In this ‘Ten Questions, One Hot Seat’ article we sit down with Supply Chain Leader, John Bewicke, to find out a bit more about him.

1. What did you want to be when you were at school?

My earliest recollection was I wanted to be an architect. By A-level I had my mind set on becoming a chemical engineer. My parents moved when I was 17 mid-way through A-levels which was a nightmare, so I never got the grades to get into my university choices. My Dad pushed me to apply to polytechnics. I got into Huddersfield to do a Chemical Engineering HND. After one year I discovered I was no good at chemical engineering, but a very good chemist, and I got promoted onto the chemistry degree course. I left with a first-class degree, so I guess it all worked out!

2. What was your first role working in procurement / Supply Chain?

I started working in production in the steel industry and by my mid-30’s had my first senior role in operations management which would be more akin to Supply Chain of today. I had, by that stage, already managed a textile factory with over 400 employees. My first job with Supply Chain in the job title wasn’t until 2004 when I joined a specialist paint company in Bolton. By 2007 I was the Supply Chain Director EMEA!

3. What attracted you to working in Supply Chain / Logistics?

For me Supply Chain is end-to-end stuff, from the inspiration for a customer to order, to being paid for your invoice and all that is between. It is so varied and with many challenges of time, cost, quality, and most importantly, giving the customer what they want, when they want. No two days in a Supply Chain role are ever the same, and you never know on any day what new challenges await you. I have always seen streamlining processes as the biggest Supply Chain improvement opportunity. This is where managers can make their mark and make a difference.

4. Which role / company have you worked for that you feel really elevated your career to the next level & why?

In 2004 I was working as a self-employed consultant, and with good success, and was approached by an MD of a local business to help him. We had met and talked before but like many consulting leads nothing happened. I joined up with his company, Leighs Paints, in Bolton on a 6-month consultancy contract and stayed for 7 years until the company was sold by its owners to the global paint giant, Sherwin-Williams. The role allowed me to create and design the entire supply chain structure and operations within the company which did not exist before I arrived. During my time we increased our turnover by over 100%, from £20m to £40m, we increased our exports from a few percent to over twenty-five percent, delivering paint to over 67 countries for which we won a Queen’s Award for Export. I had the real honour to meet and talk to Princess Anne who came to our company and presented the award. During my time I discovered the SCOR [Supply Chain Operations Reference] process model for supply chain excellence. This has been my bible and guide ever since in making supply chains perform to world class levels.
The company also took massive strides in empowering team working, following the model Team Enterprise approach Sir John Oliver used to drive Leyland Trucks [Paccar] in Preston from ailing old fashioned truck builders to one of the most productive vehicle assembly plants in the world. Driving such a significant cultural change has inspired my approach to people management ever since.

5. What has been the biggest challenge you have faced working in Supply Chain?

Gosh this is a tough question. Supply chain is all about solving challenges big and small there are so many. I think the toughest challenge is globalisation. Many companies I have worked for have been sold on or acquired, particularly in some sectors where many good smaller companies have completely disappeared, even though their brands may live on. Every company is for sale today, at a price. Job security has always been at risk. Global markets have stretched smaller companies who don’t have the global sales and marketing reach or support to compete on level playing field. Global sourcing has opened up a massive amount of competition for almost all markets, giving buyers a much greater selection of products to choose from, and also access to low cost manufacturing such as happened with China and other mid-Asia areas. During my career many industries I have worked in have been transformed by globalisation, steel, textiles and coatings for starters. The current Covid-19 crisis will affect smaller companies and brands much more, while global giants usually will have the cash reserves and capability to better weather the economic disruption and will be even stronger.
I guess having strong end-to-end supply chain experience and understanding has allowed me to re-invent myself in different businesses and product sectors.

6. There can be no doubt that technological advancements have had a significant impact on the procurement industry. How has it changed the way you work?

In my early career we had no desktop computers, no mouse, no windows, no internet, no mobile phones. So yes, quite a transformation.
The buying role is transformed beyond recognition. In the 1990’s as I recall most communication with suppliers was face-to-face or by phone. Communication is now much easier, and distances and time differences are easily managed. The advent of the internet has transformed sourcing and made it far easier to identify target suppliers from the comfort of the desk.
Visibility in these distant supply chains is vital and now it is easy to track and trace movement of goods across continents, right to the customer doorstep. RFID has allowed long distance container loads to be fully tracked, with even temperature and humidity control possible.
We are now in a paperless era, so managing ordering and invoicing is easy. The use of blockchains increases the security and transparency of documentation and payments, particularly where trust levels between supplier and customer may not be so high.
Many still prefer business face-to-face but is far easy now to travel (Covid not considered long term) and even easier to video conference.
CAD designs are now so life like there isn’t the need in some instances for expensive and time-consuming sampling. I also see future possibilities such as producing sample parts using 3D printing technologies.

7. What advice would you give to businesses / manufacturers looking to combat Supply Chain disruption?

This isn’t easy to answer. Covid-19 was never on the horizon for any company and now most companies have faced and still face a most uncertain time. Such unprecedented events raise the issue of supply chain resilience and risk. It is vital all supply chain managers are tasked to evaluate the risks and likelihoods and to try and build as much resilience to their supply chains as possible. I blogged about this on my blog site just recently. Company leaders must ensure such a programme is in place. It is unlikely Covid-19 will be the last global virus we see in this modern era as we increase on footprint on the world and continue to dramatically reduce the space for wild animals to occupy. In my last company we were focusing on alternative supply routes and even having the flexibility to move products quickly from one supplier/country to another. Dislocating supply chains to increase our response times from far distance sourcing countries was also in planning, including looking to make final packing selections as late as possible in the supply chain to maximise the use and availability of inventory.
On the customer side the increase in on-line trading is rapidly changing the multi-channel landscape for many companies. It is widely accepted this market has advanced by around 5 years since Covid came along. In many instances’ suppliers are now an extension of the on-line customer warehouse/distribution network, and flexibility and velocity are the key to succeed. You have to be fast and you have to provide goods and delivery systems that meet an array of on-line requirements. The flexible and fast suppliers will win out here. Connectivity, visibility and transparency across the customer delivery chain is vital to better understand the changes in demand patterns for on-line trading, which can be much more volatile in my opinion. I think this will challenge many conventional forecasting processes.
I am also interested in the development of blockchains, particularly where trust in the supplier-customer relationship is low, and also how crypto-currency may play a part in trading across global markets and blockchains. I know many companies are already looking to trade with the likes of China using crypto currencies to try and combat volatility in the currencies and hedging markets.

8. What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?

When I had completed my degree final year exams, I was asked to take a viva interview. I was tipped off by a post-grad friend that I was likely to get a First-Class degree if I did well at the interview. My interviewer was a senior individual working for a local government organisation. He asked me why I had answered some of my final paper questions in a certain way, even quizzed me on one or two things I might have got wrong but clearly knew the right answer. In summary he asked me what I was planning to do next and then told me ‘In my working life I have worked for many organisations and done lots of different jobs. I never regretted a single day. Never be afraid of change’. This has always stuck with me and in many ways was almost a prediction of my working life. Strange who you meet on your life journey!

9. What advice would you give to other just starting out?

When I started my working career in British Steel, I entered their Production Management Graduate scheme. at the time, the philosophy was that you learned the jobs in the department you would manage. You did each one, you understood the physical and mental requirements. Only then could you take a Manager’s role. It’s great way to understand what people in your team do or are doing and to appreciate what they do. I see young people entering businesses thinking they know it all. In most cases they don’t. So being respectful to those who work for you and with you is my top advice. They will come to trust you, that you have their backs, and you understand their concerns. Without trust you won’t go far.
I always just try to remember to say thanks for a job well done, it’s goes a million miles, believe me. Just a simple ‘Thank you’.

10. What would be your ideal next role / dream job?

I am now looking to work for businesses in either a permanent Senior Supply Chain role, or as an Interim or Project Manager, to focus on delivering large and small-scale Supply Chain and operational improvements, and to meet their strategic Supply Chain goals. I know I can make a difference for organisations and can quickly adapt to any product sector.

I want to help young people to get into Supply Chain as a career. We are now in the 4th industrial revolution, with the likes of AI, automation and digitalisation. It’s a very exciting time. Supply Chain is now seen as the nervous system of companies. The number of board posts for Supply Chain leaders is increasing as companies realise it is vital Supply Chain leaders are involved in developing business strategies and operational tactics. Supply Chain can offer people a varied and interesting career path. Sometimes it isn’t easy for school careers advisers to give young people a clear understanding of Supply Chain. If I can help mentor young people knowing what I now know about Supply Chain and the ‘day job’, then for me that would be ideal. If I can do this within the scope of a permanent Supply Chain role this would be even better. 

I am also now a freelance blogger and really enjoy publishing blogs around key Supply Chain topics and events. I feel my career and experience has earned me the right to talk about ‘all things’ Supply Chain.