Mawgan Wilkins

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Viewing supply chain as an entity more akin to an ecosystem than a “chain” is what has inspired Cisco’s Mawgan Wilkins to lead one of the most successful, award-winning supply chains in the world. “Supply chain doesn’t describe what we do anymore,” he says, “it’s a value chain – in fact it’s more than that – it’s a value network.”

Technology and collaboration are the two subjects Wilkins is most passionate about, and which he believes will guarantee supply chain success. “We must be able to tie together all the communities of a supply chain. It’s time people shared their strategies,” he says.

Like many people in the logistics and supply chain industry, Wilkins discovered it by accident. An engineer by trade, he got his first taste of logistics while working for Hitachi Europe. After a brief three months there he was tasked with running the entire supply chain. Being entrusted with such a huge responsibility so early, and being surrounded by forward-thinking colleagues, was an inspiration, he says.

He describes the six years he spent with Hitachi as a blur. “It was a baptism by fire – and it was brilliant.” It was his mix of logistics experience and engineering skills that caught the eye of Cisco, a company which derives its name from the city San Francisco and – at the time of his joining – one of the biggest companies in the world.

Five promotions later, his current role at Cisco is as complex as the length of his job title indicates – senior director technical support, global operations strategy planning and innovation. Part of his job role consists of identifying and executing transformational change. “A leader must be willing to take big steps radically to change the performance of an organisation. They must not take just one step forward, but five.

“Cisco has changed the way the world works, lives, plays and learns. Everything from eBay and YouTube to BT – all the things we take for granted – wouldn’t exist without us; they’re all run on Cisco applications. Innovation is part of our DNA.”

In 2004 Guinness World Records hailed Cisco’s Carrier Routeing System (CSR-1) the highest capacity internet router ever developed. The company spent four years and US$500 million (£318m) developing the technology, which can reach a routeing throughput of 92 terabits per second. “This router can process data equivalent to that [the entire printed collection]contained in the US Library of Congress – within seconds,” says Wilkins.

It would take years to repeat the same process with a dial-up modem. Customers have higher expectations now – they want instantaneous access to data. “I’m BT’s worst customer,” he jokes, “I expect perfect voice quality on IP networks and instantaneous network connection, and so does everybody else.”

Data moves at such a speed now, that it’s easy to get blinded by the sheer volume of it. Wilkins stresses the importance of focusing supply chain metrics from the perspective of the customer, so as to drive the information right to them, creating more visibility at the user end.

“Our focus is on customer loyalty. It’s about wrapping what we do around our customers to help make them successful.”

Wilkins reckons Cisco is more robust as a result of the disaster in 2000. “We didn’t understand the depth of the tech bubble burst at first,” he says, “but we’ve learnt from it and have come out stronger for it.” Cisco reacted by executing strategies which involved the roll-out of a sophisticated algorithm system to monitor core supply chain elements such as inventory, fulfilment requirements, forecasting, lead times; which enabled it to slash costs.

As a result of these strategies, and listening to the warnings of its customers, he says Cisco was ready when the recession struck in 2009. “We saw it coming,” he says, a fact which is backed up by the $2.5 billion (£1.6bn) the company pocketed in the last quarter. “We’ve come out of the recession with massive confidence – we’re ready to accelerate.”

Later this month Wilkins will join some of Europe’s top supply chain leaders at the Extended Supply Chain 2010 conference in London, where he will head the session: “Building increased flexibility into your supply chain through improved end-to-end collaboration and visibility”.

“I’m lucky enough to work for a company that loves technology and has great resources, but you don’t have to spend millions if you want to collaborate and improve visibility. There are technologies out there now that will help – such as software-as-a-service. Visibility is within your reach,” he says.

Wilkins doesn’t intend to leave Cisco any time soon. “Where I go in years to come will depend on where Cisco has gone. It’s all about finding the next ‘light bulb’ innovation that will change the world. Wouldn’t it be great to find one of those?”


2009 – to date
Wilkins is currently senior director technical support – global operations strategy planning and innovation at Cisco Systems.

2008 – 2009
Became senior director, technical support, global supply chain programmes, Cisco.

2006 – 2008
Became senior director, emerging markets technical support, Cisco.

2003 – 2006
Promoted to senior director, global supply chain operations, Cisco.

2000 – 2003
Recruited by Cisco Systems for the role of director, service supply chain, EMEA,

1995 – 2000
Joined Hitachi Europe as supply chain manager, Information Equipment Division.

1989 – 1995
Artel Communications as a field support, quality and customer service manager.

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