Alan Williams

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The race is on. There are now just 600 days to go until the London 2012 Olympics begins. And while most people will be counting down the days until the sporting action starts, for Alan Williams, UPS’s director of London 2012 sponsorship and operations, the journey has already begun.

“The Olympics is the biggest peace time event, so by definition this is the biggest logistics operation in the world. If you turn the finished stadium upside down, everything that falls out – apart from the people – will have been organised by UPS,” says Williams.

After being appointed the account by the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games in September 2009 a team of ten UPS employees under Williams’ leadership moved into LOCOG’s offices. “It’s a different kind of operation,” says Williams. “It’s not you’re usual customer/supplier relationship. LOCOG insourced the logistics of the event to UPS. We weren’t sure if it would work, but it really does and it’s a revelation. We couldn’t do what we have done without having the team imbedded and it’s definitely a model we will use again.”

The project will see the company focusing on a number of areas, with the three most prominent being warehousing, distribution and the venue village.

UPS will operate up to one million square foot of warehousing space on LOCOG’s behalf from two main sites – a 300,000 sq ft facility in Stevenage which opened at the end of September this year, and what will be its main distribution centre, a 550,000 sq ft hub in Tilbury, which is due to open in January.

In total, the company is expected to handle some 30 million items of inventory, from 10,000 SKUs. In addition to this, it will be responsible for moving all baggage for athletes when they arrive in the country, which will equate to more than 250,000 pieces of luggage.

UPS is also handling a number of bespoke projects, including torch relay logistics, which will involve providing support for more than 10,000 people associated with the iconic flame as it travels from Olympia in Greece to London.

The company was involved in the Beijing Olympics four years ago so has taken some of that learning and applied it to the London operation. In Beijing, UPS provided 2,000 employees for BOCOG (the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games). In London, even though it is supplying more services, Williams reckons UPS can do the job with between 1,100 -1,300 people.

“Beijing came along at a time which coincided with our entry into China, so it was about building brand awareness,” explains Williams. “By supporting the games we increased awareness from 14 per cent to 45 per cent. We’ve been established in the UK for a long time so the brand awareness is already there, but it does provide us with a platform to promote our logistics supply chain side and emphasise the fact that we are not just about parcels.”

UPS recently launched its “Love Logistics” advertising campaign to illustrate this very fact, “and what better example of logistics than the Olympics,” enthuses Williams. The current television spots incorporate the Olympics logo, but Williams says the company plans to make the campaign focus more heavily on its involvement with the games next year.

One of the biggest tasks has been to make this the greenest games yet. Its 120-strong fleet will include hybrid and electric vehicles, where possible inventory will be moved by rail, there will be zero landfill and once its warehouse at Tilbury is operational there will be the opportunity to move goods by water.

“The Thames hasn’t been used for commodity supply chains previously, partly because it is tidal so it can be very hard to mitigate against if it is going the wrong way. We don’t see it as a future for ourselves, but if we can demonstrate that it can be done then it leaves a legacy for London.”

Despite the games not beginning until 2012, UPS will be hard at it next year in the run up to the test event. Every venue must be ready and all processes will need to be in place. “From a logistics viewpoint these are live events so we will have fully tested everything before April next year.”

For UPS, the main activity will begin in January 2012 when it will start moving inventory into the site. Its first peak will be at the end of June, beginning of July, immediately before the start of the games, while during the games it will focus more on replenishment, and once the Olympics are over, things will move on to the Paralympics. However, Williams reckons the company’s biggest peak will be in September 2012 when all games are over and everything has to be moved out.

Above all else it’s a matter of planning makes perfect. Williams emphasises how important it is to have a proper strategy in place and not leave anything to the last minute. “It may be a temporary supply chain but it’s one that has to be safe and secure. There is no 2013 so everything has to be right first time. You can’t have the winner of the hundred metres standing on the podium waiting for his medal because we don’t know where it is.”

Curriculum Vitae

BSc Hons degree in engineering and business studies. 

Assignments in operations and engineering in UK, Europe and USA.

UPS directeur general France, responsible for UPS’s operations in France, where he was based in Paris for six years.

UPS project director, UK & Ireland, responsible for the development and opening in 2008 of UPS’s £66m ($105m) “superhub” in Tamworth, UK – the second largest UPS facility outside of the US. This role also included overall responsibility for the integration of the UPS and Lynx Express transport networks following the acquisition of Lynx in 2005.


UPS director of London 2012 sponsorship and operations with responsibility for UPS’s 2012 Olympic programme, which includes operations planning and execution, marketing, environment and sustainability programmes and community and corporate responsibility projects.

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