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I spend most of my time working on global supply chain consulting engagements.  But from time to time, I also do Expert Witness work for legal cases involving supply chain issues.  At the moment, I am working on a legal case involving agri-business across Malaysia and Indonesia.

palm oil fruit

Arriving after midnight last night, I couldn’t help feeling a little creepy as we sped from the airport to town in a rickety old taxi.  The third world flew by the windows.  The ancient driver was going 140km/hr until I begged him to slow down. What if we broke down or had an accident?  Were there headhunters lurking? The $50 “best hotel in Sabah” turned out to be rather scruffy around the edges and even the bottled water looked suspicious.  But in the morning, things looked better. Our driver arrived with cold water and a 4-wheel drive Jeep to take us the 50 miles to the plantation, over rutted dirt roads. Finally, we arrived at the estate plantation, a bit rattled from the very bumpy ride.

As remote as this plantation is, in the hot and humid jungles of Borneo, it strikes me that the supply chain issues faced by this company are not that different from any other company large or small, rural or in a metro area.  Here, in the wilds, the managers are worried about planning and forecasting, raw materials such as fertilizer and seeds, labor and transportation.  Harvested product needs to be processed within 48 hours; shipped to the processing plant via rag top trucks.  Then, processed product must get to market to meet customer demand.   The managers worry about IT systems to capture production data and pay the workers.  They do analysis for continuous process improvement.

The plantation workers live in plantation housing and their bare-foot children attend plantation schools.  The people are poor, but very friendly.  Hopefully, the year-round harvest is good, and too much of it won’t be eaten by tree rats or monkeys.  Even rain can ruin the workday.

This is indeed the third world, but they must deal with first world global supply chains and technology. It is gratifying to know that the topics we master as supply chain professionals are truly universal.  The skills we learn apply across industries and continents and cultures.  The differences are fewer than we might expect.

It was an interesting adventure and about as far away from my Silicon Valley home as one could possibly get. At least at home, I don’t have to deal with monkeys…at least not that often.

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