Tag Archives: Supply chain.

Women at the Top in logistics

Women are successful and valuable contributors to senior management in a wide range of industries but the logistics industry has a reputation of being led by men.  What is the level of participation to the leading teams in the industry?

More years ago than I care to remember (well ten to fifteen years ago) I was unlucky enough to get press-ganged into attending a couple of conferences on board ocean-going liners.  The first time was on the SS Canberra, the second the newly-commissioned MV Oriana.  They were strange times; three days on a comfortable (Oriana) or somewhat less comfortable (Canberra – some ten years earlier it had been in the Falklands) with days chock-full of 30-minute meetings with what were ostensibly prospective customers but in practice were mostly freeloaders who agreed to meet because they got  a free cruise.

But what I remember most are the formal dinners and what followed.  The dinners, bizarrely, were black-tie affairs.  The diners (there were hundreds of us) were predominantly (and by predominantly I mean over 95%) men.  I’ll ignore the ethnic or religious background of the participants (that’s another can of worms for a later date) but the gender mix of the participants reflected that of the industry at the time.  A medium-sized UK haulier was run by a woman.  ‘Bees round a honey pot’ sprang to mind to describe the attention she got after dinner.

The world has thankfully moved on a lot since those days, and that made me wonder whether things had changed much.  It’s clear to anyone that works in it that the industry is still male-dominated and it’s difficult to get meaningful data, but an unscientific review of the most readily available information – the published 2013 statements of quoted logistics companies – does give a certain flavour.

These statements are largely focused on financial information, naturally enough.  They might have some corporate jargon about their equal opportunities policies but there is little concrete measurement disclosed.  The one tangible piece of information on gender balance comes from the composition of their boards.  I have complemented the published information with that gleaned from company web sites

Most of my sample have similar structures; in the Anglo-Saxon world non-Executive directors (in continental terms a Supervisory Board) with the Management or Executive Board or team.  Ceva, perhaps unsurprisingly now the holding company is incorporated in the Marshall Islands, was the most opaque.  The first mention of the management team comes in note 7 to the statements on page 39, with a further mention of the management team in note 28 on page.  I have used the Ceva web site to get an up-to-date picture.  Deutsche Post DHL was probably the clearest and most accessible.

Representation of women on select boards and senior management teams
Representation of women on select boards and senior management teams

So the most impressive participation is in DP-DHL, where some 22% of the participants are women.  Before we get too carried away, mind, the bulk of these are employee representatives on the Supervisory Board, which rather confirms the stereotype of left-/right-wing attitudes to equality.  DP-DHL also deserves credit for having a woman executive, although I must confess to slight disappointment that she works in a stereotypical role – HR.

Expeditors had one woman on the board and two executive officers.  Pleasure at the presence of two women on the Norbert Dentressangle Supervisory Board is slightly muted by the surname of one of them – Dentressangle.  As for the rest, the table tells its own story.

Overall some 11% of these directors or management are women.  But take out DP-DHL and the proportion is a measly 6%.  I’m no demographer but I recall that the proportion of women in the general population is about 50%.  That’s one hell of a gap.  As an industry we should be ashamed of this.

4PL – what’s that smell?

Avro RJ100

Can there be a logistics topic that is surround by more confusion and contradictions than that of fourth-party logistics?  If you think there’s any clarity or consistency out there take a look at this hilarious discussion on LinkedIn.

Try finding some wheat in that chaff.  Of course the first description came from those nice people at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) back in 1996.  It is often quoted as:

A 4PL is an Integrator that assembles the resources, capabilities and technology of its own organisation and other organisations to design, build and run comprehensive supply chain solutions.’

Now I can’t find the original Accenture document but in Gower Handbook of Supply Chain Management, Bedeman and Gattorna (both authors now ex-Accenture, by the way) extend the definition thus:

‘… and which have the cultural sensitivity, political and communication skills, and the commercial acumen, not only to find value, but to create motivating and sustainable deals that offer incentives to all the parties involved.’

I don’t know if that was included in the original Accenture characterisation but I suspect it was; it has the whiff of consultant-speak all over it and neatly sums up how Accenture seeks to differentiate itself from the competition.  That is not to deride the importance of the added terms; they are actually an essential part of what is needed to establish a 4PL in the first place and anyone that quotes the first part without the second (as most seem to do) is taking a very mechanistic view of the concept.  In fact, they’re almost entirely missing the point.

But even that extended definition isn’t adequate.  Bedeman and Gattorna go on to discuss other essential characteristics of a 4PL structure like IT, capabilities and again leap into consultant jargon: ‘… culture of innovation… extract value… world-class project management… extraordinary capabilities to construct value-sharing deals… value creation and sharing mechanisms…’ and so on.  Or, to put it another way, the only organisation that can do all this is a sophisticated change management and IT organisation, like Accenture!

One final point on Bedeman and Gattorna’s discussion.  the final attribute they mention is ‘relationships at or above supply chain director level.’  This is fundamental.  I have seen many 4PL (or LLP, but we’ll come back to that some other time) initiatives flounder because the people involved would be the proverbial turkeys voting for Christmas, and many of the real benefits of a 4PL solution come in areas like headcount and working capital reductions which are more appreciated by the CFO than the transport manager.

So who’s doing 4PL?

For all the hype it’s difficult to get to the bottom of what’s actually happening in the market place.  Other mainstream or IT consultancies leapt on the bandwagon (IBM is the example that first springs to mind) but did they actually implement much?

Well Badema and Gattorna (they were writing in 2002) identified a couple of early Accenture examples; New Holland (which doesn’t sound much like a 4PL) and Thames Water but it’s difficult to find out much about them.  A quick and quite unscientific trawl of Accenture’s web site revealed just one meaningful example – some work they have done with Unilever – and a mention of 4PL in a business process outsourcing paper.  That might be considered a little surprising; Accenture is not known for hiding its light under a bushel.

As for IBM, I can’t find a single example of its 4PL activities and searching its site only throws up systems for 4PL operators.  In fact they sold their supply chain operations to Geodis in 2008.  For a splendidly biting discussion of the success of their approach take a look at this commentary.

The reality is that the players that have built significant 4PL capabilities and operations are the third-party logistics operators, and it’s the monsters (DHL and Kuehne + Nagel) that have greatest scale.  Of course even within 3PLs there’s still a lot of conflict and confusion.  Quick clue for freight forwarders:  just because you have a control tower that doesn’t mean you’re a 4PL.