Interview Sumanth Goli – Bausch and Lomb / Valeant

Inspired-Group | 4 november 2016

Interview by Maarten Peeters, Trainee Inspired-Talent, about talent development.

Could you tell me something about your background?

Originally I come from India. I studied Mechanical Engineering in a university in Hyderabad. I wanted to study my masters in a foreign country. The plan was to go to US for higher studies, but I ended up moving to Marseille, France in 2002. There I studied International Business, where I also took an elective course in Logistics and Supply Chain Management. I discovered during that course that supply chain management is the area I want to build my career.

 

Why did Supply Chain management appeal more to you than Engineering?

In the role of a Supply Chain Manager you have to use your analytical and quantitative skills, but at the same time you get to know almost all stakeholders of the business. Therefore I was looking for supply chain related internships or jobs and found a two-year post master logistic design program at the Technical University Eindhoven.

In September 2003 I started this program. During these two years I was trained in all aspects on logistics and Supply Chain Management and I worked in real time projects for various companies.

 

Why did you start at Valeant?

Usually, after you finish the program, you become a junior consultant at a consulting firm. Instead of taking this path I started to work for Valeant, in 2005. I always thought that as a consultant you could do a good job in an assignment if you have some practical experience working for a company for few years.

I started as a forecast analyst, responsible for the sales forecasting for one the divisions. After doing this for almost two years I was promoted to the forecasting manager role and later to Supply Chain Manager. In 2013 I further got promoted to Supply Chain Planning Director role for EMEA region.

 

Can you share something about you organization and team?

Sure, we have 5 core responsibilities:

  1. Sales forecasting (approx. 2B$ annual sales)
  2. Inventory Planning (Approx. 350M$)
  3. Production planning (10 plants)
  4. Purchasing FG from 3rd Party vendors
  5. Projects: 4 dedicated project managers that do projects that affect product availability. For example (out)sourcing projects, transfers, new product launches, etc.

I have 42 people in my team with 10 direct report spread across 7 locations.

 

Do you operate according to an S&OP cycle?

Yes, we have a monthly S&OP cycle, which we have used for many years now. We used to have this per product group/business units. 3 years ago when the company merged, S&OP changed to be more in line with the commercial setup. In Europe there are 5 sub regions and the S&OP cycle is catered by region. One of the key stakeholders is the commercial vice president of the region. He and his direct reports have to be involved in the whole process. First two weeks of the cycle we focus on sales forecasting with demand agreements meetings with key stakeholders. We use a tool called Manugistics (JDA). There is a fixed date on each month, the second Saturday, on which the forecast are transferred from Demand module to Supply module of Manugistics. During third week Supply planners update their plans in accordance with new forecast, there is a feedback and issue resolution meeting with demand planners. At the end there is an issue log created for which senior management intervention is needed. In fourth week there is an Executive S&OP meeting with senior management, where the challenges are discussed and actions agreed.

 

What is your vision on the development of planning talent?

Personally I think there is very little focus in the area of Supply Chain planning in most of the companies and universities. If you take any program at universities, I do not think they are catering their program to do a specialist role in SCM. To become a good planner, whether it is a supply planner, demand planner or any other, you need a certain skillset. I do not think universities are focusing on those skills.

They are focusing more on things that are more suitable to create a generalist, which is understandable, but at the same time if you take a two year master program you take courses to become a generalist in the first year. The second year you should try to narrow your scope and study to become a specialist in one particular area. Network design, planning, purchasing, procurement, freight management are some of the areas where we lack good specialists coming out of universities. I do not think there are such programs offered by universities. At least, I haven’t come across programs which are focusing on particular areas of Supply Chain Management. And because of that graduates are not yet fully capable of taking planning or other roles immediately after they graduate.

 

How long does it take for a just graduated master student to become a good planner?

In my opinion it takes 6 to 12 months for a person to be groomed to become a good planner. That is what we do as well, we have a very close collaboration with TU Eindhoven. We regularly get students from there. We know that the first months they are not really capable of doing planning, so we try to support them a lot. Then slowly we try to improve their skillset and hopefully bring them to a certain level. It takes a lot of effort to groom a fresh graduate to become a good planner.

 

How do you look at the level of experienced planners in the market?

Also here I am not very convinced that we have a good pool of talent in a lot of companies. In a lot companies they say they do planning but they do everything else except planning. They do a lot of coordination, a lot of firefighting. For example, someone says they do sales forecasting, but what they really do is take the numbers from sales and enter them as sales forecast into their planning tools. In that sense it is more an administrative task than real planning.

I also find it rather difficult to find good planners coming from other companies. Experienced supply planners are easier to find, but on the sales forecasting side I think a lot of companies do not put enough effort to groom and make sure their people are really doing sales forecasting and contributing in that area.

 

So it is challenging to find good planners?

Indeed. The challenge that we face is that we get the fresh graduates, we train them to be good in a particular area and after 3-4 years they will try to find another job for various reasons. For that reason we do not only take people from university but also hire experienced personnel.

When we hire planners with experience we let candidates take simple tests during their job interview. If they cannot show their problem solving and analytical skills in those tests it shows that in previous roles they did not really work as planner but in a more administrative role.

 

What are essential capabilities or traits to become a good planner according to you?

There are two ‘must haves’. The first set of skills are more technical in nature – having knowledge of basic Supply Chain Management techniques, good quantitative skills, good analytical skills, good knowledge of excel, etc. Those are things you can learn and develop.

The second essential skill which I think is more difficult to acquire is you have the knack to manage a big group of people and convince those people of what is the right way to plan a particular product. Either it being sales forecasting or inventory planning.

I have seen many planners are being good at the first point but not so good at the second point. Having that knack of being able to manage a team, being able to control and convince them is an essential element that makes the difference between a good/successful planners and an ordinary planner.

 

Would you recommend graduates and almost finished student to start with a planning job? Why?

My question would be why do you want to go into planning? A lot of people do not even know what roles exist in Supply Chain. I think universities are not even preparing students to know what their potential future will look like if you follow a course. In for example Finance this is more commonly known. In Supply Chain this is far less obvious. I would say for any fresh graduate the best bet would be to work in a planning department for 6 month or a year, as an intern or do a specific project for their thesis focusing on planning. I think that is the best way to know what it is like to be a planner. During that time you can decide for yourself whether it is something you want to do. I think this informed decision-making is not there right now. People are stumbling into planning positions more by accident than by plan.

 

Any other remarks or questions you can give planning talents?

When I met Ujendre I was quite impressed with his idea to bring in fresh graduates and trying to slowly move them to certain roles in Supply Chain by coaching/training them. It is a smart idea and very different from what other companies are doing. I still think many companies are not giving enough importance to planning and a lot of companies are struggling to hire good planners. Many managers do recognize that there is something they miss in a good planner and they are searching for a good planner but do not have enough good options. And that is something that Inspired-Talent is properly targeting.

Another observation I have is that a lot of companies are restricting themselves by having their planning roles published in Dutch and asking for the Dutch language as a requirement. A lot of people from universities are foreign students and their Dutch is not good enough to confidently use in a work environment. For a supply chain planning role Dutch does not have to be a requirement. The Dutch market is relatively small so if you are doing for example sales forecasting you are dealing with larger markets outside Netherlands and the working language is English. For a production planner with the production site in The Netherlands Dutch language skills might be more important since you will mainly deal with internal stakeholders in the plant, but even as a Supply Planner you will probably be dealing with international suppliers. Companies should be open to recruit non-Dutch speaking planners to increase their probability of finding the right talent.