Category Archives: China

2030 is too late for Center-Led Procurement!

Especially since 2020 was too late! And organizations should have been there by then since center-led procurement was being discussed as the next generation model in the mid-2000s and, more importantly, as the futurists were predicting that the future of work, and companies, was remote and distributed last decade, every company should be “center-led” by now.

(Note that we mean “center-led” and not “centralized” where one central office handles all major procurement projects globally. We mean center-led where a centralized function determines the best procurement path for each category — which could be centralized, distributed, multi-level, or mixed — and provides guidance to all of the global teams and makes sure they build the right procurement — and supply chain — models up front.)

In fact, by now, all organizations should be working off of a virtual center-led model where the “center” is the Procurement A-Team, where the members could literally be spread out over the 6 continents to “locally” absorb the situations in each geography before making decisions and to always have someone available to answer questions on not just a follow-the-sun but follow-the-local-business hours model.

And while virtual / remote / distributed work still seems to be an entirely new thing that most companies didn’t think of before the pandemic and that most companies are trying to eliminate entirely now that the pandemic has been declared over (even though the next pandemic is just around the corner and, yet again, no one is prepared for it), those of us in IT and Supply Chain have been doing it for two decades (and the doctor has been primarily been working remote for the past 19 years — the tech has been there, and has worked, for two decades … and now that high speed is in just about every urban area globally, there’s no reason a hybrid/virtual model cannot work and work well).

The reality is that the pandemic not only brought global supply chains crashing down but brought to light the high risk embedded in them a few of us saw a decade ago, which went beyond the obvious risks of “all your eggs in one basket” (even though Don Quixote was published in 1605) and “The Bermuda Triangle*1, but also included the risks of relatively centralized procurement where one team in one part of the globe made the all-our-eggs-in-the-China-basket*2 and managed the relationship with one team at one factory in another part of the globe; so if either team got completely locked down with little remote/virtual support (and we saw some countries limit people to 1KM from their homes and China lock down entire cities and not even let people leave their apartments), the entire chain was shut down even beyond the worst case that some of us were envisioning a decade ago (and made our definitions of bad — which was factory goes out of business, shipping lane closes, or ship sinks — look good by comparison because, at least then, you could still go to work and travel to find a new factory, organize a new lane, or spin up the factory 24/7 until you remade the order).

However, with virtual center-led, you not only have a team that knows how to work distributed and remote, and who knows how to use that setup to better mitigate operational risks, but who also has a risk-mitigation mindset that any supply base should also be distributed and different locations remote from each other (two factories in the same town is not risk-mitigation; an earthquake destroys the roads, the entire town gets quarantined, or political borders shut and its effectively one cut-off source of supply) and will help the different parts of the organization design more risk-adverse, or at least risk-aware, supply chains — tapping into local expertise in each part of the world to make the best decision and allowing the organization to move management of the chain around as needed and local teams (because you’re not sourcing your Canadian snow-plow and igloo building services from India, for example) to always have remote access to guidance and best practices in snow-removal services RFP construction (and know how from Norway and Japan).

In other words, center-led procurement (of which you can find a lot of guidance on in the archives here and over on Spend Matters, especially since, now retired, Peter Smith of Spend Matters UK was a guru on this as well as sustainability) of the virtual kind is what you need to be doing now if you want to last until 2030.


*1 which, while statistically no more dangerous than any other part of the oceans, exemplifies the fact that even the biggest ships, with an entire year of your inventory on board, can sink, especially when oceanographers have finally realized [even though mathematicians working with wave models understood this concept decades ago] that rogue waves are not a once a in decade occurrence, but a DAILY occurrence on this planet, it’s just that the ocean is so big that the fraction ever covered by ships is so microscopic that the chances of any ship encountering a rogue wave are infinitesimal on a ship-by-ship basis)

*2 likely thanks to McKinsey, although many of the Big 5/6/8 followed suit quickly thereafter and proclaimed China the future

Sustainable Supply Chains Sacrifice China! (Most of the Time.)

Last Friday we posted China is the Enemy because, especially where your supply chain is concerned, China has just demonstrated what SI has known for over a decade — it is the enemy. (This isn’t the only situation where China or the CCP is the enemy, but those are different rants. Note that we do NOT equate China or CCP with Chinese people. Most Chinese are NOT the enemy of your supply chain or democracy just like most Americans are NOT the enemy of intelligence and common sense.)

Long time readers will know that in the naughts, SI spent a lot of bandwidth telling your deaf ears that you should be investing heavily in nearshoring and home country sourcing because of the dangers of outsourcing in general, and, the dangers of oversourcing to a specific country, like China, in particular — which have finally become very apparent. It’s too bad it took a freakin’ pandemic to make clear how dangerous it is to outsource so many critical products and JIT materials to a country halfway around the globe, especially when such sourcing in bulk across the industry leads to the lack of capacity close to home due to factory closures and talent evaporation.

There’s a reason the doctor told you two weeks ago to remember the 80’s (and the early 80s in particular) … and that’s because that’s the last time most multi-national corporations in the Americas got outsourcing right … when they were near-sourcing to Mexico (who should build the wall just to keep Trump out, but that’s yet another rant for another day).

Let’s face it, some stuff just shouldn’t be sourced from home. Stuff that’s not critical, stuff that’s very expensive to make at home (but easily trucked across a single border) for various reasons (which can go beyond labour to energy costs if there are no affordable renewable sources nearby, transportation costs for raw or unprocessed materials are ridiculous otherwise, etc.), or stuff where most of the raw materials or necessary environmental conditions (for growing, mining, etc.) are just not present at, or near, home.

But when you consider a typical organization, how much stuff really falls into this category? First of all, you have to exclude any product for (re)sale that’s a primary profit line. Then you need to exclude any raw material or component critical to production unless you just can’t get it nearby. Then any product necessary for security or safety. And so on. At the end of the day, you don’t have much left, and if you’re doing the analysis right, you’re going to be left with:

  • raw materials and products just not available nearby (because you need certain growing conditions, large deposits of a mineral only found in certain geographies, etc.)
  • processed materials or chemicals where the raw materials are very expensive or dangerous to transport
  • products unique to a culture or region
  • novelty or other items not critical to your business

which (before the short-sighted wall-street loving common sense hating clueless and unskilled consultants of the late 80’s and early 90’s, like Steve Castle, put everything into the outsourcing bandwagon and blinged it out beyond belief) were the only products a company would outsource halfway around the world and still the only products a company should be sourcing from halfway around the world. Everything else should be near-sourced, and if really critical or the cost differential is small, home-sourced.

This also means that just shifting everything to another country in the BRIC, and India (which is ruled by a more open, transparent, and dependable democracy) in particular, is also NOT the answer. (They may not be the enemy, but they are still NOT the answer.)

So, unless you want your Supply Chain to completely collapse after the next global disaster, go back to basics, remember the smart outsourcing decision from the 80s, reopen those Mexican factories, and start near-sourcing again. And then, where you can, bring it back (close to) home.

Geopolitical Sustentation 31: China and the New Silk Road

As per our damnation post last year, as part of it’s Grand Strategy, China has recreated the Silk Road, which has been active since November 18, 2015 when the first train left the city of Yiwu in Zhejiang province for a warehouse complex in Madrid, which it reached on December 9th. And it’s not going to stop until it crosses all of China and connects the entirety of Europe and Asia.

And when we say it’s not going to stop, we mean it. As per an article on Forbes on January 21, 2016 on how China is Moving Mountains for the New Silk Road – Literally, they won’t even let mountains get in the way. Four years ago, the entirety of the downtown Lanzhou New Area (LNA) was hundreds of mountaintops, which have been removed to make flat land for development. That’s right, they cut down mountains. In North America, it’s sometimes a massive undertaking just to flatten a few hills for a flat highway. They brought in the equipment and manpower to flatten mountains! If that doesn’t show you how serious they are about trade domination, I don’t know what will.

China is in the midst of implementing its OBOR (One-Belt, One-Road) initiative that will facilitate the creation of a gargantuan network of new highways, rail lines, logistics and industrial zones, pipelines, power plants, sea ports, and even entirely new cities that will stretch from East Asia to Western Europe, span over 60 countries, and impact over half of the world’s GDP, putting an end to US dominance once and for all. (The OBOR initiative also has a sea route, the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, that goes through the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean, which also connects China to all of Africa (and the Middle East), giving them access to the entirety of 3 of the 6 populated continents and 6/7ths of the world’s population!

China is not only an emerging economy, it is the emerging economy that will soon be powering, directly or indirectly, almost 2/3rds of GDP when the silk road is completed and it has it’s hooks across 3 continents.

And, as we said in our damnation post, China is about to become your upstream as well as your downstream supply chain. You have to abandon your old view of the world, accept this reality, and start preparing for it. It doesn’t have to be the damnation that causes your undoing. It can be your salvation. Your choice.

So how do you prepare for it?

1. Learn Mandarin

Chances are your China partners will speak better English than you will speak Mandarin, but any attempt to seriously learn their language will be seen as a sign of respect and good faith and go a long way in negotiations. And even if you aren’t the negotiator, you will be able to communicate with almost 1 Billion native speakers. (That’s roughly twice as many native English speakers.)

2. Model your source-to-sink Euro-Asiatic supply chain.

Don’t just model the inbound supply chain, model the outbound too – and when you do your network design, strategic sourcing, and logistics models, try to find the best locations for storing inbound and outbound materials and products, for manufacturing to take advantage of a strong network design, and to minimize import/export/FTZ requirements and logistics network length. Long gone are the days when you are sourcing from China to sell in the US. Now you are sourcing from China to sell to the world, China included, so why manufacture in Malaysia to ship back to China. You need to take your supply chain and sourcing optimization to the next level. (Which is something the Six Samurai can help you with from a sourcing perspective.)

3. Treat your Big China Suppliers as Strategic Partners

Even if you are convinced they don’t understand your business model, the American marketplace, and the global consumer and even if you are convinced that their only goal is to rip you off at every turn (because you are paranoid or your golf course buddy found one of the scammers, which there are in every country), they know their local market and their own preferences better than you. And even if China is not a market today, if your company needs growth, chances are it will have to be tomorrow and you will need their guidance, and possibly even their innovation capability. So get ahead of your competition in their books.

Now, more will be required, but this should put you on the right track, er, road. The silk road. Which will again be the centre of global trade.

The New China – The New Global Meltdown?

Last year, China overtook the US as the world’s largest economic powers measured by PPP — Purchasing Power Parity. This may have received little attention, as most people focus on GDP — Gross Domestic Product — where the US still has a commanding lead, but since PPP measures the relative value of different currencies, this is a significant metric.

As a result, this places China at the centre of the global economy as any economic decline in China will send ripples around the world. As one of the biggest consumers of natural resource, the success of many global economies depends on the success of China and its need for natural resources.

And this decline may be coming. As per this recent article over on Business Spectator that asked what can we expect from China in 2014, not only has the country lost some of its lustre as of late, but this tarnish on the silver has not escaped the watchful eye of the World Bank, whose chief Economist went on record last month stating that the global economy is running on a single engine … the American one. This does not make for a rosy outlook for the world.

So why the loss of lustre after almost three decades of growth? Simply put, with rapid growth in an economy comes rapid growth in the growing pains associated with rapid growth, which typically include burgeoning local and national government(s) (as cities, provinces, and federal overseers struggle to keep up with growth), excess industrial capacity (once the tipping point where there is enough capacity to meet demand is reached), and a stagnant real estate sector (once the majority of the market that can afford their own homes have them). China has all of these problems. But that’s not the reason that China is loosing its lustre, as many other countries, including the US, have these problems. The real reason is shadow banking.

There is a significant amount of local government and corporate debt in China as these local governments and corporations have borrowed heavily from both the banking and shadow banking sectors to finance their growth. How significant? Standard & Poor’s estimates that total outstanding corporate debt in China was around $14.2 Trillion US at the end of 2013, compared to $13.1 Trillion US debt held by American corporations at the same time. And while exact numbers are not known, local government debt has increased an average of 20% over the last three years and the total government debt level in China is estimated as about 54% of China’s GDP — and that’s just the official debt. The real debt level could be higher when you consider shadow banking and private lenders.

Now, this is a lot of debt, but as the level of government debt is not yet at the level of US national debt or UK national debt which exceeds GDP, it’s not alarming — yet. But it’s enough to cause the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to think twice about China’s rating and if China decides that it’s time to reign in and get the debt under control and significantly curbs spending across the board, a lot of economies that are currently being boosted by China’s spending spree are going to take a big hit.

This will be good and bad news for your Supply Management activities, depending upon where you are in the supply chain. If a company loses a major China supplier, the power shifts back to the buyer and there will be good deals to be negotiated. However, if you lose a major China client and your demand declines, so does your bargaining power and the power shifts back to the supply base. And then there’s the currency hedging to think about. Is the expected drop in currency exchange good or bad for you? (For more about this issue, refer back to our currency damnation post.)

Geopolitical Damnation #31: China and the New Silk Road

China is arguably, and simultaneously, the world’s oldest culture and the world’s newest mega-economy and super-power. Not only does China have the 2nd largest GDP in the world, but it is one of only 4 countries that are net international creditors (the other three being Norway, Luxumbourg, and Switzerland). In comparison, the US, with the largest GDP (of slightly less than 18 Trillion), has an external debt that is roughly 18 Trillion. (In other words, it’s debt now exceeds its annual GDP!)

It’s also the world’s most populous country with 1.35 Billion people and the second largest country by land area. It has the world’s third longest river, 14,500 kilometers (or 9,000 miles) of coast lines, approximately 130 ports open to foreign ships, over 11,000 kilometers (or 6,800 miles) of rail, and over 180 commercial airports. It’s rail network and ships transport a significant percentage of the world’s global trade and traffic is still increasing annually.

China is no longer the emerging economy of the 80s and 90s that you outsourced to and imported from — now it is the emergent economy that is outsourcing to Brazil (to serve the North American Market, consider Foxconn) and Africa (to serve the European market). And, for most multi-nationals, it’s their newest, and most promising (and potentially most profitable) market. China already has over 220 billionaires, and this number increases annually. (The US has 442.)

And as a result, China is turning the traditional sourcing world topsy-turvy — especially now that the New Silk Road (China’s Grand Strategy has been operational for eight weeks. (Source: UNZ) As described in the UNZ article, and on SI last fall (in What Impact Will The New Silk Road Have on Global Trade?, for e.g.), this 13,000 km railroad that crosses China from East to West and then Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France, and finally Spain enables trade across most of Eurasia. And when the high-speed rail is complete, transport from China to Europe will take even less time than it does now. And China, which is home to 7 of the world’s top 10 container ports and which serves up air cargo that represents more than one-third of global trade value (even though only 1% by weight), will control even more of global trade then it does now! While also being your biggest customer.

You can’t deal with China in the old way anymore. Gone are the days when they were the low cost provider that needed your business. Gone are the days when you could fall back on Mexico. And gone are the days when you never needed to worry about the China market. Now they are a lower cost provider, due to their increases in efficiency (just like Japan increased in efficiency after WWII), but they don’t need your business. They have money and they have the world to sell you. Because Mexico was almost abandoned for China, there are few factories left that can produce modern electronics and none that can produce the volume to equal a Foxconn. And with most markets stagnant, China is one of your few opportunities for growth. Moreover, the supplier you are negotiating with to produce your cell phones for Engineering might be the same supplier your sales team is negotiating with to buy IT’s new mobile factory management software suite.

In other words, when China is across the table, they are not a vendor or supplier that can be beaten down with old-school hard-ball negotiation (even if they historically put melamine in the milk, lead in the paint, and who knows what in the pet food) — they are a partner, and equal, and must be approached as such. Even if you never sell to them, you might sell to one of their partners, and they talk just like we do. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be determined in your negotiations — as you should always fight for the best deal — but be fair, realistic, and base your demands on fact and should-cost models, not empty threats or baseless demands for unreasonable cost reductions.

China is about to become your upstream as well as your downstream supply chain. You have to abandon your old view of the world, accept this reality, and start preparing for it. It doesn’t have to be the damnation that causes your undoing. It can be your salvation. Your choice.