Jennifer Loveland, MBA '00: Creating a "best-in-class" supply chain
Jennifer Loveland, MBA '00, project manager in global operations supply chain strategy at Dell Computer Corp., is determined to make Dell's a "best-in-class" supply chain. "That is pretty broad when you talk about end-to-end supply chain, globally for all products," she says. "It means that each day will be different. It might be about influencing, gathering data, analyzing data, working with industry experts or suppliers, or just being sure you understand all of the interactions in our complex system."
It's a job Loveland relishes both because every day is different, and because it's like being a consultant. Her VP believed that external consultants had added a lot of value by pushing Dell outside of its supply chain comfort zone, but she wanted a small, internal group that was more intimate with the company's operations to answer all the "what if" questions bound to arise as Dell began to implement changes and needed to be nimble in its decisions.
"We do not own the final decisions, but we must find the best way to analyze and present the options to the leaders that do own the decision," notes Loveland, in describing how her job is like being a consultant. "We work on a variety of questions with a large cross-section of the organization. One difference is that we do not have a particular project with a start and end date; we are really there to engage where ever the priority lies."
Loveland likens her current position to an earlier experience she had as one of four designers of Dell's manufacturing facility in Winston-Salem, N.C. "It was an amazing opportunity: I was part of everything from green field site selection, through design of every process, through installation and startup," she says. "This job feels like the same type of experience on a broader scale. Instead of a factory, the focus is global and includes the entire supply chain."
Working at Dell headquarters in Austin, Texas, Loveland's days are varied, but generally her work falls into the following areas:
- Identify new issues facing the business through meetings or questions from executives
- Brainstorm with industry experts and co-workers on key aspects of a question
- Understand trends and competitive industry practices
- Gather and analyze data
- Create that "million dollar" slide that sells a concept
- Seed new concepts throughout the organization
- Help Dell's leadership review current projects
Below, Loveland describes a current project, pinpoints key issues affecting the computer industry, and shares the most compelling and most frustrating aspects of her job.
Could you describe a project you're currently working on?
Loveland: Dell has just begun a reorganization from a functionally aligned company to a structure of four global business units by customer type. As we undergo this transition and work to deliver $3 billion in COGS (cost of goods sold) savings to Dell over the next two years, we are reassessing every aspect of our supply chain. The organization is globalizing, updating its IT infrastructure, changing its physical footprint and manufacturing partnership strategy, supporting a move by the business into new channels of retail stores and value-added resellers. Dell is supporting focused growth in emerging markets, aligning operations to Dell's environmental focus, and increasing our product offering to allow more, targeted products. Our team is literally engaged in advising in all of these areas.
The main item I have been focusing on the last few months is describing the future portfolio of supply chains that our customers need Dell to enable, as well as key guiding principles for creating them. This includes analyzing configuration profitability and profiles, total landed cost, tax incentives, and other key factors. We then determine key statistical and operational guiding principles such as postponement, pooling of variability, and organizational structure and incentives that should be disseminated throughout the organization.
What key issues are affecting your industry today? How is it changing?
Loveland: The computer industry in general is maturing. Dell was a big part of commoditizing the hardware. The advances in technology mean computers are at once more accessible and not the focus. In developed markets, the solution to a question or problem is the new focus. The industry is much more competitive. At one end you have HP and IBM focused on software and services for business. At the other end you have Apple creating product lust and new ecosystems as well as Acer focusing on a low cost model. On the flip side, the expected growth in emerging markets is tremendous. Additionally, there is an increase in volatility throughout the economic system. That means it gets harder to control costs just when it becomes more important. Additionally, the mobility of technology is increasing at a rapid pace with smart phones and netbooks.
What's the most frustrating aspect of your job?
Loveland: Turning a big ship is not an easy task. Dell has over 80,000 employees. Truly constructing a best-in-class supply chain touches almost all of them. That is a lot of leaders to get on the same page. Some of the concepts we work with take time to seed in the organization and it can be frustrating waiting for the right moment to push forward an idea.
What's the most compelling aspect of your job?
Loveland: The variety in the intellectual challenge. The access to see the whole picture as a truly storied supply chain re-invents itself. The ability to influence great leaders and see how they navigate implementing a huge amount of change. The better part is that travel is rare and I get to enjoy the temperate winter and live music in Austin, Texas.