Daily Archives: July 10, 2011

Three Things Supply Management Should Know About Real Estate

A recent article over on Chief Executive that outlined six questions a CEO needs to ask the Director of Real Estate is a must read for Supply Management. In many companies, real estate flies below the radar, but often accounts for a significant portion of spend, especially when lease terms are factored in. In particular, Supply Management needs to know:

  • What are our aggregate lease obligations?
    In some companies, only payroll, debt, and cost of goods sold obligations will be greater than lease oligations. For some industries, lease costs will be very significant. Consider the example of how a restaurant chain saved 3.38 Million simply by reducing lease costs at only seven locations.
  • What is our key metric for evaluating occupancy costs?
    In some industries, market rate is irrelevant. What is relevant is whether or not the occupancy costs of the location make economic sense for the location based on actual performance. In the retail and restaurant industry, it’s typically the occupancy costs as a percentage of sales that matter — and these should be below a given threshold. For example, when occupancy costs exceed 10% of sales, there is a greater than 50% chance that the location will lose money. However, if occupancy costs are less than 8% of sales, there is less than a 20% chance that the location is losing money.
  • If our rent is too high, what are we doing about it?
    A signed lease should not deter action. In most instances, a landlord has a strong interest in retaining a tenant and the associated rent cheque. A tenant who goes out of business automatically vacates the premises and voids the rent cheque. Even though it can be difficult to engage a landlord in a lease negotiation, there are strategies, and risk averse landlords will often prefer a smaller rent cheque than no rent cheque for an extened period of time.

Beware the Perils of Hyperspecialization

A recent article over on the Harvard Business Review on the age of hyperspecialization said that we are entering an era of hyperspecialization and that it will convey a pulsating, world-spanning flow of knowledge work. Heraliding it as the continuation of Adam’s Smith division of labour, it notes that hyperspecialization reduces costs most dramatically when a company can turn to an expert instead of having to reinvent the wheel and alow the company to achieve a better utilization of their own employees’ time.

However, there can be just as many perils, if not more. The article, which clocks in at seven pages, briefly passes over these five perils:

  • Digital Sweatshops
    In developing economies, enterprising industrialists might use hyperspecialization to create “digital sweatshops” where workers, sets of whom specialize in specific tasks, are exploited for low wages by those who have the means to do so.
  • Astroturfing
    If work is divided into small enough parts, it is possible that a worker may not know what they are working on and may be contributing to something counter to their personal beliefs, or even the law. For example, a mathematician could design a new lottery game or a “greeting card writer” could be creating text for e-mail spam.
  • Electronic Surveillance
    Not only can every aspect of the work be monitored, but it may even reach the point where the work in progress, and the person doing the work, is monitored from start to finish.
  • Dull & Meaningless Work
    Even Adam Smith noted the deleterious results when a person’s work was reduced to “a few very simple operations” back in 1776. If tasks become so refined that they become monotonous, there surely will be ill psychological effects.
  • No Guarantee of Payment
    While spec work is not new, today, most spec work is confined to proposals. In hyperspecialization, workers will actually be doing the work and whether or not they get paid could be at the whim of the company that issues the task.

But misses the most important peril of all:

  • Loss of Vision
    If everyone works on a tiny little piece of a puzzle, over time there will be fewer and fewer people who understand how a puzzle is to be put together. This will seriously stifle innovation as the creativity that results from exploring beyond your horizons diminishes as horizons shrink.