Professor Richard Wilding

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Professor Richard Wilding of Cranfield School of Management talks to Lucy Tesseras about resource shortages, women in logistics, biodiversity and the role social media plays in supply chain management.

It’s often said that no-one chooses to get into logistics, but for Professor Richard Wilding it wasn’t the industry so much as the angle he chose to pursue it that came as a surprise. “I fell into academia,” he says, “It certainly wasn’t a lifetime goal.” But 20 years on he’s here to stay.

He is now one of the most active academic promoters of the supply chain management field and at Cranfield has helped develop the Centre for Logistics and Supply Chain Management into a pioneering centre of excellence. In fact, Wilding was recognised for his involvement in industry at the European Supply Chain Excellence Awards 2010 where he picked up the award for Individual Contribution.

“It’s a great honour to be recognised, and it’s extremely good for Cranfield,” he says. “It’s an interesting Award as people are nominated by industry and the winner is dependant on votes from industry so we had no idea how it was going to go. I was truly humbled to have won, but accepted the Award on behalf of Cranfield and industry as I couldn’t do what I do without their support.”

Wilding began his career as an academic in 1991 at the University of Warwick and after seven and a half years he says: “I planned to escape back into industry but Cranfield made me an offer I couldn’t refuse”.

The university’s ethos is “knowledge into action” so everything has to have practical relevance. Wilding specialises in supply chain strategy, as well as collaboration, risk management and how the supply chain can be used to reduce cost and enhance value, working with boards of directors to develop new supply chain concepts.

“We need to know what drives value so we can design supply chains to create that value,” he says. He describes it as “operational execution of the business mission” and states that there are four key elements to successful supply chain strategy: process, infrastructure, information systems and organisation.

He talks about the idea of a supply chain society, which is about trying to get people with the same values working together and aligning their thinking. He reckons the next major supply chain challenge to hit us will be resource shortages, which will ultimately force the concept of collaboration.

“We need to think about how we can do things more efficiently to sustain supply chains in an environment where resources are much rarer. It is echoing in oil already, people might say it’s not but it is, and increased volatility is going to lead to precious metal and rare earth metal shortages occurring too… The only way to cope is to organise and work with competitors, which is sometimes referred to as co-opertition. Shortages will lead to collaboration.”

During 2011 Wilding’s main focus will be researching and promoting the idea of biodiversity. He is currently undertaking a research project with integrated ecological consultancy Middlemarch Environmental with the aim of creating a supply chain biodiversity risk assessment tool.

From a business point of view, Wilding says it is critical for managers to do things to help enhance the variety of our natural environment and that even building a warehouse or factory could increase biodiversity. For example, when building a car park and large roof structure on a brownfield site, instead of sending water to a storm drain it could be used to create a wetland landscape that encourages biodiversity.

At first glance it may not seem as though this bears much relevance to the supply chain business, but Wilding reckons “biodiversity will become the next CO2” as consumers are increasingly concerned about the moral and environmental implications the products they buy have.

Wilding highlights the recently published TEEB report which outlines the four key actions which need to be taken to solve the problem: Identify how we are impacting biodiversity; Assess the business risks and opportunities; Set targets and measures; and Take action. “Businesses need to wake up to these risks,” he warns.

Wilding will be working with Cranfield’s International Centre for Women Leaders and Women in Logistics on another key issue. “Gender diversity is appalling in supply chain management,” he says. “We need to understand what’s going on. We talk about a skills shortage but then why are businesses choosing from a pool which only covers 50 per cent of the population? We need to gather data to determine the scale of the problem and understand what we can do.”

Wilding is a huge advocate of social media and uses LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to get his messages across. “It gets things on the agenda. It’s not going to change the world but it is creating awareness of supply chain ideas and getting people to think. I am trying to be an evangelist for the supply chain concept,” he says.

“Academics traditionally write academic papers, but only half a per cent of people read these – and generally only other academics. We still do papers as they are important for funding, but now we can present a message in a more accessible way and reach a much wider audience. It lets us provide a simple message that people can access and take onboard.”

Curriculum Vitae

1985 – 1991
Various roles including production manager and manufacturing systems engineer at BHP Australia, Exxon Chemicals, Steetley Brick and Tile and IMI Refiners. 

1991 – 1998
Principal fellow at Warwick Manufacturing Group – University of Warwick.

1998 – present
Wilding joined Cranfield University School of Management as a supply chain and logistics author. 

2006 – present 
He became a professor of supply chain risk management at Cranfield. 

2008 – 2009
Spent a year as a visiting professor in supply chain at RMIT University in Australia, while still permanently based at Cranfield.

2010 – present
Wilding became a full professor and chair in supply chain strategy at Cranfield.

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