This week brings two visible and poignant reminders of the perils for being an Apple supplier. There are of course, the positives related to the sheer production volumes that doing business with Apple provides, along with being on the leading-edge of product or component innovation. Along with the positives come the perils for dealing with a highly demanding and influential customer.
Today’s printed edition of the Wall Street Journal cites suppliers and other sources as indicating (paid subscription) that because of the current surging demand for Apple’s newly announced iPhone 6 models, the Apple supply chain ecosystem has altered previous plans for ramping-up production volumes associated with new models of iPads, and instead are allocating current production resources to iPhones, specifically the iPhone 6 Plus. Apple’s Sales and Operations process has obviously issued marching orders that indicate all hands on deck supporting iPhone shipment needs. That implies a invariable delay for new iPad market availability plans as critical component supplies such as displays allocated their current efforts strictly to supporting current iPhone output demands.
Foxconn, Apple’s prime contract manufacturer has again placed in the role of doing whatever it takes to keep-up with demand, fulfill customer orders and not let lack of finished goods supply be an inhibitor to Apple’s financial results in this all important holiday shipping quarter. The WSJ reports that Foxconn’s Chairman Terry Gou is personally at the Zhengzhou assembly facility “… to monitor production closely.”
In prior Supply Chain Matters commentaries we have pointed out that Foxconn’s real desire is to continue to diversify its business models with less overall dependence on the ebbs and peaks of Apple. That includes building independent branded products. The contract manufacturer has thus been willing to assume a secondary provider role for other of Apple’s products such as the iPad Mini. But, when the stakes are really high, the Apple operational pattern is to turn to its long-standing CMS provider to pull the proverbial rabbits out of the hat in providing almost virtual capacity to move finished goods to consumers and channel partners.
Thus, one peril for being an Apple supplier is having the capability of high agility in the wake of what others would view as rather difficult obstacles.
The other supplier peril reminder comes from this week’s sudden and unexpected news regarding evolving sapphire glass supplier GT Advanced Technologies and its filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, sending its stock plummeting. This was a classic current day example of what various supply chain academics have noted as bad supply chain news directly correlated to negative stock performance. In GT’s case, it was literally wiping out upwards of $1 billion in equity value according to one report.
Since the GT news broke earlier this week, the reports we have been monitoring indicate that after further testing of the new sapphire glass material that GT was producing a its new start-up plant near Mesa Arizona, Apple engineers determined that the material was not appropriate for the new iPhone models, and reportedly, withheld the final seed investment payment involving upwards of $130 million. Today, the WSJ reports that GT Technologies will exit the business of manufacturing sapphire. A U.S. bankruptcy judge allowed GT to keep the details of its relationships with Apple secret, no doubt from the influence of Apple as a major creditor. Apple has apparently declined any further statements to business media regarding its relationship with GT.
We sense that this Supply Chain Matters commentary regarding perils will resonate with our readers residing within either Apple’s or other supply chain dominant customer supply chain business models. We know that there not much any of you can state publically. However, we as a broader community, in just one week, have open visibility and can dwell, albeit briefly, to such perils.
We usually strive to point out important takeaways for readers in our individual postings. In this particular case we rather play the observer role and state that perhaps this is today’s mission for supply chain, namely dealing with whatever is required to make the business model successful, including a can-do relationship with the most influential and important of customers. It is what is expected for today’s industry supply chains.
© 2014 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters blog. All rights reserved.
General Motors Attempts to Turn to a New Chapter of Growth, Customer Loyalty and Supply Chain Practices
The public relations teams supporting General Motors have been in high gear these past weeks for obvious reasons. Lapses in product design and quality management practices, and what has been billed by business and general mediaas the worst U.S. product safety crisis in recent memory has led to a series of product recalls among multiple GM brands involving upwards of 2.6 million vehicles.
GM desperately needs to move beyond its current state and restore confidence in its brands and in its business management model. Suppliers and partners associated with supporting this U.S. based OEM need to also move on to more collaborative and win-win relationships, but that requires a different GM perspective.
When Mary Barra was appointed CEO of General Motors, this author communicated our Supply Chain Matters elation for this announcement. Our enthusiasm came from the dual fact that not only was Barra the first senior female executive ever to lead a global automobile manufacturer, but more importantly, because her 35 year background included plant management, manufacturing, product design and development leadership experience. She is also an engineer by training. Barra likely understands the elements of producing high quality cars and trucks and the important contribution of the GM supply chain ecosystem in achieving that goal.
If readers want to gain a candid perspective on Mary Barra’s current challenges in transforming GM, we recommend the recently published Time article, Mary Barra’s Bumpy Ride at the Wheel of GM. Author Rana Foroohar pens an insightful perspective on Barra’s management style and her efforts to change a rather in-bred corporate culture built around functional fiefdoms and little accountability. She describes Barra as the consummate “outsider-insider” with a far different style from most of her CEO predecessors. She has been put in charge to become the change agent and apparently has the support of many of GM’s employees in that task. In our previous commentary in December 2013, we called attention to the Wall Street Journal characterizing Barra as “having a reputation for speaking her mind, a trait that hasn’t always been appreciated in GM’s executive suite.”
This week, business and general media are featuring reports of GM’s latest earnings announcement. The WSJ reported that after nine months, Barra wants to switch gears towards a multi-year strategy to deliver increased revenues and profits while restoring consumer trust. She explained to a group of GM’s top 300 executives that the company must do what it takes to be the “world’s most valued automotive company”. The going forward strategy leans heavily on reliance on planned new models expected to come to market, many of which were shepherded under the leadership of Barra when she previously led new product development. A goal is to have 47 percent of global sales to be fueled by these new models by 2019. It further includes market expansion and growth within China through investing in five additional auto assembly plants and he introduction of nine new Cadillac models in that country.
GM will further focus on the broader supply chain’s contribution to its renewed business goals.
According to a recent WSJ report, there is an internal belief that GM pays more than its competitors for materials and technology because the company bases parts purchases on unrealistically high forecasts that burden suppliers with high fixed costs when ultimate demand falls short. Our community is more blunt in such an explanation: it is lousy forecasting predicated on achieving functional stovepiped goals. The WSJ quotes some analysts as indicating that the automaker could save upwards of $1 billion a year with smarter purchasing practices, which as we know, is a typical Wall Street short-term perspective these days. Squeeze those suppliers!
GM’s existing product development chief, Mark Reuss, actually met with executives representing 700 suppliers indicating that the company is ready to share more financial risks if sales projections are high. At that same meeting, GM’s purchasing boss, Grace Lieblein indicated that the supplier base will likely need to add capacity to support growth plans. In a Detroit Free Press published report, she is quoted as stating: “we just have to be cautious and strategic about how we add that capacity and not move too fast.” Lieblein further communicated that an important strategy is convincing suppliers to locate closer to GM assembly plants to reduce transportation costs.
Obviously that’s a tall order for suppliers since transportation cost savings do not necessarily weight themselves to the benefit of the supplier. Adding production capacity to support additional volume and spreading that capacity further across the globe requires a significant financial investment. Add some history of throwing suppliers “under the bus” when quality plans go south because of component design flaws, well, you get the picture of legacy trust.
The new era of GM obviously requires what Barra has described as bold thinking and leadership. What this author was hoping to read is that goal of GM’s supply chain going forward is to support continued product innovation while controlling costs and accelerating productivity. Perhaps that will be articulated in the coming months.
It is this author’s view that such thinking can benefit by a broader and deeper perspective by GM’s executive leaders on how more modernized supply chain business practices, new product introduction (NPI) practices incorporated to supply chain impacts, more collaborative based inventory and supply chain planning practices have led to benefits among other industries as well as other automotive OEM’s. Today’s supply chain and B2B business network technology capabilities can further link the global end-to-end supply chain with more granular levels of planning and supply chain execution synchronization.
The business practices and enabling technology are available but it requires a good dose of change management infusion before real benefits can flow. We trust GM will hence forth nurture the leadership to set such perspectives.
© 2014 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and Supply Chain Matters. All rights reserved.
UPS’s Latest Survey of Healthcare Supply Chains- Some Interesting Conflicts and Needs for Broader Perspectives
This week, UPS announced the results of its seventh annual “Pain in the (Supply) Chain” survey involving pharmaceutical and healthcare supply chains. According to the authors, the survey was conducted from phone interviews with 536 senior supply chain management decision-makers within the healthcare industry. Global coverage for this survey is noted as Asia, Canada, Latin America, the United States and Western Europe.
For the third consecutive year, the survey points to regulatory compliance as the top supply chain pain point, cited by 60 percent of the 2014 respondents, indicating that this trend alone is driving current business and supply chain changes. From our Supply Chain Matters lens, that finding is not a surprise since so many pharmaceutical and healthcare supply chain are indeed regulated, but more importantly, they are now globally extended for both supply and service demand needs.
The next largest concern was noted as product protection challenges, with 46 percent of respondents citing product security, and 40 percent citing product damage and spoilage as top concerns. Again no surprise, given the ongoing challenge of counterfeit drugs and global extensions of transportation and logistics networks.
However, what was surprising, at least for us, was that a mere 26 percent of these supply chain leaders cite contingency planning as a top supply chain concern. Perhaps this is an area that these supply chain leaders feel is being adequately addressed. Yet, 34 percent of those surveyed in Asia and 22 percent of those residing in Latin America indicated their firm’s supply chain was impacted by an unplanned event in the past 3-5 years. Cited reasons that were noted were:
- Events being too unlikely or infrequent
- Back-up infrastructure too expensive to deploy
- Little or no prioritization being given to this area vs. other challenges
For an industry that is required to spend so much on product development, brand value and patient trust, it is surprising to once again note such viewpoints. The industry need only look to the previous supply chain disruptions that occurred at Johnson & Johnson to ascertain how about contingency planning has become.
Deeper in the UPS news release perhaps finds a rather important assumption related to the above concerns in compliance, product protection and contingency planning. Many healthcare supply chains are not viewing production, distribution, logistics and transportation as a core capability and have thus outsourced these activities. According to this latest UPS survey, 62 percent of decision makers cited increased reliance on third-party logistics providers as a strategy into the foreseeable future. (3-5 years) Therefore business partners have become an important enabler in helping to overcome stated supply chain challenges.
In a previous Supply Chain Matters commentary, we called for a broader technology vision among supply chain execution partners, specifically 3PL’s. As more and more industry supply chains opt to outsource logistics, transportation and customer fulfillment to logistics and transportation partners, leveraging the potential benefits of newer technologies in item-level tracking, Internet of Things (IoT) and supply chain control towers become a de-facto capability requirement to overcome business challenges and deliver required business outcomes. Too often today, the outsourced 3PL decision has been driven solely by cost control vs. broader requirements for supply chain resiliency and responsiveness. While UPS and FedEx have embraced advanced technology, other 3PL’s have relied on customers to fund such investments, and there remains the conundrum. For us, these latest UPS survey findings concerning healthcare focused supply chains have special meaning to the new reliance on supply chain execution partners for joint goal enablement. Beyond logistics, globally dispersed contract manufacturers have an important enabling and support role as well.
The report’s executive survey indicates that healthcare supply chain leaders are themselves eyeing technology investments in two specific areas of the supply chain, namely front-end order fulfillment and overall product protection in the form of serialization and item-tracking. Supply Chain Matters advises these leaders to also consider the all-important supporting element for connecting the front and back-end of the extended healthcare supply chain. That would be a cohesive supply chain business network that synchronizes planning, execution and early-warning intelligence to unplanned events.
General Mills Reports Another Disappointing Quarter While its Supply Chain Remains Challenged with Conflicting Goals
Within our Supply Chain Matters 2014 Predictions for Global Supply Chains published in late 2013, we specifically called out the existence of extraordinary challenges for Consumer Product Goods supply chains in 2014, which is indeed playing out in many dimensions. Economically distressed but more health conscious consumers continue to drive fundamental challenges involving product demand, especially in specific meal, nutritionally based or convenience categories.
In an August posting, Supply Chain Matters highlighted a number of blunt statements from CPG industry CEO’s amidst continued disappointing financial and operating results. Such results are triggering additional cost saving directives for respective supply chain organizations, cutting more flesh from previous cost reduction efforts. In some cases, such cost savings are being applied to fund accelerated product development, sales and marketing efforts to more aggressively promote additional product demand.
While all of this is occurring, packaged food and beverage supply chains have been called upon to support higher levels of product innovation, SKU growth, and aggressive product promotional campaigns that are having mixed results.
Last week provided yet more evidence of this spiral. General Mills, a diversified CP products company behind such brands as Cheerios, Total and Wheaties cereal, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury and Bisquick in baking, Green Giant frozen vegetables and Progresso soups reported earnings for the period ending in August. Included in the results were a 2.4 percent reduction in overall sales, an additional 5 percent reduction in U.S. retail revenues and a near 25 percent reduction in total profits. A week prior to its earnings report, the company announced an $820 million acquisition of Annie’s Inc., an organic and natural foods provider. The company was willing to pay what has been described as a 37 percent market premium to add additional product and brand innovation in the area of organic foods. Also during the recently completed quarter, the company introduced 145 new products, described as a pace of 20 percent higher above the year earlier period.
In the earnings briefing, General Mills CEO Ken Powell exclaimed to analysts:
“The operating environment for food and beverage companies remains quite challenging and trends weakened for some markets in the latest quarter.”
Much more noteworthy, something that Supply Chain Matters has rarely observed was that John Church, Executive Vice President for the Global Supply Chain was invited to be an executive participant in the earnings briefing.
Mr. Church’s statements included the following:
“We’re continuing to deliver strong HMM (Holistic Margin Management) levels each year. Back in fiscal 2010, we set a goal of achieving a cumulative $4 billion in COGS HMM through fiscal 2020. I’m pleased to say that we’re already halfway to our goal. We are targeting another year of strong HMM delivery in 2015, with more than $400 million in COGS HMM in this year’s plan. I have great confidence that by the time we get to 2020 we will have met or possibly exceeded our $4 billion goal.”
Obviously, Mr. Church has described a supply chain being driven by a strategy of cost reduction or cash transfer to fund other strategic initiatives. This has become a common pattern for many CPG supply chains. By our lens, it is another form of financial engineering. None the less, it provides a conflict in capabilities which current supply chain leaders must deal with.
Mr. Church went on to describe that 2015 plans include contributions from all areas of the supply chain and will include involvement of external partners through an initiative termed GEOS or General Mills End-to-End Optimization Solutions. He further described Project Century whose objectives are directed at streamlining and simplifying North American operations and positioning the supply chain for future growth. (aka: Emerging market areas) This effort includes targeting an additional $100 million in cumulative cost savings by fiscal 2017 with material savings realized in beginning of fiscal 2016.
To support these efforts, the company further announced its decision to close a cereal plant located in Lodi California, which employs upwards of 400 people, by the end of 2015, subject to labor union negotiations. Also announced was the closing of a yogurt production facility, located in Methuen Massachusetts, which employs upwards of 100 people, in the summer of 2015.
In the question and answer period, a JP Morgan equity analyst asked whether the industry has reached a self-destructive period of heavy promotional marketing spending with marginal revenue growth payback. Management’s response was that product innovation and capitalizing on consumer trends would fuel higher levels of growth. Thus, the acquisition of Annie’s.
Thus presents a further ongoing challenge to the General Mills supply chain team, namely supporting higher levels of product innovation and market responsiveness. In a previous Supply Chain Matters commentary, we praised a conference keynote delivered by Steven Melnyk, Professor of Operations and Supply Chain Management at Michigan State University, whom this author has long admired. Professor Melnyk expressed a supply chain in harmony as being:
- Supportive of corporate objectives while making achievement of desired business outcomes inevitable
- A strategic asset to the business
- Helping in the identification and support of new business opportunities
Especially insightful was Professor Melynk’s differentiation of output-driven, such as reduced costs, vs outcome-driven supply chain strategies. His observation: “too many supply chains are driven by output-driven perspectives.” He instead defines five possible supply chain outcome models, each requiring different skill and leadership requirements. According to Melnyk, a supply chain can be either: responsive, security, sustainable, resilient or innovative driven. Each of these outcomes is not mutually exclusive, but rather blended according to market or business needs.
For General Mills, it would appear that its supply chain may well be challenged by the conflicts of aggressive cost cutting (output-driven) initiatives required to support and fund product transformation support (outcome-driven) business outcomes. This is yet another specific example of the challenges currently underway among today’s consumer product goods supply chains.
© 2014 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters blog. All rights reserved.
The current waves of industry acquisition frenzy continue as cheap money remains available, and as usual, industry supply chains are impacted.
Today’s business headlines include a massive deal involving two global automobile systems, components and parts suppliers. ZF Friedrichshafen AG announced its intent to acquire TRW Automotive Holdings in a reported all-cash deal that is estimated to be in excess of $11 billion. According to reports, this deal would form an industry supplier with combined annual revenues near $41 billion, rivaling the size of other major global industry suppliers Robert Bosch and Denso. Under the deal, TRW would become an integrated but separate operating unit of ZF. The combined research and development investment portfolio exceeds $2 billion. This transaction requires several closing conditions and the approval of TRW stockholders, and is expected to close in the first-half of 2015.
According to the press release and statements from ZF’s CEO, the prime motivation for this combination is combining of product innovation resources applied to markets in electro-mobility and autonomous driving. TRW Automotive is a supplier of automotive integrated safety electronics, sensors, steering, suspension and integrated braking systems. TRW’s production and supply chain resources are global in scope and include support for major automotive production regions of United States, Europe, Asia and Latin America. ZF is a closely-held global supplier in transmission driveline, axle and chassis technology with 122 facilities in 26 countries and is a major supplier to German based mainline and premium model OEMS’s including Volkswagen. Combined, both suppliers will more than double revenues in support of major regions of China and the United States, and be able to support a fairly broad area of automotive and truck component system supply needs. With its combination with TRW, ZF has the opportunity to significantly increase its revenues and presence in the U.S. market.
The talks between these two automotive industry suppliers have been percolating for some time, and according to a published report from The Wall Street Journal, other suppliers such as Delphi Automotive, BorgWarner and AutoLiv have each expressed interest in “bulking up through acquisitions” in order to have sufficient scale to further stay ahead of product innovation needs to support various global automotive OEM’s. OEM’s have a desire to move forward in electric drivetrains and autonomous driving systems but prefer that system component innovation come from Tier One and other suppliers.
This wave of acquisitions involves other industry as well. Business headlines today include reports of a percolating massive mega-deal between Anheuser-Busch InBev and SAB Miller that could involve upwards of $122 billion. That would involve the combination of two of the world’s largest brewers and according to the WSJ, put control of nearly one-third of global beer supply under one company, and a wide range of brands.
The beat goes on and industry supply chains will have to continue to deal with the opportunities and/or consequences.
Today, Gartner published its annual regional listing of what the analyst firm considers to be ten of the best supply chains in the Asia-Pacific region. Gartner conducts this ranking as a supplement to its Top 25 Global Supply Chain Rankings that are traditionally announced in the fall. According to Gartner, while most of these regionally-based supply chains still need to elevate their supply chain capabilities to compete on a global level, many have dramatically improved their position.
The published ranking for Asia-Pacific Top Ten supply chains were noted as:
- Samsung Electronics (ranked 6th in 2014 Top 25 global ranking)
- Lenovo Group (ranked 16th in 2014 Top 25 global ranking)
- Toyota (reported to have moved up three places in the top ten Asia-Pacific and up 22 places in global ranking but not in current 2014 Top 25 global ranking)
- LG Electronics
Overall, Supply Chain Matters believes that this ranking reflects how we would have voted if we were part of the external or peer voting panel. Samsung is especially noteworthy since by many accounts its supply chain is supporting more product and perhaps process innovation than that of its arch competitor, Apple. It is quite interesting to note the appearance of three automotive OEM’s in the Asia Pacific ranking while there are no automotive OEM’s ranked in the global Top 25 rankings. We have been especially impressed with Honda’s global manufacturing sourcing strategies that have helped the company overcome currency challenges and better service global product demand.
At least three of the Gartner Asia-Pacific top ten, namely Samsung, Lenovo and Hyundai practice some form of supply chain vertical integration strategies.
However we were somewhat quite taken-back by the appearance of Sony’s in this top ten ranking, given its profitability challenges in the past few years. Sony has also been aggressively outsourcing parts of its television and certain parts of its consumer electronics supply chain to contract manufacturers in order to aggressively reduce costs. Gartner’s own admission is that Sony is lagging behind some of major competitors.
Again, we are shocked with the lack of recognition toward Foxconn Technology (Hon- Hai Precision), the world’s largest contract manufacturer by revenue and output volume. Foxconn is a major supplier and serves as the lead contract manufacturer for Gartner’s consistently ranked number one global supply chain of Apple. This CMS’s ability to respond to Apple’s intense product innovation requirements as well as rapidly scale volume production is highly noteworthy. We remain highly curious as to why Flextronics does not appear in this top ten regional ranking, let alone the global ranking, but then again, social responsibility strategies concerning workers may be a weighting factor. Another supply chain worthy of consideration is that of TSMC, the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer.
Supply Chain Matters has featured commentaries on many of Gartner’s ranked top ten Asia Pacific supply chains. They can be accessed by utilizing our Search box: i.e. Samsung supply chain.