Navegador Nightmares? It’s Your Own Damn Fault!

In the midst of the recent receivership of Hanjin shipping, the seventh largest shipping line by overall capacity, there are a lot of trepidations, fears, and worries by companies that use it for shipping, and in particular, companies that already have cargo on its ships. (As noted by Bob Ferrari over on Supply Chain Matters in The Financial Shot Heard Across the Globe, many global ports will not accept nor export cargo on the carrier’s vessels because of uncertainties as to whom we pay charges or more importantly, whether specific vessels will be seized by creditors as captured assets, meaning that not only can vessels on the water not be loaded, but they can’t be unloaded.)

Now, if you happen to be working in one of the organizations relying on this carrier, directly or indirectly, you’re probably screaming “how did they let this happen” (where “they” is, in your mind, poor management) and “what the hell do I do now” (and the answer is easy, what you should have done in the first place, and we’ll get to that) and that would be fine, if you were focussed on the right “they” and were simply choosing among your different (pre-planned) disaster recovery options, but chances are it’s the wrong “they” you are focussed on and, as the organization never allowed Supply Management the time to do proper risk assessments and disaster recovery plans, there are no backup plans ready to go.

The short answer is unless you are including yourself in the “they”, as the “they” is all of the Procurement and Logistics managers who not only selected the carrier but encouraged the excessive growth, and unless you are acknowledging that your lack of a disaster recovery plan for this very predictable likelihood (as it’s easy to identify a supply chain choke point and what could go wrong – in this case, all your products in containers on the same ship and that ship all of a sudden going missing, and whether it sinks, gets captured by pirates, or seized by creditors is irrelevant from a recovery point of view), you’re not focussed on the right questions, what you should do about it, and what you should have done in the first place.

Maybe you had little option (as you were shipping from Korea and this was the only reasonable shipping deal you, or your 3PL, could cut), but you could still plan on a lost shipment, have a supplier with excess capacity (in overtime if necessary) that could replace the shipment quick, and a back-up (more expensive carrier) ready to activate if needed (along a different route). This would be okay and proper, especially if you really did need to outsource to Asia, but how many companies did it okay and proper? Judging by the number of articles and semi-widespread panic (and fears of more receiverships and bankruptcies because of the over-capacity, not too many).

But chances are you got yourself into the situation where you had little option, by far-sourcing something you didn’t need to far-source. You got caught up in the outsourcing craze in the 90’s, believed all the hype about lower costs (because of lower unit costs due to weaker Asian currencies, lower wages, etc.), and didn’t look at the full TCO, which also included transportation costs that could be 10X what you were paying when you were near-sourcing from Central America (from the US), skyrocketing T&E costs (because if you didn’t go on-site regularly, you didn’t get what you wanted), and phone-bills that looked like office building lease payments. And maybe if you were in electronics China and Korea had the better factories, but how hard would it have been to invest in new factories in Mexico and Brazil, relocate the necessary top-talent to get them going, and recoup the initial investment in orders of magnitude over a ten to twenty year time-span? Not hard.

Basically, by outsourcing everything you could identify faster than rabbits without any natural enemies can breed, you built up a need for a lot of capacity, which the industry responded to, but when you kept going, the shipping industry, not wanting to get caught with its pants down again, analyzed the trends and kept building. Then, when oil went through the roof, and the smarter companies realized that long-term strategic near-sourcing (and, when possible, home-sourcing) was actually the best option after all was said and done, and pulled back, there was glut capacity and the shippers, who overbuilt, were now stuck with capacity, overhead, and loans they couldn’t pay. This is all a result of poor long term planning on the part of Procurement, and your predecessors, which, in all honesty, you should have been endeavouring to fix as each and every outsourced category came up for re-sourcing (as you should only produce products in Asia for Asia if you can help it — even FoxConn has realized this and opened a Brazilian factory — slow ramp-up not withstanding).

So, whether you created the mess or not, you’re in the job now and it’s up to you to fix it, and the navegador nightmares, the doctor is sad to say, are your own.