Transcript: What the Duck?! Episode 54

What the Duck?! Episode 54 Transcript

WALK THE LINE: Strategic Supply Chain Management for Global Manufacturers with Lindsey Walker

Welcome to What the Duck?! A podcast with real experts talking about direct spend challenges and experiences. And now, here’s your host, SourceDay’s very own manufacturing Maven, Sarah Scudder. Thank you for joining me for What the Duck?! Another Supply Chain Podcast brought to you by SourceDay. I am your host, Sarah Scudder, and this is the podcast for people working in the direct materials part of supply chain. I’m @SarahScudder on LinkedIn and @Sscudder on Twitter. Today, I am going to be joined by Lindsey Walker, and we’re going to discuss supply chain planning strategy and execution for mid-size Global manufacturers. If you work for a manufacturer and want to learn more about how to be more effective in optimizing your supply chain, then this episode is for you. Lindsey is the founder of Oakmont Supply Solutions and is a supply chain planning expert with over 12 years’ experience leading supply chain strategy and execution in all different types and sizes companies. I got to know Lindsey a few months ago; she’s a part of a supply chain meetup group that I host and run and is super fun and spunky and has great energy, so I said she has to come on the show. So welcome, Lindsey.

So, Lindsey, we both share a, I guess you could say, fake yoga schedule. So, I am not a frequent yogi, but sometimes I will take a stab at it. I love that we share that connection, and I think I want to start by having you share what is your yoga strategy for the year?

Yeah, it’s a great question, Sarah, one I don’t frequently discuss, so I’m glad that we’re getting into it on the podcast. So, my yoga strategy currently, my husband actually overheard me joking with you and others about my quarterly yoga routine and now has insisted that we have a real weekly yoga session after our kids go to bed. So, that is currently my goal. We are over one on the weeks completed, so I think we’re starting off pretty well, you know, for going into a quarterly routine. So, for all of those listeners that want to get a start in yoga and haven’t yet, start with the quarterly strategy, then move to monthly, and would love to hear your feedback in the notes or the comments about how that goes for you.

So, Lindsey, I like to start off with a personal story and have you share your journey about how you got your start in supply chain.

Sure, so a little bit of background, you gave a quick intro on what we’re doing at Oakmont, but like you said, I spent 12 years in corporate supply chain before starting my own consulting practice, and really focused on the supply chain planning. So, everything from your direct material sourcing, procurement through to demand planning, supply planning, manufacturing, and all the way through to distribution to customer. Yeah, that’s really what we’re doing at Oakmont, is all of that activity and helping the small to mid-size manufacturers, bringing the Fortune 50 experience that I have and those for large global manufacturers, bringing it to the midsize and small guys to help them run their businesses most efficiently. And a little personally, I’ve got two kids, living in Atlanta, we’re big Braves fans, and I graduated from the University of Tennessee, go Vols. And so, I come from a baseball fanatic family that is successful with the San Francisco Giants. My dad, I don’t think, has missed listening to or watching a game in 40 years, so hardcore. And I’ve seen many Braves games and lots of yelling and screaming when the Giants have played the Braves in my childhood.

Yes, we’re 15 minutes or evenings than I would like. It’s very hot; baseball season is very happy, and the games are so long. I’m glad they’ve made some changes this year to shorten them because four or five hours is a little rough. It’s as much as you can handle; it’s a lot. So, Lindsey, our listener for listeners for this podcast are really focused on the direct material side of procurement, and most of them work for smaller mid-sized manufacturers. Would like to have you talk about what specifically you’ve done as it relates to direct materials procurement. So, a lot of the direct materials experience that I have has come from existing client base from a consulting perspective, but then also when I worked at Reliance Worldwide as a supply chain director. So, when I worked there, I was responsible for a lot of the procurement and the purchasing aspects of the business and have a couple of other past experiences at previous companies more related to the finished goods side of procurement, not as much materials. So, you have a strong background in logistics and inventory planning. I’d like to know what prompted the switch from going from a national account manager with Reliance to a director of supply chain, supply chain planning. Very, very different roles, very different strategy required, very different roles. And when you look at my resume, my entire resume basically has been operational supply chain with the exception of a two-year national account manager stint. And really, a lot of that was I had spent the prior six years prior to taking that role in operational supply chain, and I hadn’t found a niche that I was loving. So, part of me thought, is it supply chain that I’m not loving as a whole?

So, I went into onto the sales side of a business, and Reliance was an amazing opportunity to grow account to grow an account from nothing to hundreds of millions of dollars, so it was an incredible opportunity. But realized about two and a half years in that after all the operational requirements were fulfilled of building a massive account that I didn’t love the day-to-day selling in the national account management piece of it. So, I was fortunate that Reliance had an opportunity to lead supply chain for their business, and they needed someone to step in there, and given my operational background, it just made sense and grew in that role. So, it was a great experience.

So, as the Director of Supply Chain Planning, you had responsibility for what’s called end-to-end supply chain operations. What was the biggest challenge you had during the drastic uptick in business during the pandemic, which was quite an interesting phenomenon for some companies, for most companies, I would say?

What an interesting time. You know, home improvement was booming. I mean, everyone was staying at home. You’re sharing your four walls. There had never been a more popular time to renovate your bathroom, so it was a crazy time for the business. It was huge double-digit growth, and we were very fortunate to have a really resilient supply chain. So, that was something that we’ve been building for many years, but a lot of the manufacturing was based in Australia. We had manufacturing in China; we had manufacturing in Alabama. So, there were a lot of touch points that were consuming a lot of materials and really a pretty small team that was running it all, also all told. So, really, I think the biggest challenge we saw was the transportation market was really tough. Getting space, getting affordable space was difficult and took a lot of partnership with our customs broker and our freight brokers. And then also, by the time we could get it to the machines for production, often our demand would exceed the forecast. So, it became pretty much the, it was a very difficult exercise to make sure we were staying on top of demand. So, I would say staying on top of demand, transportation, those were our two main issues.

How were you able to overcome the transportation issues?

I mean, that was a big one. There’s only so much you can do. You’ve got limited carriers; you have kind of you’re at the whim of your brokers and third-party in a lot of cases. So, a lot of it was getting creative. So, you’re exactly right; transportation is a pretty fixed strategy in most cases, but through the pandemic, we had to get really creative. Whether it was utilizing additional freight lines that we hadn’t explored previously or utilizing less popular ports out of China, out of Australia, moving some freight to New Zealand, that was really how we did it, was getting scrappy and getting creative. I feel like for supply chain planning, especially in the name of the pandemic, it was all about being scrappy. So, you did something around accommodating high retail fill rates, and I’m not sure if I worded that correctly, but how were you and your team able to manage and execute on the back end?

Again, very unique challenge when you’re working in an industry where your predictions and planning kind of completely goes out the window. Sure. For those of the listeners that are in big retail, we know that OTIF, so on-time in full, and fill rates in general, are a huge predictor of success in retail, and they’re a huge part of staying on the shelf of any major retailer or distributor for that matter. So, fill rate became the name of the game at any cost. We had to make sure we were filling, especially our large retail clients. So, how we did that, I would say we, it took a ton of partnership through the entire organization. Maintaining fill rates of 95 plus through double-digit, in some weeks, triple-digit comps, we had a weather complex category too. So, in the middle of the pandemic, our product was heavily freeze-dependent, or I would say freeze-impacted. And in the middle of the pandemic, we had a historic freeze south of the Mason-Dixon, which was unbelievably impactful, triple-digit comps some weeks.

So, in order to fulfill all of those needs and maintain great fill rates, it was true cross-functional collaboration, some of the best I’ve ever seen, all from the supply chain through sales, through finance, even through our executive leadership team. Approving air freights, approving huge budget changes when needed, to make sure we were hitting those service requirements for customers. It was having the bigger picture in mind the entire time, that the relationship with this customer is more important than the margin we’re making on this sale. You can only do that for a short period of time; you can’t do that for a long time. But our leadership team did an awesome job; we all came together, made decisions collectively and quickly. I think that was the big differentiator for Reliance, even amongst competitors, and something I see in my clients now. The ability to make decisions quickly and decisively is unbelievably important in keeping a competitive advantage, especially in a retail landscape. So, removing COVID from the equation, because that kind of threw a wrench in everything, one of the things that I think you really excelled at throughout your career is being able to increase margins and maximize revenue for a company, which is something that supply chain can really impact. What advice would you have for those that are listening, that are working for small and mid-sized manufacturers and are really, really focused on maximizing revenue and increasing margins?

What a great question. I would say that’s probably my primary objective at Oakmont when we’re implementing processes, is to make sure that we are bringing margin wins to the table. Don’t discount the low-hanging fruit. That’s probably my number one piece of advice that I see companies leave a lot of things on the table. Whether it’s supplier term negotiations because it’s been a long-standing relationship, we don’t want to go back to the table and renegotiate our payment terms, we don’t want to go and ask for that cost to decrease. Some of that low-hanging fruit is the easiest to pick, and it’s the most valuable. So, don’t discount that piece, and leaders, my advice would be, if you’re a new leader coming in, pressure test your team. Make sure you understand what that low-hanging fruit is and make sure you understand your team’s objections to picking it, so you can really do that together and walk down that path together. So, that would probably be my number one piece of advice and what I see most in the market right now. My number two piece of advice would be, be careful on how reactive you are. So, we talked previously about being decisive and how that’s really important, but making data-driven decisions versus emotional decisions, especially when it comes to your supply chain and bringing additional margin in. I use the example of supplier relationships a lot, but just because you’ve been in business with one supplier for 10 years and you consider them a strategic partner, if their cost is 20% higher than their competitors, are they really your strategic partner? Are they the ones you want to be paired with?

And that’s difficult, that’s really tough when you’ve got really great relationships. It’s really important for your margin, your bottom line, that you disconnect emotionally from those relationships and you can look at them objectively. I would also say that I think winning over internal stakeholders is really, really important if you’re trying to increase margins, because you’re going to need buy-in and support from internal departments in order to be successful. Maybe Lindsey, you can share a time where you were able to have a win with an internal stakeholder that was a challenge or something that you didn’t think you were going to make happen. But you were able because I think that’s something that a lot of people struggle with is the internal championing and the internal wins.

Yes, that’s such a great point, Sarah. I mean, the internal collaboration, you can’t possibly be successful externally if your internal ducks, no pun intended, aren’t in a line. So, I think internally where I’ve seen a lot of striving made in the collaborative spaces is in an effective S&OP process. So, Sales and Operations Planning, also called S&OP, can be iterated into IBP, but I’ve seen a lot of collaborative wins happening through that process, especially as it relates to supply chain and driving consensus through the business. One particular example I can think of: I recently implemented an S&OP, designed and implemented a customized S&OP process for a midsize manufacturing client, right around 500 million in annual sales. And we were really struggling with MRP adoption, so their MRP and ERP, really ERP adoption and MRP cleanup. So, really struggling on getting team utilization of the tools that had already been invested in by the business. And that was the CEO-level initiative. By airing out some of the challenges and concerns that the client had with their existing ERP platform, we were able to connect them with another firm that worked directly solutioning for that ERP. We were able to work through a lot of the myths, and that’s ultimately what they were, through tribal knowledge translation, were a bunch of myths. The ERP couldn’t support their business. We were able to do some custom configuration on that ERP to help them and really drive improvement in their processes. It ultimately drove to a much higher adoption rate. I won’t say it was a hundred percent by the time the engagement ended, but it was upwards of 80% from less than 20% engagement prior to starting. So really, by airing out the challenges through that S&OP process and having the team clearly understand what the objective was, which was to drive engagement and utilization of the ERP, we were able to make a lot of strides and get the resources we needed, i.e., the other external firm that helped us identify the gaps and helped figure out how to close them. So, it was a really great example of internal collaboration, how that can drive some real results within business.

You have a lot of experience with Sales and Operations Planning, and I think it would be helpful for you to share some best practices or talk about things that you’re noticing in 2023. Again, given our audience’s heavily focused on the small and mid-market manufacturing space. Sure, I think it’s something that a lot of companies are struggling with right now, that S&OP is helping highlight our inventory challenges. So, some industries are still suffering from shortages, but the majority are suffering now from the opposite of that problem, which is overages and obsolescence. So, I think that’s one thing where you can utilize your S&OP process, and that’s an area that I’m seeing big trends this year, and the shifting need from ‘buy, buy, buy’ to ‘manage, manage, manage,’ and managing through the stuff you have, especially if you have a tendency to run obsolete. So, I’d say that’s one trend that I’m seeing this year. The demand fluctuations, another. So, the economic indicators are really difficult to predict right now with interest rates, and then you’ve also got your stock market fluctuations, commodity pricing fluctuations. Freight has bottomed out, right?

There are a lot of market pressures that are pretty much the opposite of what we experienced two years ago. So, the resilience that we built to manage them on one side, right, we have to apply that same resilience to manage them on the other side, and I’m finding there’s a bit of a challenge there in getting those resilience muscles on the other side flexed and ready to move. So, those are the things that I’m seeing in the challenges. So, given all the uncertainty in planning in general, right, because we don’t know what demand is going to be, often even on a month-by-month basis, what do you recommend for people looking to get better control or a better handle on their inventory?

I mean, people were all about just-in-time, then people went the complete opposite, and I mean, we have customers that had two or three years’ worth of inventory stockpiled. Now I’m seeing that kind of go back to more moderate levels, like a three- to six-month supply.

Yeah, I would say recommendations on inventory management in a period of uncertain demand. I would say demand is always relatively uncertain. I mean, it was uncertain during COVID. We didn’t know when it was going to peak. It’s uncertain now because we aren’t really sure where it’s going to bottom out or where we’re going to lay in fear. So, I like to say in demand planning, it’s not about how right you are, but it’s minimizing the degree to which you’re wrong. So, the way you do that is really plugging in with your customers. They are the ones who understand their demand a lot better than you do, and if you just take the forecasts they’re providing. So, the number one step, I guess, to back up would be to ask them for a forecast if you’re not getting one today of what they think their demand is going to be. And then also, not just their forward-looking, but historic. What has their demand from their customer been?

It’s really important to understand so you understand if they’re padding, which they should be as we all usually do. And then once you have that demand plan, it’s constant communication with them. It’s not waiting on a quarterly or an annual basis to review their forecast or projected purchases. It is a monthly process, especially for our larger and mid-size manufacturers. We should be sitting down with our top customers. Pareto it out, top 20 of your clients, you’re probably doing 80% of your business with. Make sure you’re meeting with those 20 of your clients on a monthly basis to review what you have planned for them demand-wise. It can be an email, it doesn’t have to be a meeting, but just so they’re aware of what you’re purchasing on their behalf. It will save you a lot if you have inventory obsolescence at the end of your agreement that you’ve been communicating this whole time. So, that’s a big benefit. It also saves you from service issues if they far exceed the forecast that you’ve generated. So, it’s a pro on both sides. It just takes some time and teasing out, but that would be my big advice.

So, you made a big career change in the last couple of years. So, you decided to go out on your own and what I call tackle entrepreneurship.

Why did you decide to go out on your own?

That’s a great question. So, so much of it, like any, you know, a lot of us through the pandemic, we realized that work-life balance is a bit elusive. I think the idea of working remotely doesn’t mean ultimate flexibility and freedom. It’s a nice perk, but there are a lot of challenges that come with that. But I think the thing that I probably learned most through the pandemic was when I became a lot more confident in was my ability to project manage and my ability to tackle complex challenges with a remote team. And I’ll be totally candid with you. When I was looking for career progression, I did interview and I received a couple of offers that were great offers, but I realized that my real passion was, I really wanted to try consulting and try being an entrepreneur. I wanted to bring the techniques that got us through the pandemic successfully at Reliance, the techniques I learned at Home Depot, HD Supply, Manhattan Associates – these great companies that are world leaders in supply chain. I wanted to make that available to the small to mid-sized market. And after the pandemic, I really saw an opening that I think people care about supply chain, they understand why it’s important, which I think was missing in the market before, and the ability to engage with companies on a remote basis exploded. So, it’s not that I love working from home; in fact, I actually prefer working in an office if I had to pick. But I love the ability and the appetite that companies have to engage on a remote basis now. That’s a huge benefit and really was the barrier to entry for me for consulting for a long time. That was, I didn’t want to be a road warrior and I didn’t want to travel all the time. So, I started Oakmont really to help these small to mid-sized manufacturers build supply chain capabilities, xand that’s what we’re doing. So, we’ve had a great – it’s been about 16 months now – it’s been a huge challenge and a big climb, but it’s been really fun. Hardest part about being an entrepreneur, if any?

I wish we had more than 30 minutes. It can be a lonely road, if I’m honest. Entrepreneurship is the biggest test of your self-fortitude to me and your ability to hype yourself up a little bit. It’s tough, it can be really lonely. I’m fortunate in the last several months we’ve added several people to our team, and that’s been an exciting growth opportunity. So, at this point, my hardest part of entrepreneurship is turning it off. I love it, it’s my hobby, it’s my job, I love it, so it’s been great. Biggest win you’ve had in your first 16 months? Four quarterly yoga sessions. Love me, love the yoga shout out, and you know what, a win can absolutely be personal, right? When you’re an entrepreneur, everything kind of meshes together. I think the biggest win for me – like, all kidding aside, I feel like there should be a lot more yoga – I’m just very… I love what I do, and I think that’s been the biggest win for me. I love helping brands, I love coaching people in supply chain, I love seeing companies grow and being a part of that and enabling that growth. So, that’s, like I said, I just, I love what I do.

So, I think there’s sometimes a misconception about consultants and using and hiring consultants. When does it make sense for a smaller mid-market manufacturer to engage with a consultant?

There are a lot of misconceptions about consulting, and I think some of them are earned. Like now being part of the industry, some of them are earned, and some of them are a little unfounded. So, I think that the time to work with a consultant, it’s the time to work with them, but it’s also the type of consultant that you engage with, especially as a small to mid-market company. I’m biased, I’m sure, but hiring consultants that have been practitioners, that have done the role that you are trying to either understand, define, or optimize, incredibly helpful. And I would say there are certain companies that I’ve spoken with that are not great fits for my practice and that are interested in working with me that it’s just not a fit, whether from a revenue standpoint they’re not ready, or from a skill set standpoint I’m not the best fit for them. So, I think making sure you find the right fit of consultant, both from an expertise and from a cost standpoint. You do get what you pay for in a lot of instances, but there are a lot of great independent consultants that have been operational leaders. I could name 10 off the top of my head that I know are outstanding solo practitioners or small boutique practice owners that want to help these small to mid-sized businesses. I think where you get a little bit lost is when you go with a larger firm. It can be tough, you’re a smaller fish in an ocean versus being a big fish in a small pond. So, that piece helps a lot.

Reverse that question: When should a manufacturer not work with a consultant and tackle something and do it internally?

There are a lot of instances that actually recommend this. I think if it can be done internally, it absolutely should be. And that might be an unpopular opinion amongst my consulting fellows, but I know fellow practitioners that I was referring to earlier would absolutely agree with me. The benefit and the growth you experience by doing something internally on your own is significant. I think where I see consulting adding big value, and I think where I’ve helped clients, is stepping in beside them, not in front of them. So, I’m not there to do the work for you, I’m there to do it with you. So, we are going to do this together, we’re gonna roll up sleeves and I’m going to show you how to execute or how to strategize or how to build a process, not do it for you. So, when should clients do it internally?

When they can. Don’t look external unless you can’t solve it internally. And if it’s a stretch assignment for a high potential person within your org, I also highly recommend that, and consulting can be a great addendum to that and a support structure for your high potential employee. One of the other things that I hear come up a lot is figuring out the technology piece of your supply chain, especially when you’re working for a smaller organization. You have limited resources, limited budget, and there’s that debate of should we implement a new software or not? And if we are going to, should we bring in a consultant or outside resource to help with the implementation and change management piece?

Doing it internally, so would love to hear your thoughts and perspective on the technology piece of, you know, working with consultants first, doing it in-house. Technology is tough. I think if you’re implementing an ERP, you probably need some external support, unless you have an in-house expert, and most small manufacturers don’t. It doesn’t make sense for you cost-wise to have an in-house NetSuite expert right that’s at your disposal.

What you need is a six-month engagement with a NetSuite-specific consultant that can help train, design your processes, train your org, and then they leave, and they’re off of your payroll. So especially for small to mid-size, that’s usually what I would recommend if you’re going through a large software implementation. Plus, it can also be really tough when you’re doing a large-scale implementation to use your existing team that’s managing your business and running your business. Their job is to keep your business running, to keep your revenue flowing, to keep your customers happy. Pulling them in a different direction to semi-focus, because I’ve seen it’s been rare that I’ve seen small to mid-sized manufacturers pull someone out completely. Most of the clients I’ve seen doing that are the billion-plus, right?

But our small to mid-size, they can’t afford to do that. They’ve got to have that person as a business operator, which can create, it creates a lot of challenges for that operator. If you’re pulling them in two different directions. So for big implementations, external support almost always is worth the investment because you don’t have to keep them on your payroll. You can decide if they’re worth it or not. For bolt-ons, I typically think a lot of that can be done in-house, especially if your external consultant. I would highly recommend training a key user within your company so that external consultant, don’t just let them walk away with some process documentations that they hand over to you, make sure they’ve downloaded that knowledge that you’re paying for into one of your employees. It’s just like a download, and then once that key user is identified, let that person is a developmental exercise, go and implement your bolt-ons, right? Your interfaces, let them do that work. And then you have a consulting partner that has trained them that you can engage as needed. That typically has been the most cost-effective way I’ve seen it done.

Data, one of my favorite topics. One of my dear friends is the classification guru and fixer of dirty data. I always love when she talks about data-related things. But for you, it’s really important in your business as a consultant to help companies clean up and fix their data challenges. I think it’s something that every single company struggles with, but in particular, smaller organizations don’t have as many resources and processes in place. So what advice do you have for organizations listening to our interview that are really struggling to clean up and maintain their data accuracy?

Hmm, it’s such a loaded question, Sarah. There’s so much to unpack there. As far as maintaining your data accuracy, first you have to get it clean. You have to clean the data first in order to maintain it. So I think figuring out what is the size and scope of that exercise as the first piece. So how dirty is the data and how much data is there to clean?

If you have 20 years’ worth of data that you need to clean, you probably need to engage some external support and help to do that. But if you have an internal team that can help and support and understand your data, that’s always a great option. So the first step to me is to figure out scope it out, understand what the data need is truly to clean, and then develop a process for maintaining it. So that piece is critical. Once it’s clean, that’s great, but if you don’t want to have this exercise again a year from now, then let’s make sure we have the processes and the ownership in the process that we make that crystal clear to the team and making sure they understand the frequency, the role, the responsibility. Typically, RACI charts are really good for things like that, especially around data cleanliness. So, and I would argue and advocate for in many circumstances, I’ve seen it can be really beneficial to work with a consultant to help with the data piece. Because you’re so often in the weeds, and there may be some things that the team is missing that a third party can come in and help I get some quick wins. Absolutely, having an extra set of eyes when you’re looking at a lot of data, especially when you’re trying to clean it, is very helpful. It can also remove any emotional attachment that you have to those challenges, and it helps highlight. So I totally agree.

Well, Lindsey, thank you for coming on the show today to chat. Where would you like to send people to find you if they want to learn more about you or what your company’s doing?

Thank you so much for having me. It’s been so fun to chat with you and spend some more time digging into all the supply chain goodies that we both know and love. Would really love for people to visit our website if they’d like more information about the services that Oakmont offers. So it’s You can also find me on LinkedIn. My tag is @LindseyWalker, so very easy. Would love to hear from listeners and see if they found something helpful and explore more. And is that Lindsey with an A or Lindsey with an E? Thank you for the clarification. It’s Lindsey with an E, Lindsey Walker with an E. If you missed anything, you can check out our show notes. You can find us by typing in ‘What the Duck?! Another Supply Chain Podcast’ in Google to have optimal search results. Make sure to add ‘Another Supply Chain Podcast’ at the end of your search. This brings us to the end of another episode of ‘What the Duck?! Another Supply Chain Podcast.’ I’m your host Sarah Scudder, and we’ll be back next week. Thank you.