Supply Chain Jedi
Ian Howes
Head of Logistics and Fulfilment
Sainsbury’s

What were your plans when you entered the job market?
I took A-Levels in geography, history and economics and was keen to get into a practical role. At the time, unemployment was high, and I ended up writing to over 400 companies before finding a job in pensions. After moving to London I found a job in analysis and information management for Tesco, and after that my supply chain career went from strength to strength.

How did you get from entry level to your current senior role?
I’ve been lucky enough to have worked across many supply chains up and down the UK. I spent 15 years working for 3PLs, moving around the country to different sites, taking management training courses and getting a lot of projects under my belt. My first senior management role was running a distribution centre for Tesco in London, overseeing over 1,000 people. I made a huge change to Home Retail Group (Homebase) moving in house from 3PL, which took me a while to adapt as I had to influence and work in a very different way. After running the Homebase and Argos Distribution Networks, Sainsbury’s acquired Argos and I have taken on broader Supply Chain responsibility.

Tell us about your most recent project
Sainsbury’s spend just over £1bn on their supply chain and logistics, and we needed to reduce costs in order to improve prices for our customers. I’ve been working on a project which aims to reduce our cost base by about a third. I’ve had to be at the very heart of the supply chain and logistics function, making sure we can implement changes without affecting supply and making it seamless for our customers. It’s about joining the dots across the business, sequencing it then deploying brilliantly.

What would you say have been the most important things in ensuring the success of these huge projects?
My greatest asset is my experience and leadership. I’ve worked across different parts of so many supply chains, I can connect quickly in a business and make things happen. Building relationships and influencing people has been an important part of that, working with other teams to get the best results.

Is it hard to balance the needs of people with cost cutting?
It’s not always easy but the most important thing is to take people with you. We’ve started our own academies to train our own HGV drivers as we feel industry needs to take the initiative to fix the shortage of trained drivers. We’re also working to simplify and standardise the way we do things, digitising paperwork and not keeping processes in place ‘just because’. It’s all about culture and engagement, we have to do a good job of making people want to come and work at Sainsbury’s with a focus on talent growth, career growth and allowing people to have a really good experience.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in supply chain now?
Leave any preconceived ideas you might have at the door. Don’t think of it as lorries and dirty warehouses, it’s a very exciting environment now. This industry needs new blood, who are ready to get to grips with technology, robotics and automation. It never stands still and there are so many ways to progress and grow. If you move around regularly as I have done, you can gain a lot of experience which will be in high demand.

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