The brains behind the brawn

Three-day "Supply Chain meets strategy" workshop set new standards

If you've ever wandered around a super-market marveling at the efficiency of its well-stocked shelves or sat in a restaurant wondering how your salad found its way to your plate, you’ve also been contemplating supply chain management, the topic of a free workshop recently hosted by KLU for students from all over Germany.

“We enlisted the help of four of our partner companies from different business areas – Edeka,  Unilever, Deutsche Post DHL and McKinsey & Company – to achieve a balanced program,” explained Professor Kai Hoberg, associate professor of supply chain and operations strategy at KLU, and the workshop’s designer and leader. “Our goal was to have some theoretical lectures to provide some background on certain topics, and then have real practitioners – high-level people – talk about their day-to-day challenges and how they link supply chain management with strategy.“

The workshop, which ran from Wednesday to Friday, began by defining what supply chain management actually is, explained Prof. Hoberg: “I always have this discussion in the first class of my courses. What is logistics and supply chain management? To me, there is a fundamental difference. Logistics is about the physical part –moving stuff around and storing stuff. Supply chain management is more about the entire value creation process: what do you have to do, where do you want to produce, how do you design the product in a way that it enables smooth production and logistics.”

Real-life examples were delivered in talks by Lars Siebel, the director of corporate logistics at Germany’s biggest supermarket chain, Edeka; the sales & operations director from Unilever, Claudia Beckers; and Silje Skogstad, senior vice president of corporate strategy at Deutsche Post DHL. They discussed the positioning of warehouses, strategic leadership, and shaping strategy in the light of current trends, respectively.

Dr. Knut Alicke, the global master expert on supply chain management at consultants McKinsey & Company, also presented the case study of a company that produces medical equipment to the students. It was having difficulties producing in Asia and assembling in Europe.
“The students were separated in groups of six and then they received a big pile of paper about the company so they could really dive into finding a solution,” explained Hoberg. “Dr. Alicke, his colleague, and I walked around answering their questions and posing problems such as ‘Sales isn’t providing any really good forecasts, so you have to do something about that.’” The task, he says, was quite challenging: “Typically this kind of a case is targeted to master’s students, but we helped the participants. They managed and presented their solutions in one-minute elevator talks.”        “The three-day workshop at KLU in Hamburg was great,” said Dominik Lamers from Bad Honnef afterwards. “We were exposed to loads of practical experience. Company representatives also came in and told us about their work. Our last task was to apply what we had learned in a case study. I’m going home with the good feeling that I really achieved something.”

Outside of the classroom, KLU took the workshop participants out for dinner. They also dined at Hamburg’s famous Block Bräu beer hall with Claudia Beckers of Unilever and some of the company’s supply chain trainees.

“The entire purpose of the three days was to show the students what life is like at KLU. They were all quite surprised because they were used to classes with 500 people and don’t really talk to the professors,” said Hoberg. “Here, there is very close interaction.” Given the success of the workshop, there are also plans to run similar events in the future.

“I loved the workshop,” said Romi Reudenbach, a participant from Düsseldorf. “The KLU campus provided outstanding framework conditions, and we also had an opportunity to network with renowned local companies in the sector. The workshop left me with lasting impressions that will accompany me throughout my career.”

By Jeff Kavanagh