Business, Interrupted: Supply Chain Lessons Learned

 

The supply chain.

Until complications compounded during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s not something most consumers thought much about. But today, with shortages of everything from baby formula to automobiles, it’s constantly making headlines.

But for Elaine Boltz, Chief Operating and Transformation Officer at Crocs, the supply chain is now always front of mind. We spoke with Boltz about supply chain woes and the impact on the economy during a recent episode of Castellan’s podcast, “Business, Interrupted.”

Boltz says she has had a crash course into the world of resiliency over the past two years. In her role overseeing Crocs’ operations, the supply chain, distribution, and inventory management are also critical parts of her role. But her background, she says, is a bit of a mismatch for that, where she previously worked in brand management, marketing, and consulting.

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Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone

Boltz’s move into her new role was a step outside of her comfort zone and it was compounded by the pandemic.

“In some ways, the pandemic and COVID hitting so fast kind of helped speed up that learning curve in a lot of ways, because there was no time to really ease my way into the position,” she recalled. “And in another way, it helped because we were facing something no one in operations had faced before.”

For Boltz, that meant diving head first into learning about key company priorities and building trust in a role she had just begun.

As the team started to look at potential pandemic impact on sales and operations, supply chain and inventory quickly came into focus.

Crocs is a global company, with about half of its business outside the U.S., in markets like Europe and Asia.

“I think from a supply chain standpoint, we make most of our goods outside of the areas that we produce it in,” Boltz said. “So it was also connecting the dots, like most companies, on how we get them to the right place. And so that meant both keeping the relationships going internationally. We switched over to virtual communication, super, super fast.”

That also meant tracking and understanding the pandemic and regulations, especially pertaining to how different governments around the world were responding, which ultimately impacted some of the things the company could and couldn’t do.

“And that was ever changing. It really was an incredible lesson in agility,” Boltz said. “It was a blessing to be able to lead a team that was kind of primed and can be a part of a culture that was used to thinking that way. I thought I was used to agility coming from a digital background, but it’s a beautiful thing to see a whole company be able to turn really fast … particularly in supply chain and operations, which can be incredibly hard and complex to make big changes on.”

Supply Chain Risk Management

As the supply chain gets more attention from companies—from consumers and vendors all the way up to the C-Suite and board levels—resilience management professionals must learn how to build, mature, and maintain relationships and communication flows during times of crisis like the pandemic.

“We had years of relationships with some really terrific footwear manufacturers who were used to working in our usual agile style with us,” Boltz said.

That meant the company was poised to over-communicate and think through how it could manage the challenges together, especially as the pandemic evolved and changed.

Communication, whether through internal teams or outside partners and vendors, is a critical component of event management such as this.

“And so really building up the trust, the communication, the candor was a huge part of my initial time here, because it was so necessary during that time of crisis.”

A Resilience Management Perspective

While those strong relationships grew stronger, the company also knew it had challenges reaching and meeting customer needs during the pandemic. That required focus shift.

“And so we really focused on just how do we think through? Are we moving through the right points? Are we using the right modes of transportation? Do we have the right long-term relationships with the carriers out there? I think the other thing was we also really worked with our business partners on what we could and couldn’t expect,” she said.

In addition to meeting customer needs, from a resilience management perspective the company also had to step back and consider the bigger picture of preparedness for business disruptions.

“I think like every company, this issue has become much more front and center with boards with senior leadership,” Boltz said. “And so we’ve spent some time really thinking about where our enterprise risk management is. Have we identified everything appropriately? Have we built in redundancy in the right places?”

For Boltz, she thinks in terms of resiliency, it ultimately boils down to thinking about flexibility and agility. It’s about being able to look at your plan or program basics and then think beyond that, asking questions not just about what’s happening now, but what could happen in the future.

Want to hear more from Boltz and some of the many real-world lessons learned about supply chain management during a disruption? Listen to the full episode, “Leading Boldly Through Ambiguity with Elaine Boltz,” which is available on the Castellan website or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

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