s assessment and added the point that since the 1980s, North American capital investments have been focused outward toward less expensive labour costs and a rise in manufacturing capacity. “The results of 40 years of this are very long supply chains in which companies now have difficulty seeing the full set of processes from beginning to end.”
Regardless of the length of the supply chains, there are always opportunities to make them less environmentally harmful. Ward sees significant but necessary challenges on the horizon beyond the immediacy of the pandemic. “The greatest threat to our world and way of life is the climate crisis. We have about a decade to learn how to live with the resources of one planet,” he added.
Ward outlined IKEA Canada’s ambitious goal of becoming carbon positive by 2030, noting the fact that more than 60 per cent of their greenhouse gases come from their supply chains. “In the near future, we will see a transition to renewable energy sourcing, even more sustainable goods, and an all-electric fleet of vehicles.”
Unanimously, the panelists asserted that, in the end, the ingenuity and resilience of personnel will continue to be essential for achieving what has been a corporate holy grail in recent decades – agility.
“This was a great opportunity to build better teams,” said Dobson. “One of the biggest themes coming out of the pandemic, especially for companies with supply chains, has been having contingencies. Having a Plan A, B and C means dealing with a lot of uncertainty, so kudos to everyone who has had to manage that ambiguity.”
The Lazaridis School thanks Andaleeb Dobson, Jim Peeples and Mike Ward for their generous participation in this panel discussion. For more information about our supply chain-focused events, please visit our events page.
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