There are good conference speakers and not so good conference speakers. And, to be honest I don’t usually warm to speakers who start their presentations with the phrase “why talk about logistics – logistics is the least important part”.
However, when the speaker is Professor Jose Luis Nueno and he is talking about Zara, then it is worth listening.
The event was, of course, the Extended Supply Chain conference held last week at the Sofitel at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, and Professor Nueno was one among an outstanding line up of speakers – one of whom, Kevin O’Marah, chief strategy officer of AMR Research, set out to argue that supply chain should be seen as a competitive weapon.
Zara, part of the Spanish group Inditex, is renowned for using the agility of its supply chain to out-manoeuvre and out-perform its competitors. New designs are put into the stores on a weekly basis and the company can respond to the latest catwalk fashions in days.
And if you think it takes some impressive logistics to achieve all that – you’d be right. So why did Professor Nueno talk about it as the least important part?
The answer lies in how you define “important”. Professor Nueno was at pains to make it clear that the group regards logistics as important – very important. But for Zara, of course, the starting point has to be the product.
Kevin O’Marah’s argument is that all too often supply chain is seen as simply a cost centre. And while some more forward thinking organisations might think of it as an enabler, too few understand the potential of effective supply chain management to achieve competitive advantage.
Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that some of the people who manage their logistics most effectively refer to it as “the least important part”.