Joseph Senné

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‘How do I see logistics? In a word, special. But that doesn’t mean it is specific to a product or a technology. Logistics is the key to tomorrow’, says the European distribution director for Columbia Sportswear Europe, Joseph Senné.

‘In industry, we have spent 50 or 60 years improving production but only recently started looking at logistics. Even today I find that companies have not made logistics improvements that have been known about for some years now. Each time I get a bad reaction from a vice president, typically complaining that “this stuff isn’t new”, I offer to bet his salary against mine, along the lines of: “If you’re so sure your company is already doing this…”. I usually win – or at least get a nice letter or a bonus.’

In many ways, claims Senné, logistics has become too popular. ‘Everyone is talking about it but few are doing it in a holistic way. I went to a conference recently and met 50 people all of whom specialised in some part of logistics and each going for a “win” even if it meant some other part of the chain would lose out. We are so poor in Europe – there is a complete lack of understanding of logistics’.

Senné is aware of the need to sell the logistics message and refers to his time at Hoffmann LaRoche: ‘After two years of reorganising supply – with full powers over purchasing, production and distribution – during which we closed 17 European warehouses and built two new ones at a cost of FF125m, we saved that investment back within two years. That was only possible because I had the power and I sold the idea. You can’t just impose logistics, you have to sell it. We are very slow to understand this approach in Europe compared with the US.

‘My first take on logistics is that you have to consider the life of the product. If you don’t understand this, you will miss a lot of value-adding possibilities. For example, the emphasis on JIT and using overnight express services has been badly adopted in Europe. I have spent the past10 years saying that this is a solution for exception and it shouldn’t be the norm – except, of course, where bad organisation makes everything’s an exception.’

In his current post at Columbia, Senné concedes he has only part of the power. Production is offshore, principally in the Far East, on a best price basis and the job is a question of organising the flow of goods into Europe and then distributing them. Nonetheless, Columbia has managed to reduce stock levels by 50 per cent.

‘I try to get people to understand that they have to re-organise without disturbing the normal flux of the product. Good quality is synonymous with a lack of stress.’

Senné also doubts many firms’ self-knowledge. ‘Give me two or three days to take a complete view of your organisation and I’ll see what isn’t true. Most companies don’t actually work the way they think they do and a lot of people are blocked – they don’t want to open their eyes.’

As to outsourcing, Senné sets some limits. ‘Of course you can outsource, for example, warehousing or distribution, but you can’t outsource logistics itself. It’s a key function. Splitting logistics up is never good logistics.’

Meanwhile, says Senné, Europe is losing time. ‘In five or 10 years people will have a more global approach to logistics. If they haven’t, they don’t have a future.’

Senné’s career has been spent largely in retailrelated organisations but he yearns to apply his approach elsewhere. ‘I would love to bring my experience to bear in hospitals, for example. There are costs and expenses to attack and opportunities in IT. But there are also a lot of training issues. I would have to understand the workers’ lives “in logistique”. If there is no process and if people don’t want to understand the tools that logistics can give them, there won’t be any improvements.

‘I’m happy to talk logistics with anyone but to actually achieve anything you have to give me – or people like me – power. And this is very difficult – in general, management is just not ready to hand it over.’


  • Joseph Senné, 53, has worked for some of Europe’s leading blue chip companies including Bosch, Frigidaire, Hoffman LaRoche, OfficeDepot and Yves Rocher. He describes himself as ‘a very lucky man’, fascinated by the motivation of people and the deployment of new technology. ‘My life is spent looking for added value’, he says, and admits to losing energy when doing day-today stuff. But fortunately, as he says, ‘successive bosses have helped me find new challenges’. He is currently European distribution director for Columbia Sportswear Europe, based in Cambrai, France.


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