Supply Chain leaders debate improvements to infrastructure and skills at eft’s first CSCO Forum in Brazil

Chairman, Hugh Williams, reflects back on eft's first Chief Supply Chain Officer Forum Brazil

Never having been to Brazil or indeed South America ‘proper,’ I had no idea what to expect before taking part in eft’s first Chief Supply Chain Officer Forum Brazil & Latin America last week over 11-12 August. But I do relish an adventure, especially when it involves the chance to meet people from other cultures with different takes on life and supply chain!


The group was understandably smaller than those of the established European conferences I chair for eft, but just as well-formed. Supply chain and logistics executives from international companies like Cargill, Coty, Harley-Davidson, Robert Bosch, JDA and DHL threw light on the myriad issues in the region that present obstacles and upside in equal measure. Transport infrastructure dominated the agenda.


With only 14 percent of roads suitably paved for heavy goods vehicles, Brazil’s greatest supply chain problem is undeniably infrastructure. And it’s not just the about the roads. The rail network runs on three different widths of track, which are not joined up. In 2006, ninety-three years after it first opened its locks, the Panama Canal acknowledged the need to expand and modernize to accommodate more and larger ships. The most optimistic delegates reckoned that getting roads, railways and shipping lanes fit for the modern supply chain would take at least ten years.

A smaller group certainly lent itself to more intimate and lively debate and for someone like me who deals in change, I welcomed the chance to step in and facilitate some conversations and interactive sessions on some very different solutions. The following are just a few highlights.


Hector Tamburini, Senior Manager, Commercial at DP World Caucedo, spoke about the Panama Canal expansion scheduled for completion next year that will accommodate doubly large container ships. This seems certain to help clear the traffic jams currently bedevilling the famous waterway. Many delegates, however, expressed concern that the new super-sized container ships, which sail more slowly, take longer to load and unload and cost more to fuel, will incur even longer lead times and, in their eyes, probablyhigher costs. This at a time when manufacturers are trending towards shorter R&D and delivery cycles, mass customisation and price competitiveness.


Gerald Lee, CEO of Modern Logistics and former JetBlue executive, offered a radically different approach. Sceptical that Brazil would sufficiently improve infrastructure fast enough, Lee’s company plans to disrupt the industry by offering a fleet of aircraft and trucks that will take goods straight to customers, sidestepping 3PLs and freight forwarders altogether. His fleet has two ‘flying trucks’ already, aiming for 40 by 2020 and claims to offer prices that are competitive with current road transport. This taking to the airwaves reminded me of the way Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya  leapfrogged landline infrastructure and went straight to mobile, with great success.


Changing tacks, Fernanda Debellian, Regional Director, Channel Partner Services, APICS, led a vitally important discussion on a subject close to my heart - people and skills. Delegates recognised her portrayal of a huge talent gap in the middle between older, senior executives and a new generation of young trainees and students. Fernanda posited that that today’s (and tomorrow’s) supply chain workers in the region need much more than pure technical skills to thrive in this dynamic, high-stakes environment. They also need the so-called ‘soft skills’ of communications, negotiation and conflict management. Most agreed, but proposed calling these ‘advanced management skills’ rather than ‘soft skills’ to engage people with more traditional views.


It was a privilege to help facilitate this event, which I hope has given the delegates considerable food for thought and new ideas to take back to their organisations. I’m now off with my wife to put supply chain to one side and immerse myself in the sun, sights, sounds and tastes of Brazil.


For my next adventure, I’m back in Europe to chair the Chief Supply Chain Officer Forum in De Maaspoort Theatre, Venlo, the Netherlands on 14-16 October. Hope to see you there!

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