In this fascinating episode of the Digital Supply Chain Podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with supply chain superstar Maria Villablanca, the Co-founder and CEO of Future Insights Network. Maria brings decades of experience and unique insights from her journey through the world of supply chain and manufacturing.
We explored the importance of diversity in the supply chain space. Maria shared her thoughts on not just the representation aspect of diversity but the vital role of diverse thought in driving innovation. We also touched on the significance of gender diversity and the need for more women to step into leadership roles.
The conversation moved to the crucial aspect of digital transformation and its impact on supply chains, making them more resilient, efficient, and transparent. Maria highlighted the importance of understanding what problem you're trying to solve before implementing new technologies.
A major theme we touched on was the need for supply chain leaders to be communicators and storytellers. Maria emphasizes the value of stepping into the light, breaking down silos, and conveying your message effectively to ensure business value is understood.
Maria shared her views on the future trends shaping the supply chain industry, with visibility and transparency being top of the list. We discussed how supply chain leaders can seize these opportunities to drive value, become more competitive, and even emerge as CEOs.
Join us on this enlightening episode to gain a fresh perspective on the supply chain's role in today's rapidly evolving business landscape. I promise, you won't want to miss it. You can also check out the video version of this podcast on YouTube.
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we have a huge responsibility to demonstrate how attractive supply chain is as a career prospect and also how empowering it is to be in a position where you have such influence over shaping the world. So we are 80% of the polluters. And imagine being able to be at the cutting edge of innovation to solve that problem.Tom Raftery:
Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, wherever you are in the world. This is the Digital Supply Chain podcast, the number one podcast focusing on the digitization of supply chain, and I'm your host, Tom Raftery. Hi everyone. Welcome to the Digital Supply Chain Podcast. My name is Tom Raftery and quick update. I have had the bandages removed from my face, stitches out yesterday, wearing the glasses just to hide a bit of bruising and scarring that's there. So it's all going much better than expected. Couple of days time glasses will be off. I'll be back to the ugly old me that you're used to seeing on the podcast.. So . Anyway, on with the show, with me on the show today, I have my special guest, Maria. Maria, welcome to the podcast. Would you like to introduce yourself?Maria Villablanca:
Thanks, Tom. Thanks for having me. And, thank you for giving me the opportunity to chat with you. And for those of you listening to be here. My name is Maria Villablanca. I am the co founder and CEO of the Future Insights Network, which is a network of senior supply chain and manufacturing and digital leaders. I'm also a podcast host. I've got a podcast called Transform Talks. I'm about 180 episodes in, and I'd like to talk about transformation in the supply chain. I write newsletters. Generally, I like to be everywhere that people are talking about transformation in supply chain and manufacturing.Tom Raftery:
Okay, and you have been in supply chain for quite a while, Maria. And as you said, 180 episodes into your podcast. So that's great. And I was a guest on one of your episodes of the podcast. Thank you for that. So. You're into transformation. What kinds of transformations have you seen in the supply chain space through your 180 episodes and through all your, years working in supply chain?Maria Villablanca:
Well, it's a funny, funny thing. I didn't even realize that I had been in this space for so long. Right out of college, I got a job in Latin America running a joint venture between a California winery and a Chilean winery. And I kind of did all sorts of jobs, including sourcing, procurement. My background's commercial, so a lot of the business sales, marketing, et cetera. But I was very much in the factories, as it were, because I was also one of the only people in Chile that could speak English in a business capacity, as well as, in understanding manufacturing. So I got to tour quite a lot of, organizations. So. I've seen it evolve since the, mid nineties, really. And to me, transformation is not just about digital transformation. I started this business with my business partner because I remember being in a room full of senior supply chain executives at a conference I was at many years ago, maybe about 10 years ago, talking about digital transformation, and there was so much confusion in the room. There was so much, head scratching. And these were the most senior people in the space, and I thought, Oh my goodness, if this is the, if this is the reaction from some of the biggest companies in the world and some of the biggest people in the world, what hope is there for everybody else? And so, I started having conversations around digital transformation. So how do you get an large behemoth of an organization with legacy systems with tens of thousands of people to move from antiquated technologies, if that's possible or you know, analog processes Yeah to digital. And so then the pandemic hit then all the crisis that's going on in the world has hit and it quickly evolved from conversations around digital transformation to conversations in general about business transformation operating model transformation, leadership transformation. So we talk about all things in how businesses transform themselves to operate in the era that we live in today.Tom Raftery:
Okay. And one of the transformations I guess you have to have seen, not digital, but personnel wise, is there are now far more, still not enough, but far more women in supply chain, right?Maria Villablanca:
100%. I mean, for your women listeners, I'm sure this will resonate. I remember being quite literally the only woman in the room. I remember being at conferences and spotting that one or two other women and going, Hey, how you doing? Let's take a picture. And So yes, there is still a lot to do there we need to see more women in senior leadership positions. Although there are quite a lot to now focus on I I interview them you interview them and it's our duty I think and what I love about your show and the opportunities you and I have is to be able to put a spotlight and focus on those women and underrepresented groups that are making roads into progress for the rest of us, right? So yeah, so I have, I have really enjoy talking about the transformation of diversity, equity and inclusion because it's not just hiring more women or hiring more underrepresented groups. It's also about creating a kind of equity and balance within the working environment to allow for people to thrive. So, that it also is another transformative process.Tom Raftery:
So, riddle me this, maybe I'm wrong, this is an impression I have, but I know the number of women in supply chain is increasing and that's awesome. But I still don't see as many women coming on the podcast as I'd like to have. And so, my suspicion, my gut, could be wrong, please correct me, my gut though is that women in general are less likely to put themselves forward in situations where they are in the limelight, is, is, is that a misconception or do you think that's accurate, or is it a depends answer?Maria Villablanca:
No, I would say, I would say it's a good general assumption. And I've done training on this matter for years as well about women leaning in and putting themselves forward and not being afraid of saying, I did that. Look at that great thing there. I did that. That's me. So I think there is definitely a general that you are correct there, that women need to be better at being comfortable in the limelight and putting themselves forward. I also think that it is up to us and other people in positions of authority to be able to try to find those silent women and share their stories. So not everyone's an extrovert. I mean, I learned that early on that not everybody can be like me. And I am definitely one of those people that will shine a light on myself and say, I did that. Did you see that? I did that. But not everyone's me. So, I feel that it's also my responsibility to try to find others and share the spotlight a little bit with them.Tom Raftery:
How else can we encourage women to step up, not step up, step out, step, yeah, shine a light on themselves, to use your expression.Maria Villablanca:
Make it make, make it comfortable by showing other women. I mean, that's, that's ultimately it. It's, it's. Again, as I said, when I was coming up and I've been in business for a long time now, but when I was coming up, I didn't have other people that I could look up to and say Oh, I'd like to do that. Or I'd like to do exactly what she did there. So I think having other women in your show, making it comfortable, making it fun, exciting, then demonstrating that you're empowering women too. That's a way to, to get other women on the show, to get other women to put themselves forward. But equally, I want to be very cautious here because I don't want to send a message saying that every woman should be out there. Every woman should be out there promoting themselves. Some women just don't want to. They don't have it in them. But it's, so again, it's our responsibility to, to sort of shine the light on success. And, and this is where male allies come in very handily and female mentors to say, well, you know what? You should recognize her. She's really doing a fantastic job. And I think that's a, an important thing.Tom Raftery:
Okay. And apart from the equality aspects, what, I mean, you, you, you talked about D& I earlier. Why is diversity important for supply chains? I've had a couple of episodes about this, but it's a good while ago now. So might be a good time to circle back to that just quickly. Why, why for supply chains is it important to have diversity?Maria Villablanca:
You know, I love this question because to me diversity isn't just about being an underrepresented group of which I am. I'm a Latin American woman operating in the UK in, in the business environment. So I definitely am one of few, but I think diversity really is about having different people to you in the room, whether that is of a different color, different gender, but also I think more importantly, diversity of thought is the most important thing. Having different people in the room that have different opinions from you helps to break down the silos helps to break down that echo chamber thinking. So why is it important to your question, because we are not living in our dad's supply chain or our, or our granddad's supply chain world, we're living in a very different world now where you have crisis and, and forces that are macro forces and mega trends impacting the world alongside that we've got technological change that's faster than we've ever seen it. We've got changing economic indicators and consumer behaviors. All of those things create the perfect storm or what I like to call the cocktail of crisis. So we're not going to solve tomorrow's problems with yesterday's solutions and with yesterday's thinking. I don't want a rubbish experience because I think experience is very valuable, but I think it's important to also have other people in the room to sort of say, well, have we thought about this? So to me, I get asked, for instance, one of the questions all the time, what kind of skills will we need for the supply chain of the future? And the general default answer is technology. Of course we're going to need technology, but I think that the, the digital natives have that covered. They've they've practically had it in the womb, right? I think what we need more than anything is critical thinking. Is the ability to adapt, the ability to look at things differently and sometimes that will come from someone perhaps maybe from a creative background. Hiring people into the supply chain that come from I don't know artistic backgrounds who knows? I do know that we're not going to get different results to the same methodologies.Tom Raftery:
Sure. And what about diversity as well in your procurement? As in, you know, where you're procuring from in your suppliers?Maria Villablanca:
100%. 100% supplier diversity is a must because we there's so much risk. It's a risk and resilience question and the pandemic taught us that that you can't just have one form of single sourcing and expect to be able to be resilient in times of chaos. We're not operating in a world where say there's limited geographical chaos right so it's not like just over there in Asia or over there in Russia. It's everywhere. So this has an impact and I think it's time to redefine the supply chain. And one of the things that I'm really passionate about as well is to elevate the conversation of supply chain. I think supply chain is something that is mainstream now, which is different to 20, 30 years ago. And we need to do a better job and we need to be much more vocal at promoting supply chain as a valuable career prospect, as something with tremendous impact in the world and the opportunity to reshape our world.Tom Raftery:
Okay. For supply chain leaders, because supply chain is now becoming more important, more key to organizations, more strategic often, it should be but it is that's being recognized now, I think. So far supply chain leaders, what can they do to step up when they're called on, because now they are, I think, being called on more. What kind of steps should they take so that when they are called on to step up, they can do so with authority?Maria Villablanca:
I think the supply chain superheroes, as I like to say, who have kept the world running for so long have been operating in the shadows. And if it isn't broke, don't bother them. Right. So, that's been brilliant, but we can't do that anymore. So I think the first thing is to step into the light. The first thing is to say, I do this. I run effectively, I run the business. Supply chain leaders are running the business because without a powerful and effective supply chain, you're not going to be competitive. You're not going to be relevant in this world that we're building right now. So I think first things step out, into the light. The second thing is, and I is understand and learn persuasion skills and storytelling. I think the supply chain leaders I encounter the supply chain executives I encounter, they're so used to working in their little world of acronyms and, and expect other people to understand that. When you're trying to explain business value, you need to understand your audience. You need to be able to persuade better, communicate effectively, be a storyteller. You need to have empathy and understand the world of the person that you're speaking with. So I think I would say, yes, of course, continue your professional development, but we do need to invest quite heavily in communication skills and persuasion skills.Tom Raftery:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. A hundred percent. At the very start there, you were also talking about digital transformation and how that is transforming supply chains, making them more resilient, making them more transparent, making them more efficient. So do you have any good stories to tell about successful transformations that you've seen?Maria Villablanca:
Look, I, I think a lot of companies been successful at transforming themselves. It's not the, the ones that have done a good job because we all know those, the ones that have done a bad job that I think that I hear most about. It's, I hear horror stories about say companies who have invested in the latest technology, but they've done so sort of just on on a whim or to keep up with the Joneses to, you know, the shiny new object syndrome and what they've done is they failed to solve a problem. They've not solved the problem they've created more problems. So when you, when you think about the fact and I know this statistic is older, because it came out around the time of the pandemic by McKinsey that 70% of digital transformations fail, I'd say that that is definitely the case. And so, 70% of them are failing. It's not the success stories because yeah, you've got some great transformations happening. I've spoken to tons of companies that tell me that they've been able to automate and transform. I just did an interview with the Vice President of Sustainability for Coca Cola who told me a fantastic story about how they've managed to transform their entire business. To do the whole tethered cap. I don't know if your audience is in the United States, they might not understand it. But for those of us in Europe A Coca Cola bottle, a plastic one, now comes with a little top on, you know, that when you unscrew the top, it's still tethered and attached to the bottle. The idea behind that is that you reduce the possibility of this ending up in a landfill somewhere, because we all lose the caps, they're at the bottom of my car seat, who knows where they are, right? And so, to do that, one little tiny tethered cap change, Coca Cola had to significantly transform their entire manufacturing and supply chain. Really, I mean enormous at a huge cost just for that one little tethered cap. And to me, that was a really fascinating story of successful transformation, not just digital, but from a communication, business process perspective, people perspective in order to deliver on sustainability goals. So that's successful. But then I've also heard all these stories of people say transforming one division of their say operation optimizing their operation and manufacturing, but as a result, creating knock on effects. for the rest of the business that have ended up costing more money. So I think to me, it's, it's, I applaud the succeed, the, the, the successful ones, but we still have a lot of work to do.Tom Raftery:
And speaking of that lot of work to do, what are some lessons learned from the failures that we've come across?Maria Villablanca:
Take people with you. Take people with you. You, adoption is one of the biggest problems with one of the biggest impediments to transformation. Implementing technology for the sake of implementing technology and not understanding what problem you're trying to solve. Whether you're solving a problem for your employees, whether you're solving a problem for your customers, whether you're solving a problem for your shareholders by creating better value. Whatever it is, but don't just implement AI because everyone else has got AI don't implement machine learning or, you know, who knows what else because everyone else has it. What is the point? What are you trying to solve here? I mean, I hear stories from planning people that say that they've got layers and layers of technology that they have to work with, but they end up going back to their spreadsheets because the spreadsheets are a lot easier. And so you really need to try to figure out let's not make lives more complicated. Let's solve a problemTom Raftery:
Okay Future trends Maria, where do you see things going from here? What's kind of what are the big big trends the mega trends that are impacting supply chain? And where do you see them taking us?Maria Villablanca:
I think the biggest one is down to visibility because we need transparency and visibility because of legislation that's coming into effect, especially here in Europe with regards to sustainability and financial reporting. That is huge. That is enormous. We also have consumers that are demanding way more visibility in understanding where their products are coming from, where their products are and that visibility is also a key factor in resilience. And again, the biggest trend to me is the fact that this VUCA world is not a blip. This VUCA situation, this is normality is not coming back. This is where we are now. So, the more resilient you are, the more relevant you are, the more able to gain competitive advantage. And so, visibility, transparency, and all the technologies that empower visibility and transparency, and the analysis of data, because we're also drowning in a great deal of data, and the more the more we are connected with devices we are giving data to people. So there's opportunities as well. So I'm not just talking about the negative things on the opportunity side. I think there's a possibility for supply chain to emerge triumphant as not just a cost center, but maybe a revenue generator. A value driver for a business the competitive advantage for a business. So there's huge opportunities for supply chain leaders to emerge, not just with a seat at the table, but hopefully with a very powerful seat at the table. Ideally, I'd love to see more supply chain people as CEOs.Tom Raftery:
Yeah. Yeah. The old Tim Cook model. He's done a great job, but he is you know, himself and maybe Mary Barra, I guess are, are the, the two Yeah that, that I am aware of. There needs to be more to your point, probably others. Yeah, there are probably others. Yeah. But those are, those are the two, because they're in two massive companies. And, and I mean, for a long time it was just Tim Cook that I was aware of until Mary Barra's. Yeah. Got to, got to step up as well. Yeah, it's, it's. I mean, one of the advantages I think supply chain leaders have is they know almost all aspects of the organization. There should be more opportunity for them to, to lead because they know so much about the organization, whereas people who are coming from an accounting background, sure, they know the finances or sales, sure, they know sales, but supply chain, they know, you know, the whole organization, you have to think.Maria Villablanca:
I, I think it's, if you think about it, it's operations, right? It's end to end operations of, of the business. It's what makes the business exceptional, right? It's what makes the business valuable. And so, I do agree. I think that if you have been in the belly of the beast and have been running the business effectively from an operational perspective, the missing element to me is trying to connect all of it together. So understanding how design impacts the supply chain and manufacturing process, sales and marketing. And putting all those things together is just that one final missing piece to be able to be an effective CEO.Tom Raftery:
Maria, we're coming towards the end of the podcast now. Is there any question I haven't asked that you wish I had or any aspect of this we haven't touched on that you think it's important for people to think about?Maria Villablanca:
I think me, again, you did ask it, but I think I cannot stress enough the importance of elevating the conversation of supply chain to you know, we've, I've joked with you, we've all joked about this, that my mom now knows what I do because my neighbors know what I do as well, which is supply chain. But I think we have a huge responsibility to demonstrate how attractive supply chain is as a career prospect and also how empowering it is to be in a position where you have such influence over shaping the world. So we are 80% of the polluters. And imagine being able to be at the cutting edge of innovation to solve that problem. How exciting is that, right? How exciting is that to be operating in that space? So I think to me, it's, it's about how we, and our responsibilities that we have, not just you and me as podcasters, but us in the supply chain conversation to elevate that conversation a lot more, to bring it to everyone's attention.Tom Raftery:
Yeah, no, I think that's a, that's a well made point. It's often a stat that's thrown out there that, you know, depending on the industry, the supply chain is typically responsible for anywhere from 50 to over 90% of a company's emissions. And, you know, to your point, that's an absolute opportunity because If you're responsible for it and you get to reduce it, you know, you can make a huge difference to the organization and to the organization's output of emissions, you know, it's, it's phenomenal. So I think that's, that's a great takeaway for people listening today, Maria, if people would like to know more about yourself or any of the topics we discussed on the podcast today, where would you have me direct them?Maria Villablanca:
LinkedIn, just go to LinkedIn. Maria P Villablanca. I never share what my middle name is. So everyone's, I can't get people going, Ooh, what does the P stand for? And I think I'm going to retain that as a mystery and one day there'll be a big reveal and people will be very disappointed. But either way, Maria P Villablanca.Tom Raftery:
Reminds me of Homer J. Simpson. Did you ever see that episode where it was finally revealed what the J stood for?Maria Villablanca:
Oh, no, it didn't. What was it? You're not gonna leave me hanging.Tom Raftery:
Turns out the J stood for J J A Y.Maria Villablanca:
Oh I like that. Yeah.Tom Raftery:
Maria, that's been fantastic. Really interesting. Thanks a million for coming on the podcast today.Maria Villablanca:
Thanks for having me.Tom Raftery:
Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about digital supply chains, simply drop me an email to TomRaftery@outlook.com If you like the show, please don't forget to click Follow on it in your podcast application of choice to be sure to get new episodes as soon as they're published Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast. It really does help new people to find a show. Thanks, catch you all next time.