Episode #59 Transcript | Robert Blackburn of BVL

[0:00] Radu Palamariu:

Hello and welcome to the leaders in supply chain podcast, I am your host Radu Palamariu and Managing Director of Alcott Global. Our mission is to connect the supply chain ecosystem in Asia and globally by bringing forward the most interesting leaders in the industry, and I am happy to have with us today is Dr. Robert Blackburn. Robert is the President and Chairman of the board of BVL International, which is the largest logistics nonprofit organization in Europe. He’s the senior vice president of global supply chain management for Stanley Black and Decker, which is, of course, the global leader in the manufacturing of industrial and household tools. Prior to this, he held leadership positions at IBM and BASF, he has worked in the field of operations and technology which spends numerous boards and industry leadership engagements. I’m happy that he made the time to join us today. Robert, thank you very much, and it is a pleasure to have you with us. Thank you for having me. Firstly, maybe let’s start the conversation and tell a little to the audience, because of not everybody, especially in people that are not in Europe. Tell us a bit about BVL, what the organization is about and where are you present and what the purpose of it?

[1:15] Robert Blackburn:

We were founded in 1978, and we had our 40th anniversary last year. The BVL is the leading supply chain network in the world, and we’re not the largest, but we are the most active, and we are the leading supply chain network. What makes us special, in my opinion, we have some of the world’s leading scientists and researchers who focus on supply chain, production, logistics, retail issues, intercontinental shipping and all modes. The other things that makes us really special is we’re not just academics with all of those researchers and one of the largest networks of universities focused around supply chain management. We also have well-over 11,000 members in Germany and around the world who is actually practitioners so, people like me, who do this for a living every day of their lives, take big decision.

[2:27] Robert Blackburn:

After a very large and well-known company right down to small and medium enterprises consultancy. For example, we have a senior partner from McKinsey and our advisory board, on our board of which I’m the chairman you mentioned, we have brands like BMW, and we have brands like Bosch. We are focused in Europe, but we have international chapters all over the world and will probably interest you less than that. We’re here to talk a lot about Asia, Korea and chapters in China. You and I came together through our chapter leader in Singapore for example and that makes BVL special is one crazy network of experts, practitioners, researchers, universities, unique in the world, in my opinion.

[3:30] Radu Palamariui:

It’s interesting that the number of members that you got, I think 11,200, and I got to know the numbers. Technical leaders and I get to know of you of course because of the chapter in Singapore where I sit, and you’ve had some, and you still have some fantastic events just for Singapore alone. Tell us and tell the audience some of the most important global and regional projects that BVL is focused on and working on.

[2:01] Robert Blackburn:

Our chapters and representatives on all of Earth’s continents are looking after many projects that are specific to the markets they serve. Let me just pick out four and talk about those. So, we have one of the largest supply chain conferences in the world right here where I am today in Berlin, Germany. We have well-over 3000 people who travel from all over the world and join us here and for example, one of our keynote speakers, I think it’s Wednesday evening will be China’s ambassador to Germany. We can give you one example that I could name many more and that’s one of our big focus projects. Another one is that a lot of times, most people say supply chain and don’t really know what supply chain means, or they say logistics, and they think of the truck around the corner where all of the above and in terms of helping our industry, in Europe and around the world, we’ve kicked off quite the logistics heroes campaign.

[5:15] Robert Blackburn:

We take normal people like you and me, out of industry, out of retail, out of logistics service providers, out of consumer companies, and we highlight them in various modes of the press, also pod chats, but also print campaigns, also television, another project by the way, people from all over the world, that’s not just people here, for example in Europe, another thing that we do is a lot of thought leadership for our members. We invest a lot of money into thought leadership for members of BVL. That’s why I think a big growth opportunity for us in Asia because as you all know Germany is one of the supply chain and logistic leading markets on planet earth. We produce trends and strategies, which is a survey of our very real numbers, who as I mentioned before, we are doing this, every day in big powerful companies

[6:47] Radu Palamariu:

It pops into my mind the question. The BVL digital and all the knowledge associated with it is strictly for the members or can somebody that is not a member also gets access to those? I’m sure that some of the listeners would have that question.

[7:03] Robert Blackburn:

Most of our really high-end material obviously is paid for and produced by our member companies and individual members, and therefore, they have access to it. However, we have a program for students at a particular university or even high school students where they can get access to it. I would say just, visit our website and contact us through there.

[7:31] Radu Palamariu:

Super I would encourage everybody listening to have a look there in terms of the industry and where it is today. Let’s also look at the current challenges that are being thrown at from a market perspective, from a context perspective of the different members that you have, which I’m sure they cover different angles. What would you say, and it’s a big question because again, you’re global so then, Of course, there’s going to be some local nuances, but what would you say the major challenges that your member organizations are being faced with today?

[8:06] Robert Blackburn:

This is a brand new world, the world is coming out of its largest and longest economic expansionary period in modern history. There’s just simply the fact. We have a whole generation of young leaders, young supply chain professionals around the world who has not known a stagnant story for recessionary environment. They’ve only known group. One of the biggest challenges is you now have very talented people, highly educated people taking big decisions on a lot of money on a global basis of Asia, in North America and South America. Obviously here in Europe, huge responsibilities who never faced a crisis like the one we find ourselves in now and quite unique is that this is not like the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 in the Western world or some of the stagnation that happened in the 90s. It is fairly unique because it is both geo strategic and geo political and the consequences of business as opposed to business having built over capacity which happens in certain industry or creating its own problems. It was unique and these are huge challenges that are really starting to bite our member organizations and causing them to have to respond in the consequence.

[9:44] Radu Palamariu:

The follow-up question is how are you seeing some of the avenues in which your member organizations are trying to resolve and adapt to these challenges in which obviously we have trade wars in which we have international fluctuations? We have been manufacturing being moved around, supply chain is being moved around. Do you see any trends in terms of what is happening in your member organizations?

[10:19] Robert Blackburn:

I remember organizations are very large in scale by definition and then others let’s say are a small or medium end of the spectrum so, there is that let me sort of take the issues you mentioned and say, yes, they are absolutely true for our larger member organizations. They’re not true for the smaller ones. The smaller ones, let’s say, are more regional or in country and in many cases, whatever country it may be. First and foremost, you mentioned trade wars and tariffs. Let me just say this, all of us have to work, live, understand, and be successful within the international legal and regulatory environment. Then, all of us have to work and be successful in large organizations in many countries and all of those legals and regulatory frameworks. Obviously when geo strategic issues or geo political issues of which right now tariffs appears to be one of those issues impact our member organizations, it is from our perspective, the BDO a very unfortunate situation which we hope comes to a close very quickly.

[11:45] Robert Blackburn:

Now you ask, how are we going about it? Listen, I love my job, and I love my job at Stanley Black and Decker, and I love my role in the BVL with our board of directors. That’s because I work with some of the smartest, most diligent and capable people in the world. Either people who go to work every day and look through their way, look through complexity. They’re looking at factories in some cases, and most of the world’s countries, all in one company. We have other members at the other end of the spectrum that spends their careers in a particular university, in a particular country, in a particular legal framework, and they’re researching and exchanging and doing network through the BVL with universities and professors all over the world who is trying to make sense of all this from an academic or thought leadership perspective. We have all the above so our members are coming at it from a leadership develop, development perspective from a knowledge and capability building perspective and then just good old-fashioned commercial operators. That’s how our members, the years have fared. I would say better when compared to their peer companies who are not members because they have access to all of that intellectual capital that we provide them.

[13:15] Radu Palamariu:

Got it. In terms of again, a big topic and mostly the questions that I’m going to be asking you today are on pick topics. There’s also a big difference between Europe and Asia in terms of a very basic fundamental for logistics and supply chain, which is infrastructure in Europe is more than a situation where there’s a need for upgrade or manual infrastructure. I mean in Southeast Asia, let’s say Myanmar, they are trying to, to get off the ground. A lot of Greenfield projects in other places of Southeast Asia is the same. How do you see the role of infrastructure, how the developed versus developing nations should approach it because it’s almost a quite a different approach to you.

[14:08] Robert Blackburn:

Obviously, I can’t speak for any of them, but let me just give you my perspective. If I were accountable for infrastructure in one of these markets and all of them are different, setting aside the volatility of weather patterns, which is accelerating in many parts of the world. If I were in a less developed country when speaking about infrastructure, I would look to leapfrog the developed world. I give you an example many people talk about infrastructure, and they want to talk with me about roads and bridges and airports and ports for ships to dock and all of that important. But the future is going to be dominated by those companies who get that part right. Additionally, leapfrog other economies with the digital infrastructure. You use the example, for example, Myanmar. Let’s just travel a little further east and look at Vietnam or in, everyone wants to talk about China.

[15:13] Robert Blackburn:

As 5G is rolled out entirely new business models and capabilities in supply chain becomes available. Some of that will even reduce the amount of physical infrastructure that you need. I give you the example of moving goods using drones for intro logistics. Pilots are going on all over the world. There are two of our member companies that have them in production operation today. Now, if we come back to the developed economy, look today I happened to be sitting in Berlin It’s the capital of Germany. Our biggest airport is our biggest failed project. We have problems with overcrowded cities, we have problems over crowded highways and freeways. We certainly haven’t maybe looked after our bridges as well as we could have given that, there are heavy industries here. It’s not just the automotive industry.

[16:17] Robert Blackburn:

The chemical industry is one of the biggest industries, and some of our biggest numbers of companies have the BVL here in Germany. But let’s go even further field. Ports are overwhelmed all over the world. You’re having port expanding in an unprecedented rate. Given that you’re coming from Asia, let’s just talk about the belt and road initiative. Develop and road initiative, one of the great inhibitors to the success of that project is all the countries along, at least the belt getting together and opening up or at least coordinating their regulatory systems to make way for infrastructure at speed. So, either the difference we’re those’re the very three short versions where we just scratch the surface across a whole range of issues. Obviously in the United States where I happen to live in work right now, I can tell you, ports are increasingly critical issues.

[17:24] Robert Blackburn

Obviously, everyone knows Canada, the US, Mexico lies between the ocean, and you need ports. Those ports are incredibly overwhelmed right now. Every country, every continent has unique issues. I think we all know, for example, if the Panama Canal shut much of the world, let’s say Intercontinental traffic would be shut down. Let’s talk about the Malacca straits right where you live. If we had a problem there, if we weren’t able to ship through there, what is it? Two-thirds of the world shipping Intercontinental go through there. Infrastructure isn’t a luxury for power, for politicians nor for business people. There’s this Mormon and businessmen rely on stable political structures to take planning decisions that can range from one year up to 10 or 15 years for investment. That’s why infrastructure becomes a major issue or focus on the BVL not just here in Germany or Europe but around the world.

[18:32] Radu Palamariu

I want to add my two cents on it because I am also originally from Europe and having lived many years in Asia. What I’m observing as a difference, also a difference of pace, I guess. Singapore is another very good example of doing it. I think they’ve, again, it’s obviously the size of Singapore is not the size of most countries. They ended up, they do have the benefit of obviously having this smaller and controlled in many ways island. But they’ve done a tremendous job in connecting every part of the ecosystem. With the 5G roll out, I think they’re going to do a tremendous job. However, also across Asia, what I’ve observed, the projects have been massive now. Indonesia for example, they are talking about potentially moving their capitals which is another incredible projects to undertake.

[19:31] Radu Palamariu

In China, they’ve done a number of infrastructure projects and most of them were very well-planned. You’ve mentioned Vietnam, you mentioned Myanmar. I think there’s a big advantage and you mentioned the term leapfrogging India as well as doing a lot at the moment, leapfrogging in a sense that it’s easier to build when you don’t have anything ironically or fundamentally. Then maybe you were in Europe or US or developed markets. It’s much harder to do it having the context and the limitations of, seeking approvals, getting everybody aligned. Then again you’re talking about five to ten years maybe sometimes projects that do require a consistent government which is not always the case. It’s quite a different set of challenges that again, in some ways maybe has benefited Asia and has also fueled the growth of Asia because they’ve been able to pull it off a little bit faster. I don’t know if you’ve observed the same orientation.

[20:30] Robert Blackburn:

I agree with much of what you’ve said. I’ll just say this, we need to keep in mind the basics sometimes. When I talked to politicians who perhaps haven’t had as much experience as others, we all look to at our peers in other countries, and we forget their common sense context. You just mentioned quite a few very pertinent facts to the European context. A very old society, a huge number of people, at least in central Europe packed into very small spaces. If you’re planning a new train line, a new airport, you’re impacting most likely communities that were there for hundreds of years. We need to remember that. You mentioned India, having been to India, I couldn’t remember the part of my career when I wasn’t in India or in China.

[21:32] Robert Blackburn

We all need to remember that. It’s not like, Canada, Russia, United States of America or even Brazil, where those are huge countries with huge open spaces. Understanding China’s land mass, it’s bigger than the United States land mass, but you’re talking about 330 million people versus four at 1.2 billion. In China, excuse me, in India with even in smaller land mass, you’re talking about what all 1.3 billion people. We always need to think as supply chain or decision planners at any part of the BVLs network, be it our political wing, be it, our academic wing or our practitioners. We need to always keep the human being in the middle of everything. If, we design our digital and physical infrastructure around the needs of the human being will be welcomed and loved in those communities. If we don’t, then we supply chain as  logisticians or planners.

[22:35] Robert Blackburn

If you’re in a political world for an academia, we will just have as an industry or as expertise as supply chain logisticians, we’ll have a horrible reputation, and that’s what, then causes communities to protest or react to that doesn’t move us forward. This is why, if there’s young aspiring supply chain optimizers out there or logistics planners or at least that want to go into for profit or non-profit company, those educational years are critical very important. It doesn’t need to be a university degree. You need to have some certifications to know how to do some of this stuff cause you’re impacting the lives, you’re impacting the environment. You can plan I mean, in fact, you take 60 of these intercontinental huge ships, and you have more CO2 pollution being produced and with all the automobiles and trucks on planet Earth combined. Just think about that statement, In our world and its supply chain network, BVL you have a number of environmentally and consciously focused research going on as well.

[23:55] Radu Palamariu

It’s shifting a little bit. Then, I have a quote from yourself actually where you were saying, in a publication in the past that logistics is sustainable with when it’s efficient. There is certainly a lot of potential for logistics managers to reduce the volume of transport by taking strategic decisions or making changes to day operation. You mentioned that the mantra is collaboration and that is the key to success. Maybe in that spirit, if you can share with us Robert, some examples of case studies where you’ve seen this work well in the logistics world, in your member’s world where they came together, they collaborate and with great results that you bet the efficiency productivity also it can be sustainability. It depends on what KPI they measured it on but it would be great to share some examples.

[24:48] Robert Blackburn

Let’s start with one of my favorite hobbies. I teach university students and I also did a lot of research around supplying networks for ecosystems. When collaboration works at its best and when people look over their own corporate or country borders or just takes, works well, is sustainable for the environment and can keep the human being in the middle point not only in servicing that person and the ever demanding world of four hour windows of delivery or air transport. All of those things where you need to balance in a complex world competing demand. Supply chainers and logisticians are at the forefront. I didn’t know him that was my quote, but thank you for finding it. You’re a very talented person. I’ll just say this, logistics is in fact sustainable when it’s efficient and efficiency aren’t attained at the highest level by linking up what many people refer to our supply chains which is grossly outdated.

[26:04] Robert Blackburn

We need to be thinking in supply networks. I’ve been saying this, for over two decades. Supply networks are nothing more than ecosystems which are coordinated cross corporate boundaries, cross -country boundaries. In fact, supply networks are even competitive ecosystem which when collaborated or when you collaborate within them and you coordinate them, you can save real energy. You can save real resources from planet Earth and you can also return more to your shareholders, your employees, to your customers and in fact, the community you live in. This is a lot of the research that I have personally done. It is a lot of the research that BVL does and our practitioners, for example, Stanley Black and Decker or other company. We implement this research for the benefit of society genuinely for a better world. Stanley Black and Decker, we are from the makers of the world. That’s our purpose and I think that applies very much to logistics and the collaborative nature with which we work.

[27:23] Radu Palamariu

Could not agree more, especially like the fact that you also brought up in certain situations. A lot of situations, and we even have a term for it now, which is a friend and make friend. Friends in certain contexts, enemies in other contexts. We do seek collaboration even in between the competitors, depending on the market and depending also on the interests off each other. I was speaking with one of our clients on the medical device side. They were sharing that they came together, two or three manufacturers of medical devices, and they were starting to use a very simple that ultimately it was starting to use containers together because in a lot of routes and a lot of trades they didn’t use the full load.

[28:15] Radu Palamariu

Then, if they were able to synchronize and to maximize, then they would basically be much more effective in the way they utilize their capacity. That was one example, but I also wanted to probe slightly further with you and see if any sort of flagship type of a case study or I don’t know, initiative that you personally maybe were involved in can be also in IBM or in BSF or, they are now in your parent company in Stanley Black and Decker or something that we can also share it as a very good case study to maybe plant the seed into what can be done in the minds of all listeners.

[29:03] Robert Blackburn:

I think it’s important to talk about the team, you play for and not the teams that you don’t. Let me give you an example at Stanley Black and Decker, we are leaders in corporate social responsibility. This is clear and within the context of corporate social responsibility, one of the most important responsibilities the company has and can act upon is how it consumes its resources. We work across corporate borders with the goal of eliminating plastic in our supply chain by 2030. Our CEO, Jim Murray made it very clear. Jeff Dyer who leads our corporate social responsibility and enforces our CEO or be it in my role looking after all of our suppliers and our supply chain. I think what you find is that we work with our suppliers’ suppliers and then our customers and try to influence consumer behavior such that we can have a world of sustainable packaging. I don’t want go too deep into that example because today I’m here to represent the BVL on our supply chain network and not Stanley Black and Decker and in the classical sense. But you asked for a case, and that’s a very real case, and I think we run out of time if I went deep into all the things that we’re doing to make that case work in our ecosystem or if you will our supply network.

[30:40] Radu Palamariu:

Sustainability is probably on the agenda of, or should be for sure, and they should be on each individual’s agenda, but also on the corporate side, it’s higher which is great to see because it’s high time. We do something and we take it very seriously. Shifting gears again, I wanted to, and again quoting you or I have this course from my team, I think they’ve definitely found them. You must have said it at some point or if you didn’t say it, it’s on Google, sorry. The quote that goes something to the extent that you recently visited the late large freight forwarder who work was blending their routes on a big chart on the wall using pens. They shared that in their minds this was the most efficient method because all the employees look at the giant chart and basically do it by that.

[31:37] Radu Palamariu:

But of course looking into the future that kind of, not even the future but the present have a kind of system is bound to fail. It’s not going to work. A lot of things, most things aren’t going to be automatically matched using artificial intelligence and algorithms. But this example is very good in a sense of there are significant challenges to companies going digital, to companies applying these algorithms to companies even getting the information in the first place in this digital format. What have you seen as biggest impediments if you may in terms of these and especially freight forwarding companies in terms of them actually embracing digitalization going full on. Maybe, we can discuss a little further on that.

[32:25] Robert Blackburn:

Sure. A question I’d like to ask if it’s okay with you to deal with it in two ways. The first part is, challenges for any company also freight forwards and truly implementing digital technology to advance their own cause and to support their stakeholders. All of the above, the shareholders, customers, unity employees, whatever it may be. Then, the second part of that of course is, are there situations in which you don’t need certain technologies? Let’s go back again to you and your team are quite diligent that is a quote for me actually. I had actually visited a freight forwarder that remain a name and it was really interesting. They had an intern who is interested in and of itself the generation were that the intern came from this is a few years ago, but at the time I think the young woman was in her very early twenties, and she had covered a whole wall because she had learned at the whole wall with paper, laminated paper and when using a marker and basically little cheat sheets to fill in.

[33:47] Robert Blackburn:

It was interesting. I asked her, just hear from one of the world’s best universities, you’re obviously a powerful young leader. You happen to have a very important role here. Why are you using pen and paper? I don’t know exactly when, but I believe that happened in 2015 or even 2016 in any case, she made the case that, my team is not distributed across the cities, countries, continents. My entire team sits right here on this floor, in this corner of this room. I said, okay, how are you using for that? She said, look, this is very simple. We can visualize with no technology, exactly what the process steps are for our employees and who’s done what, which parts of our logistics operations are and, which process steps, or customer calls, which particular containers were, and we don’t need to switch on the first one tutor.

[34:51] Robert Blackburn

We don’t need to call anyone. We looked up the board, and I said, okay, that’s pretty rare circumstance. Then, one of the people who ran the company that was hosting came in and said, yes it is, and I imagine this boy won’t be there in three or four years. The fact is that board is still there. I happen to know this example it happens to be a very good company by the way. However, the teens are getting more distributed, they’re getting more global in nature. What is global? Global is nothing more than people sitting in multiple countries on different continents. That’s my experience with global. You ever thought about global, and they forget that everything is local. It’s just a matter of how big is the supply network, how big is the ecosystem and how distributed are the people accountable for it.

[35:34] Robert Blackburn:

What has changed in that example is, they have recreated that very boards that this young, powerful woman using her training and intellectual capability it created on paper? They created that in a digital app and as the business has grown and taken in new companies, a new customer company, they’ve distributed that through an app but that room still exists. It’s an interesting example that you found. Now coming back to the far more challenging part having been a person who has actually implemented all sorts of digital technologies from predictive maintenance to machine learning through the beginnings of artificial intelligence in robotics, in real manufacturing and distribution center operations, I can tell you there’s nothing easy about it. The biggest mistake, actually, there isn’t the biggest mistake. There is a popery or a handful of the states that sort of compound one another.

[36:48] Robert Blackburn:

The first is not investing enough training and the people before they have to use the technologies on the technologies that are going to be implemented. That’s the first one. The second one is taking a technology that’s not ready for all this. Says ready for prime time or ready to be put into productive use and out of alpha or beta testing. When you do that, you lose the confidence of the operators. It was the confidence of your customers, and you’ll lose the confidence of the team. Actually, that’s most critical. Then, I’ll just give you one, and I’ll stop one more. Another major inhibitor is people forget even if you’ve educated your workforce, even if you’ve implemented all the technologies in the right way, you constantly have to be looking to upgrading.

[37:42] Robert Blackburn:

I’ll give you an example, a year or so ago, I visited one of our member companies that had done a fantastic job implementing all facets of lean. If that, I have to tell you, the manufacturing and the distribution center who was in one building work fantastic. However, they have been asked to implement the first robot for picking and packing alongside in the beans. What they forgot to tell the human beings was they were working in a growth environment and these robots aren’t there to replace them. Rather, they were there to make their job easier. What do you think happened? We call that in professional business change management opportunity. This particular organization forgot the change management part of that. As you can imagine, the whole lean concept, the team just lost confidence in what was going on and the whole concept. So, both the expertise of leading fell apart because the robots and the humans weren’t, I’ll just call them cobots.

[38:48] Robert Blackburn:

They weren’t collaborating well. So, collaborating isn’t just something big across companies and across ecosystems or supply networks. Collaboration can be right there in a distribution center or a factory where women, men and machines need to get along and work together. Those are just a few of the issues I ran across. Every step that you go more into automating your factories and your distribution operations, implementing machine learning, all this stuff relies on data, all of it. If you haven’t got, everybody is bored with data, things like master data, maintenance, governance, master data. What you find is it all falls apart because all of those systems, at some level, the big words with the world now like visualization, AI artificial intelligence and so further and so on. However, all of it comes back to data and analytics that you can perform on that data which hopefully most companies like our company’s Stanley Black and Decker have a data leak. It’s with governance around that, and everything goes to that source of internal and external data. A bit of a long explanation but if your listeners are really interested in a topic that’s sort of a brief intro into how it really works, what the BVL does?  We educate our members of exactly this stuff.

[40:20] Radu Palamariu:

A very good commercial but at the same time, it’s very true. I mean, I appreciate the frankness and openness. I mean, it challenges that most companies face being fair. Even in today’s world where people like to throw around that there in AI and machine learning in the actual effect still, I don’t know the percentage. I keep hearing different percentages but still a big chunk of companies still is on Excel, and they don’t really have data leaks and accurate data to perform any sort of algorithms on or enough data to do that. There’s still a big challenge and your example with making sure that the human element and the human explanation and making sure that the people are on board is fundamentally, again, one is big missing piece where a lot of these initiatives may sound good on paper, may make perfect sense.

[41:20] Radu Palamariu:

The ROI is incredible but like you rightfully mentioned, the leadership forgot to get people on board, change and explain that it’s in their interest not to replace them with people or whatever else. They can imagine and then it all falls apart. In this context and moving to the last part of our discussion, which is about people, and it is about telling I’d like to add to start by asking you, what do you see as the key attributes of the supply chain leaders of the future? What do they need to pay attention to? Is it change management? Is it continuous innovation? Is it the soft skill side? Is it the hard skill side? Is it, they need to be coders, they need to be programmers? What in your mind makes a very good chief supply chain officer?

[42:07] Robert Blackburn:

For a chief supply chain officer, you must be a lifelong learner. You must be collaborative. You must be a leader that people want to follow. It really genuinely is true. Every generation who comes new into the workforce thinks differently, behaving differently and need to be led differently. I give you an example. In my particular case, I work very differently with baby boomers or gen X or Z than I do gen wires with millennial, we are having our personal learning goals come into leadership. The next thing I’ll say about the chief supply chain officer role is, he really and genuinely must be able to recognize patterns from many different data points. You are in fact, one of a team, but in fact, you are one of the thought leaders of the team. If you’re not lifelong learning, if you’re not curious by nature, complexity is tough to manage.

[43:09] Robert Blackburn:

The world’s changing all the time around you. I mean, I start my day every day with a sort of a virtual tour around the world events that are happening. I’ve been doing that for years and I still, every year, it seems like I know less and less. Let me come back to the broader group. At Stanley Black and Decker like the BVL have a very inclusive culture, and I think that’s one of the reasons I fit well in both places too. The cultures are curious about other cultures. There are cultures where ideas when not titles or hierarchy. I think for in particular, for supply chain in yours, for logistics leaders, yes, at some point someone has to take a decision, and you have to move with speed and consequence. But in many cases, you can’t lean back as a leader at any level anymore.

[44:09] Robert Blackburn:

Think of yourself as the boss or genuinely do not believe that. If I was speaking right now to leaders at all levels of an industrial company, a retail company, a logistics service provider that the companies that are members of the BVL, I’ll just constrain myself with that because that’s my role today. My experience has informed me that, in particular, with our youngest two generations, generation Y and millennials, you must pull them in, and you must allow them to make their mistakes and taking their decision, and he must let the best ideas win. That is what I would say to leaders of all levels of the organization that’s not directed at anyone’s level of leaders. I’ve seen leadership styles of all sorts of work, and we all know that we carry around a virtual leadership box with us, and we go into different situations.

[45:15] Robert Blackburn:

You lead differently in a crisis and when all the waters are just very serene and flat and there’s not even a whisper of a wind blowing when you’re out sailing. Right now, you and I are talking in October 2019 and in October 2019 the oceans that see the lake are all choppy to stick with the sailors’ analogy. You need leaders who can coax out the best ideas and let people spread their wings and execute. As a leader, your job is to facilitate and to be inclusive of all cultures. I’ve lived in many places in this world, I’ve sled business and there’re different cultures of this world, and if I’ve learned anything, the more inclusive and accepting we are of thought, the better the solution comes out in particular, in a more complex and complicated environment. Most every supply chains or a logistician who’s listening to me today, whether you’re managing or leading manufacturing or distribution or logistics service provider or fast-moving consumer goods and an e-commerce company like Ali Baba or JD.com or Amazon, the world’s getting ever faster and not one of us has the particular right answer. It’s always going to come out of their team as success always has and success always comes particularly in the pricing.

[47:00] Radu Palamariu:

Well said. The final question from me, Robert, in terms of the younger mentioned, the millennial generation listening to us, what would be some pieces of advice or the best piece of advice that you’ve received throughout your long career that helped you the most and you’d like to share with them?

[47:22] Robert Blackburn:

Be a good teammate and always give back more than you receive. It sounds really easy. It’s not. Just, imagine yourself as a new young person coming out of university and starting young families and needs your job. You need to support your family, and it was five people at work and only one of them is going to get promoted to be the team leader or whatever your situation is and my belief is that the more you give, the more you will receive. It was a mentor of mine early in my career, he told me, Robert, never ever think about the next step or promotion, just do the very best you could in the role that you have. Be a good teammate and give back everything you can to those teammates around you, and life will carry you and that’s been true for me, and that’s what I told for my children.

[48:16] Radu Palamariu:

Thank you. Great sharing and funnily enough, we should connect you if you don’t know him. Bill Driegert who is the global head of operations for Uber freight, and he said the same thing. That makes the two of you and definitely a true, and I should connect you, do you know, Bill by any chance?

[48:39] Robert Blackburn:

I do not. I can learn from everyone, and particularly that’s a radically different industry. I mean, I am a manufacturing guy and manufacturer.

[48:48] Radu Palamariu:

It’s funny that the principles seem to be the center of the success principles that are the same. Robert, many thanks for the sharing, good examples and all the case studies you shared, and I would again encourage everybody listening to check out if you go to the website and hopefully one day more people listening can join the Congress, which is happening in the next couple of days, which is probably the biggest gathering of logistics and supply chain professionals in Europe. Thanks again for your time and it was a pleasure speaking with you today.

[49:24] Robert Blackburn:

Well, you have a lovely day and thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it.

[49:29] Radu Palamariu (Outro):

Thank you for listening to our podcast. If you like what you heard, we should go to www.alcottglobal.com and click the podcast button for all the show notes of the interview. Please subscribe to our mailing list to get our latest updates. First, if you’re listening through a streaming platform like iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher, we would appreciate a kind of review. Five stars work best to keep us going and our production team happy and of course, share it with your friends. I’m most active on LinkedIn, so feel free to follow me. If you have any suggestions on what to do and who to invite next, don’t hesitate to drop me a note, and if you’re looking to hire top executives in supply chain or transform your business, of course, contact us as well to find out how we can help.


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