Training academy teaches why buyers must understand how to operate, and why operators must understand how to buy
After 27 years, Uniserve has become the largest privately owned freight forwarding company in the UK and one of the most profitable in any freight forwarding category. At a time when the economy is about to go through something of an unpredictable storm you would think that its founder and owner, Iain Liddell, would consider battening down the hatches. But he is an entrepreneur, and an entrepreneur thinks beyond the problem – and thinks broadly.
This would explain why Uniserve is an acquisitive company with a strategy for growth and a commitment to invest 1.5m sq ft of warehousing in the new infrastructures of port centric logistics at Felixstowe and the newly emerging port of London Gateway. It explains why Liddell has developed the use of customer-focused, collaborative software to serve his customers’ visibility and workflow needs.
What it doesn’t explain is why, after 27 years of building a profitable and successful company, he is about to open The Supply Chain Academy. Indeed, in a downturn, when the rest of the competition is trending in one direction, the entrepreneur will see a clear path in the other.
Liddell bought Upminster Court in 2007. It was originally built in 1905 for Charles Williams, a man also in the shipping industry. Williams owned the property up until the war – when it housed evacuees – and after the war it passed into the hands of the local council where for the next 60 years it was treated with functional disdain. When Liddell saw the building he saw more than a property opportunity, more than a piece of beautiful Edwardian architecture, he saw a way of supporting his industry.
Liddell spent five years painstakingly restoring the building back to its original condition, achieving the sort of finishes and standards that the original owner, Charles Williams, would have commissioned in 1905 but enhancing this with the essential trappings of modern technology.
Liddell has a long-nurtured vision of bringing professionalism and high standards of technical competence to the freight forwarding industry. The purchase of Upminster Court galvanised his ambition to develop a leading operational training facility and to offer it on an open architecture basis to the industry.
The need for logistics and supply chain training is greater now than ever before – so many importers and exporters are handicapped by an ignorance of how their own supply chains work. The fault lines in many organisations are internal and they run deep; nothing exposes them more than a stressed economy.
Thinking and organisation continue to be in silos in many companies and the classic mistakes are still being made. For example, buyers often achieve gross margin targets by bulk buying when the supply chain needs a controlled flow. The unnecessary cost of supply chain assets and the pain of excessive product markdown could be fatal in today’s economic environment.
The term “The T-Shaped Manager” was first coined by Hansen and von Oetinger in The Harvard Business Review in 2001; it is used to describe the development of a capability beyond any individual’s vertical specialisation to take into account the broader, horizontal aspects of a business. Only by doing this can a business’s activity be properly orchestrated to advantage. Liddell intends to embed this philosophy into supply chain training. “It’s desperately important for people to look beyond their ‘vertical’ skill sets and to develop that ‘horizontal’ awareness and capability. Buyers need to know how to operate and operators need to know how to buy,” he says.
In 2012, the academy will offer a combination of course content, which integrates the key elements of the entire product journey, from production to the hands of the customer. It will provide training in mastering end-to-end supply chain practice, opening up awareness of how to optimise production, inventories, flows and supply chain spend, all with the end customer in mind. In short, the academy will be demonstrating how to squeeze out the locked-up value that exists in all companies’ supply chains.
The academy, at Upminster Court, will be the stepping-stone to move from traditional training to a web-based offer and the intention is to develop an accredited diploma structure to give participants an opportunity to gain incremental recognised qualifications.
“Too many people in supply chain and logistics do their work without any formal training,” says Liddell. “We need to establish standards of professionalism and formal qualification. If we are going to compete globally as businesses, and to grow as an economy, we have to become better and more serious about skills training and establish qualification standards and accelerate our expertise.”
Liddell is supported by a number of strategic partners in the development of the training elements of the academy and, in the early stages, will include key courses from The Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply, The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and the British International Freight Association.
The demand is clearly there; the academy is already taking bookings before the website has gone live or any brochures have been printed.
“But I want there to be more,” states Liddell. “The academy will host a number of executive conferences, lunches and workshops this year. We will need to drive senior thought leadership if we are going to develop a supply chain capability in this country, which is going to drive growth.”
The plan is to bring senior players in the supply chain together with the movers and shakers in the economy to inspire action – and Upminster Court is a fine location for that.
Liddell says: “It’s a measure of how serious and important training, development and new thought needs to be in the industry, and the supply chain generally. I want to provide the best training, the best environment for reflection and the best accommodation. I want the critical importance of the supply chain to be recognised.”
01708 259 400