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Reports that AB InBev to Cut Thousands of Jobs

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The Associated Press and other media outlets today reported that AB InBev expects to cut approximately 3 percent of its total global workforce, the equivalent of thousands of jobs, once the giant consumer goods conglomerate complete it latest $110 billion mega acquisition, that being rival beer brewer SABMiller.

The AP report notes that with a combined global workforce of roughly 230,000 employees, the 3 percent cutback could amount to around 6600 employees over a three-year period.

Such news should not at all be surprising, given the track record of performance from InBev’s controlling investor 3G Capital. The Brazil based private equity firm is noted for its zeal for zero-based budgeting techniques, along with a formula for the shedding of thousands of employees and across the board cuts in all forms of “unnecessary” expenses. Such zeal includes the extension of payment intervals involving suppliers which have been reported to average in the hundreds of days.

In our October 2015 Supply Chain Matters commentary, Are Mega Acquisitions Toxic for Product Process and Supply Chain Innovation, we observed that the sheer size and scope of bringing together two global beer giants is sure to provide added challenges in rationalizing product innovation, consolidation of business systems, supply and demand fulfillment capabilities on a global scale. Thus, today’s report is not at all surprising.

This week’s report additionally notes that InBev is yet to evaluate “front-office supply departments, for which integration plans are not completed.” By our lens, that is the indication of even more cuts to come along with other potential consolidations in the above noted areas.

In October, we observed that acquisitions of the dizzying scope and magnitude of-late have led to months of organizational disruption and changing management focus. That is especially pertinent in industries such as food and beverage and consumer goods, where consumer preferences and buying trends have caused upheavals among existing players and have led to current consolidation or growth via acquisition. Many of such past mega acquisitions have admittedly mixed results as to overall long-term success.

The open question is whether such acquisitions are likely toxic for required needs for product, process and supply chain focused innovation, agility and capability efforts, not to mention enhanced collaborative relationships with value-chain partners.

We have our views, but the ongoing new AB InBev consolidation efforts may provide different evidence.

Stay tuned.

Bob Ferrari


Announcement of China’s first Flexible Display Production Line is Significant

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A significant announcement caught our attention this week, one related to the global race for next-generation high technology development. China Daily echoed a report from China’s Xinhua news agency indicating that the country’s first flexible display production line will go into operation next year. We believe that this is a rather significant development for high tech and consumer electronics product development and supply chain sourcing strategy.

According to Wikipedia: “A flexible display is an electronic visual display which is flexible in nature; differentiable from the more prevalent traditional flat screen displays used in most electronics devices. In the recent years there has been a growing interest from numerous consumer electronics manufacturers to apply this display technology in e-readers, mobile phones and other consumer electronics.” The technology is evolving to feature more flexible screens with higher contrast and wider visual angles compared with traditional flat-screen display found on many of today’s electronic devices.

Further noted is that research and development into flexible e-paper-based displays largely began in late 2000s with the main intentions of implementing this technology in mobile devices. However, this technology has recently made an appearance, to a moderate extent, in consumer television displays as well.

Since 2005, Sony Electronics has had interests in a flexible display video, promising to commercialize this technology in TVs and cellphones sometime and in May 2010 Sony showcased a rollable TFT-driven OLED display.

In 2008, Nokia first conceptualized the application of flexible OLED displays in mobile phone with the Nokia Morph concept mobile phone.

In 2010, Samsung Electronics announced the development of a prototype 4.5 inch flexible AMOLED display.  In early 2012 Samsung acquired Liquavista, a tech firm with expertise in manufacturing flexible displays.  By October of 2013, the Samsung Galaxy Round was unveiled as the world’s first mobile phone with flexible display that featured a 5.7″ touchscreen display made of flexible material, allowing its body or the screen to be bendable.  The concept would later surface as part of the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge and today, Samsung is seen as a recognized leader in this type of technology.

This week’s investment news stems from BOE Technology Group Co., Ltd. is a supplier of display products founded in 1993 and now headquartered in Beijing The firm’s business profile indicates that it is engaged in research, development, and technology accumulation which led them in establishing business units such as TFT-LCD for IT, mobile and TV products.

The report indicate that BOE will invest almost $7 billion on its 6th generation AMOLED production line in Chengdu, which is scheduled to go into operation by sometime next year., no doubt in an attempt to directly compete as a supply chain component alternative to Samsung.

From our Supply Chain Matters lens, there are two significant aspects to this week’s announcement.

The first is the government of China’s strategic plan for the country to be much further invested in advanced technologies. BOE recently reported first-half 2016 results that reflected net losses amounting to upwards of 600 million yuan. Thus, obtaining such significant financial investment implies external assistance from China’s resident banks, municipal investment agencies and/or other governmental agencies.  China based smartphone producers have been increasingly gaining domestic market share based on their ability to offer premium functionality at more affordable price points. The existence of a new domestic source of the production of flexible screens can add to that momentum and provide domestic producers a value-chain technology edge.

Further, with Apple so significantly invested in China based value-chain capabilities, we wonder aloud if the potential of Apple’s future product development and supply needs had anything to do with such an investment. Apple currently sources its LCD display needs among four suppliers including Samsung Electronics. A China based sourcing could provide Apple additional bargaining leverage for future sourcing decisions related to flexible displays. Such capability could also be viewed as a threat to Japan, Taiwan and South Korea based LCD screen providers, not to mention any hopes of the U.S. to be sourced with such advanced screen technology.

LCD display technology development and advanced production process capabilities are very expensive to maintain with each technology evolution and thus supply agreements assuring large volumes are essential.

Thus, this week’s announcement should be noted as rather noteworthy, and if BOE is successful in its development and production timetables, it will present a different competitive dynamic in the volume production of flexible screen technology, not to mention triggering other rather expensive rounds of additional investments from other existing screen suppliers.

Bob Ferrari

© Copyright 2016. The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.


Lessons of the 2011 Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Applied in 2016

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This week, our thoughts and prayers are with all those that have impacted by the recent significant earthquakes that have occurred in Italy, northwest of Rome. News images once again remind us of the death and destruction of such natural disasters. We trust that those affected by the latest quakes in Italy will be able to bounce back to some normalcy in the not too distant future.

As many of our Supply Chain Matters readers may be aware, a series of significant destructive earthquakes struck southern Japan in April, with concerning supply chain disruption indications.  We touched upon the many multi-industry implications in a mid-April commentary. Almost four months after this latest round of quakes, it appears that many Japan based manufacturers and component suppliers have instituted effective supply chain risk mitigation efforts.

The Associated Press reported this week that the Honda motorcycle facility near Kumamoto, on the southern island of Kyushu has “virtually normalized” production operations as of this week. The report notes that the plant, severely damaged by the quakes and completely idled for the first two weeks after the major quakes struck, has gradually restored output. However, Honda is still working to stabilize its supply network for engine parts related to mini-vehicles.

Similarly, automotive producers Nissan and Toyota collaborated and worked with major supplier Aisin Seiki Co. to restore production operations among two major component supply facilities located in Kumamoto region that incurred damages as a result of the quakes.  Seiki acknowledged the discovery of broken walls, windows and assembly equipment at its facilities in the quake area but quickly shifted the production of door and engine parts to other owned facilities located in other parts of Japan and outside the country as well. Toyota was able to resume assembly operations among four plants in early May.

In our Q1 Newsletter, we called attention to a Reuters article indicating that after the devastating earthquakes and subsequent tsunami that struck northern Japan in 2011, many Japan based manufacturers elected to reassess their supply chain risk mitigation and inventory management practices. Some Japan supply chain experts advocated that holding more safety stock inventory or adding another contingency production line would deter from the global competiveness of Japan based manufacturers.  Yet, examples were provided where foreign based suppliers such as German based Merck KGaA and ZF-TRW analyzed strategic inventory strategies and indeed elected to hold more safety stock. TRW, a producer of auto safety systems now stores back-up production equipment at more of its supplier plants.

Thus it would appear that manufacturers have indeed applied the lessons of 2011 in supply chain risk mitigation.


The Newest Phase for Elongated Supplier Payments- More Aggressive Supplier Push-Back

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Of late, the trend of extending payment terms to suppliers should not be any new news to many of our Supply Chain Matters readers since such practices continue to gain multi-industry momentum. Such momentum continues because private equity firms and high powered consultants in finance now advocate and practice this tactic as a means to boost earnings and operating cash flow.  However, what we view as an even more disturbing trend is current more aggressive efforts by suppliers to now push back by exercising whatever options they have, up to and including significant supply disruptions.

To ascertain the scope of the trend towards extending payments to suppliers, we exercised a Google search this morning on the term: News- suppliers not being paid. That search yielded and eye-popping 9.7 million item results, an obvious indication of industry-wide trending.

Just about a year ago, Bloomberg published an article: Big Companies Don’t Pay Their Bills on Time. The author, Justin Fox attributed the increased trend among large global companies to extend payments to suppliers to two principle influences. The first was Amazon, that being yet another aspect what we often describe as “the Amazon effect.”  In essence, the online retailer had a cash conversion cycle of negative 24 days in 2014, meaning the online retailer received cash from customers 24 days before it was paid out to suppliers. The other major influence was noted as Brazilian private-equity firm 3G Capital which has acquired well known consumer brands and operates primarily today as Anheuser-Busch InBev. A chart in the Bloomberg report indicates that since the acquisition of Anheuser in 2008, supplier payments stretched to near 260 days by 2014 with InBev on-average paying suppliers 176 days after the company was paid by customers. That is nearly six months of cash float.

Similarly, after previously attending this year’s Institute of Supply Management (ISM) annual conference, this author penned a blog commentary on a session where private equity firm representatives leveraged their stated tactic of operational intervention and improvement, namely concentration in procurement policies to harvest cash flow and margin savings.

The Bloomberg article further charts well-known names Procter and Gamble, Mondelez and Kimberly-Clark, who collectively have to now respond to 3G’s industry presence with the acquisition of both Heinz and Kraft. in the consumer-goods sector. By 2014, days payable outstanding for all three had grown to between 70 and 85 days.

And so the ripple effect of this trend continues offering the brand owner opportunities to leverage cash flows, product margins and profitability, while the ripple effects cascade down the to the remainder of the supply chain.

The open question now remains as to what are various industry norms for paying suppliers, and invariably, the principles of supplier survival and stakeholder interest come into play when such practices become more wide-spread. More and more, such incidents seem to be on the increase.

In early July, General Motors encountered a brief supply disruption over a contract dispute and bankruptcy filing from Clark-Cutler-McDermott Co. a component supplier for 175 acoustic insulation and interior trim parts that are apparently utilized in nearly every vehicle GM produces in North America. The supplier stopped producing parts for GM after work shifts on a Friday and laid off its workforce. Subsequently the supplier refused to grant GM access to any remaining inventory or production tools forcing GM layers to enter a legal process proceeding in bankruptcy court to gain rights to tooling and any leftover inventory.

In late July, avionics producer Rockwell Collins issued a public statement directed at Boeing, indicating that the commercial aircraft producer owed Rockwell $30-$40 million in overdue supplier payments and noted as a breach of contractual supply agreements between the two companies. Rockwell supplies cockpit avionics displays for the Boeing 787 and newly developed 737 MAX aircraft. The CEO of Rockwell openly indicated in his firm’s report of financial performance that Boeing had contributed to Rockwell’s reported financial shortfalls. In its reporting, The Wall Street Journal observed that the industry relationship among Rockwell and Boeing was previously noted for positive collaboration in ongoing cost-control efforts resulting in Rockwell gaining additional supply contracts involving other produced commercial and military aircraft.

Similarly, British based GKN, a supplier of cabin windows, ice protection systems and winglets, openly called Boeing to task for extending supplier payments. Both Reuters and The Wall Street Journal had earlier reported that to boost its cash flows, Boeing was extending supplier payments from 30 days, too upwards of 120 days while at the same time continuing efforts to scale-up the supply chain to address upwards of ten years in booked orders.

Other noteworthy news related to supplier push have involved UK retailer Tesco as well as global  iron and steel producer Rio Tinto.

The most recent public incident of outright supply disruption is now Volkswagen dealing with the possibility of reduced working hours involving multiple German based final assembly plants resulting from a supplier dispute with two suppliers, Car Trim and ES Automobilguss. Car Trim reportedly supplies parts for seating and ES Automobilguss produces gearbox components for a variety of different VW car models. As of today, business media is reporting that negotiations are ongoing to resolve the matter after the suppliers cut component supply deliveries feeding four final assembly plants. The suppliers have denied responsibility for the situation, indicating that VW cancelled contracts without explanation or compensation and the decision to halt delivery was taken to protect their own workforces. As we pen this posting, upwards of 10,000 workers at VW’s main plant in Wolfsburg, Germany are close to being idled due to parts shortages. Both suppliers, which are part of holding company Prevent, have denied any responsibility in the pending supply disruption claiming that VW is responsible for creating its own supply crisis because of the lack of timely payments to suppliers and that the suppliers’ decisions were taken to protect their own workforces and financial health.

Thus we observe a common theme beginning to manifest across different industry supply chain settings, more aggressive supplier push-back to existing payment terms and the transfer of the burden of cash-flow.

In prior Supply Chain Matters postings, this Editor has not been very keen on such strategies namely because of the short and longer-term havoc imposed on supply chain capabilities and ongoing relationships. But, with the realities of the current business environment being what they are, and with so many firms now under the short-term professional looking glass, the elongated payment strategies extend, testing such relationships. This is obviously not healthy, and many other voices are beginning or have already concluded as-such.

Our prior advice to procurement professionals was essentially to be forewarned and prepared since those possessing or prepared with termed financial engineering skills can reap some short-term financial and other bonus rewards.

We now extend advice to the broader supply chain management leadership and operations management communities. If you have little choice but to exercise such strategies, best be prepared for the new consequences of supplier push back and potentially harmful supply disruptions and eroded supplier relationships.

The age old adage remains that long-term success is built on two-way, win-win relationships. An I win-you lose relationships helps lawyers to stay gainfully engaged and your supply chain to be in constant jeopardy. When times are good, such strategies can yield some benefits. When times are challenged, such as the 2008-2009 global recession, they often lead to massive supply disruptions or calls for mutual sacrifice from suppliers.  They further lead to missed opportunities for joint-collaboration on product and process innovation since suppliers are indeed savvy to stick with customers to consistently try to adhere to win-win relationship building.

Bob Ferrari

© Copyright 2016. The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.

 


Boeing Considers Commercial Aircraft Production Cutbacks

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Reuters reports that at an investor conference held last week, the aerospace manufacturer’s CFO indicated that will not increase 787 output and could further cut 777 product output levels unless sales of both jets improve.  Boeing 787 production line

Last November, a report indicated that Boeing was planning to deliver a total of 140 new 787’s to customers in 2016. That averages out to roughly 12 aircraft per month among the two designated final assembly facilities in Seattle and Charlestown South Carolina. Boeing’s plans were to increase the monthly production rate of completed 787’s from the current 2016 level of 12 to 14 per month in 2017. Last week’s statement would indicate that Boeing is now re-evaluating that decision in the light of softening customer demands to take delivery of 787 orders as well as general resource cutbacks to boost the manufacturer’s near-term profitability.

An earlier posting appearing on the ALL Things 787 blog indicates that: “near term deliveries of the 787 look to slow down due to unspecified issues with the thrust reversers affecting both GE and Rolls Royce powered aircraft.” The issue affects certain models or variants of the aircraft. The posting further indicates that just when followers of the 787 program thought that the program starting to emerge from the financial black hole that was created, it was sucked right back in with Boeing’s announcement of an incredibly high charge of $847 million against second-quarter 2016 earnings.

The blog indicates that with the 14 deliveries accomplished in July, Boeing has delivered 82 787’s this year through the end of July.   That would imply that 58 remain to be delivered to meet the prior 2016 production goal. A subsequent blog posting noted that Boeing’s South Carolina facility will shut down for about 11 days (between August 22 and September 2nd) to allow suppliers to retool for 787-10 production that will start later this year., which could reduce August total output numbers.

Regarding the 777, Reuters re-iterates the 777 is slated to be replaced with the new 777X.  As we have noted in our prior Supply Chain Matters commentaries, Boeing has been offering sales incentives for the 777 model to certain airlines in order to maintain production and capacity levels prior to ramp-up of the newest model. The fact that Boeing is re-visiting a production cutback may well be an indication that airline customers are differing any buying decisions until the newer model is released.

Finally, Boeing also indicated that it will soon entirely phase-out the iconic four engine 747 model because of slumping demand. Apparently orders for new replacements of U.S. Presidential jet Air Force One have been the only real highlight of that program.

 


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