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What we must do to create nationally secure and resilient supply chains

An Interview with David Leichner – Published in Authority Magazine

We need to diversify our sources. The pandemic taught us that it’s not sustainable to have only one place to get critical materials. A resilient supply chain would be able to plug in several source alternatives if a primary source failed.
The cascading logistical problems caused by the pandemic and the war in Eastern Europe, have made securing a reliable supply chain a national imperative. In addition, severe cyberattacks like the highly publicized Colonial pipeline attack, have brought supply chain cybersecurity into the limelight. So what must manufacturers and policymakers do to ensure that we have secure and resilient supply chains? In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders who can share insights from their experiences about how we can address these challenges. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maneet Singh.
Maneet Singh is the Chief Information Officer at Odyssey Logistics, based in Charlotte. He has over 20 years of experience in IT, with responsibilities spanning strategy, project delivery, M&A, risk management and leading global teams. As CIO, Maneet is responsible for Odyssey’s technology and cybersecurity strategy, managing global IT operations, and leading major IT transformation projects to support the company’s strategic growth initiatives.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

was born and raised in a small, remote village in India. To give you a sense of life there — they only recently have access to electricity. My father was the first engineer to come out of that village. I was the second, 30 years later. My grandparents were farmers, but they had a vision. They believed in education. And any money they could save, they put towards their children.

My parents had the same idea. When my father got his job, we moved to a small industrial town that had a major focus on education. I remember our town was way over-represented in attendance at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology. It was the kind of school where there were 400,000 applicants each year across the nation but only 2,000 got in. Our little town always had about 40 kids at that school. I got in, and my bachelor’s degree was in metallurgy. My first job was at a steel plant, working with a big blast furnace that ran at 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. Eventually, I moved into IT — where there’s air conditioning! And since then I have gone through several changes throughout my career, but the constant factor has been learning and adapting to new things — be it technology or people.

I was steeped in a culture of learning starting at a young age, both in my family life and in the world around me.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
After moving from India to the States, I did my MBA in St. Louis. At the end of the program, there was a case study competition where we formed a team and mock run a company. They hand out profiles for each company, and you and your team get to choose one — each company had specific strengths and weaknesses. I was the CEO, and I chose this company that had the most terrible fundamentals. It had been doing poorly for years but it had the most customers. My intuition said if we have the customers and we retain them, we can make the necessary business changes.
Once our team got aligned, we developed a plan and got to work. The competition usually lasted two and a half days but after only a day and half, the school ended the competition because my team had pulled so far ahead of our classmates that we had basically clinched it. The professor said that in the last 15 years, no team had been able to turn this company around — it was a losing profile.
This experience stands out because it formed my foundation for how I approach business. Sometimes, certain ideas seem stale until we live through them. For me, that day in my MBA was the day I learned that putting customers first is the most important tenet in any business. Customer care is truly everything. If you have customers on your side, you can accomplish great things.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

It all starts with resilience. There have been a lot of changes and tests from where I started to where I am today. The only way I could weather all of them was by cultivating a drive to persevere, no matter what. It’s one of the most important things a person can learn or teach. I’ve had to uproot my life several times in pursuit of my goals. It wasn’t easy, but it made me stronger. I don’t fear change anymore and as they say, in life, change is the only constant.
I also really believe in continuous learning. I think I’ve really been served in life by an insatiable desire to learn. For me, when I was in school, I didn’t care about getting a degree, necessarily — I was just trying to learn as much as possible. But you must develop the right attitude towards learning. Learning should be about being a student, not a follower. We have to be able to take lessons from people without trying to become them. Learning is about learning to become yourself.
Finally, I think it’s important to know what your core values are — and live them. For a lot of people, values are what they naturally absorb from their environment. This can be good or bad, but it’s not conscious. About 15 years ago, I made an effort to choose my own core values — it was an intentional process that I went through over months. I realized that I’m all about contribution, learning, humility, integrity, and fun — that’s what I’m made of. Once you know that, then you can look at your behavior and see whether it aligns with who you are, or who you want to be.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

As a continuous learner, everything is exciting to me! But yes, I’m new here at Odyssey Logistics, and we’re working on a lot of big changes. As the CIO, I’m currently assessing how our company uses and thinks about technology — where are the opportunities for improvement? How are we thinking about TMS, for example? Or ERP? These are big questions that have big changes downstream of them, depending on how they get answered. My vision for technology at Odyssey is getting to “connected systems with integrated data”. I want us to have systems that are best for us (not necessarily the best of breed) and have them all connected to each other and working together. Of course, this is going to involve AI. Logistics in general is on the cusp of applying revolutionary technologies to its functioning, so it’s a good time to be doing what we’re doing.

Can you help articulate what the weaknesses are in our current supply chain systems?

I feel a slight pang when answering this question because the answer to it is the same now as it would have been few years ago — showing the need for better tech to support our industry. Let me break this down into five problems, which are all related to each other.
First, our biggest weakness is visibility — or the lack thereof. We just don’t know easily where things are moving. Look at all the inventory problems we had during COVID. The common denominator was not able to see the whole shape of our business. And this leads to inefficiencies.
This brings me to the second weakness — inventory management. The industry has really struggled in finding the middle ground between empty shelves and overstock. This is connected to visibility, of course, but it’s a problem on its own merits too.
Weak collaboration between our tech is also a culprit here. We have all these systems supporting our work, but can they communicate with each other? Or do they add up to some vague and disconnected archipelago posing as a tech stack?
The fourth problem is rigidity — a lack of flexibility. Perhaps owing to the complexity of our business, we’ve tried to design inflexible systems to tame the beast, so to speak. But this is a false sense of security — supply chains are dynamic. They need dynamic and flexible systems to capture their complexity and deliver the most value.

Finally, this lack of flexibility also means that data often gets siloed, or fragmented. Siloed data can’t yield insights, and with no insights, there’s no possibility of improving our systems. We must find a way to bring all the data we shed together in one place — to tell one story about our business, what we’re doing right, and how we can do better.

Can you help define what a nationally secure and resilient supply chain would look like?
Security and resilience are interesting terms because, in a way, they imply a sense of stasis, or immobility. But in the case of a secure and resilient supply chain, precisely the opposite qualities are needed. Such a supply chain needs to be dynamic, flexible, and constantly willing to improve itself. Complacency is out of the question.
It’s not enough to be good, or even great — the public expects perfection out of the supply chain. When we’re working as we should, we essentially become invisible, supporting the idea that consumers can imagine something, and it will appear in their hands. To me, this is a beautiful dream. So, in one sense, a secure and resilient supply chain would, to the public at least, not look like anything at all. We’re simply an extension of their own wants and needs, able to bring it back to them instantaneously. Sustaining this level of service requires constant innovation and drive.
What are the “5 Things We Must Do to Create Nationally Secure and Resilient Supply Chains” and why?
First, we need to diversify our sources. The pandemic taught us that it’s not sustainable to have only one place to get critical materials. A resilient supply chain would be able to plug in several source alternatives if a primary source failed.
Second, we need to invest in tech — secure supply chains require mature technology to support them. How do we get cutting-edge solutions to suffuse every aspect of the supply chain? It’s been said that every company nowadays is a tech company. Logistics leaders are not exempt from this principle.
Third, we need to be collaborating and communicating more across the industry. Remember, I’m all about continuous learning — but the only way such a state can be supported is if information and insights are being freely exchanged. This kind of communication will also help with the diversification problem.
Following on this last point, we also need to streamline regulation and government intervention in the industry. Government support is important, but a lot of collaboration gets stymied by various regulatory frameworks that actually keep people from talking to each other, and from accomplishing things.
Finally, we need to get ahead of risk and compliance issues. This runs the gamut from cybersecurity to ESG. I’m not convinced our industry-wide responses to these issues are robust enough to prevent major issues down the road — issues that could occur much sooner than we’d like.
Continue reading the full interview here.

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