#59: Robert Blackburn President of BVL International

#59: Robert Blackburn President of BVL International

Robert Blackburn President and Chairman of the Board at BVL International

Robert Blackburn President and Chairman of the Board at BVL International

Listen to the full discussion here:

Robert Blackburn is the President and Chairman of the Board at BVL International, the largest logistics non-profit organization in Europe.

He is also the SVP of Global Supply Management for Stanley Black and Decker, a global leader in the manufacturing of industrial and household tools.

Prior to this, Robert held leadership positions at IBM and BASF. His work in the field of operations and technology spans numerous boards and industry leadership engagements.

Some of the highlights from the podcast:

  • What is BVL and what makes it the largest supply chain organization in the world 
  • Challenges of BVL’s member organizations
  • Transport infrastructure management in Asia Vs Europe
  • People, upgrades and automation
  • Digital tech vs physical pins on maps 
  • Sustainability at Stanley Black and Decker
  • Investing in training people before implementing the technologies to be used
  • Best career advice 

Show notes:

  • [01:06] Tell us a bit about BVL. What the organization is about? Where are you present and what’s the purpose of it?
  • [02:12] We have over 11,000 members in Germany and around the world who are actually practitioners. For example, we have a senior partner from McKinsey in our advisory board and on our board we have brands like BMW and Bosch. It is one crazy network of experts, practitioners, researchers, and universities, unique in the world, in my opinion.
  • [03:53] What are some of the most important global and regional projects that BVL is focused on and is currently working on?
  • [04:14] We have one of the largest supply chain conferences in the world right here where I am today,  in Berlin, Germany and we have over 3000 people who travel from all over the world to join us here.
  • [06:50] BVL digital and all the knowledge associated with it. Is that strictly for the members or can somebody that is not a member get access to it? 
  • [07:59] What would you say are the major challenges that your member organizations are facing today?
  • [09:48] How are you seeing some of the avenues in which your member organizations are trying to resolve and adapt to these challenges?
  • [12:47] Our members are coming at it from a leadership development perspective from a knowledge and capability building perspective and then just good old fashioned commercial operators. 
  • [13:29] There’s also a big difference between Europe and Asia in terms of a very basic fundamental for logistics and supply chain which is infrastructure. How do you see the role of infrastructure and how the developed versus developing nations should approach it?
  • [18:01] So infrastructure isn’t a luxury for power for politicians, nor for business people. Businessmen rely on stable political structures to take planning decisions that can range from one year up to 10 or 15 years for investment. And that’s why infrastructure becomes a major issue or focus for BVL and not just here in Germany or Europe, but around the world.
  • [22:02] We always need to think as supply chain or logistician planners, be it at any part of BVL’s network; be it our political wing, be it our academic wing or our practitioners. We need to always keep the human being in the middle of everything. And if we design our digital and physical infrastructure around the needs of the human being, we’ll be welcomed and loved in those communities. 
  • [24:23] Can you share with us some examples of case studies where you’ve seen work well in the logistics world, in your member’s world, where they collaborate and had great results when it comes to efficiency, productivity and sustainability as well?
  • [25:49] Logistics is, in fact, sustainable when it’s efficient. Efficiency is attained at the highest level by linking up what many people refer to as supply chains. Supply networks are a competitive ecosystem which when you collaborate within them can save real energy. You can save real resources from planet earth and you can also return more to your shareholders, your employees, and your customers.  
  • [29:01] At Stanley Black & Decker, we are leaders in corporate social responsibility. One of the most important responsibilities the company has and can act upon is how it consumes its resources. So we work across corporate borders with the goal of eliminating plastic in our supply chain by 2030.  
  • [32:08] What have you seen as the biggest impediments, especially in freight forwarding companies, in terms of them actually embracing digitalization?
  • [35:22] What is global? Global is nothing more than people sitting in multiple countries on different continents. That’s my experience with global. You ever thought about global and they forget that everything is local. It’s just a matter of how big is the supply network, how big is the ecosystem and how distributed are the people accountable for it.
  • [36:48] One mistake is not investing enough on training the people before they have to use the technologies on the technologies that are going to be implemented. Second is taking technology that’s not ready to be put into productive use. 
  • [37:26] Another major inhibitor is people forget to upgrade. Even if you’ve educated your workforce, even if you’ve implemented all the technologies in the right way, you constantly have to be looking to upgrade.
  • [39:11] Every step that you go into automating your factories and your distribution operations, implementing machine learning, all this stuff relies on data, all of it. The big words in the world now like visualization, AI, artificial intelligence and so on come back to data. 
  • [41:46] What do you see as some of the key attributes of the supply chain leaders of the future?
  • [42:06] For a chief supply chain officer, you must be a lifelong learner. You must be collaborative. You must be a leader that people want to follow. And you should be genuinely true.
  • [44:32] My experience has informed me that in particular with our youngest two generations, Generation Y and the millennials, you must pull them in and you must allow them to make their mistakes and take their decision and you must let the best ideas win. 
  • [47:11] What would be some pieces of advice or the best piece of advice that you’ve received throughout your long career that helped you the most and you’d like to share with our listeners?
  • [47:54] Never ever think about promotion, just do the very best you can in the role that you have. Be a good teammate and always give back more than you receive. It sounds really easy, it’s not.

Related Episodes:

Episode #51: Wolfgang Lehmacher Former Head of Supply Chain and Transport Industries, World Economic Forum

Episode #56: Dr. Dirk Holbach Corporate SVP and Chief Supply Chain Officer, Laundry & Home Care of Henkel

Episode #58: Fabrice Thomas Vice President Global Supply Chain of Agilent

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