September 2009 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Chris Osen: Leading From the Center

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Pick up a frozen pizza, moisturizer, or weekly planner, and you may well be holding a product from MeadWestvaco (MWV). Formed in 2002 by the merger of the Mead Company and Westvaco Corp., MWV provides packaging solutions for leading brands in health care, personal care, food and beverage, media and entertainment, and many other industries. It also produces consumer and office products and specialty chemicals.

Since the merger, this diverse, global company has been centralizing its supply chain management. Chris Osen leads the team that works from the center to create greater value for MWV's business units and for customers around the world.

As vice president of supply management, Osen is responsible for several broad areas. One team handles the company's logistics execution, moving an impressive volume of cargo. "MeadWestvaco is the 10th-largest container exporter in the United States," says Osen.

A second piece of Osen's job involves crafting deals with the carriers moving that volume. "I source $450 million in transportation globally," he says.

Osen also oversees a strategic outsourcing team that decides which products MWV will manufacture itself and which it can source more effectively elsewhere. He runs Supply Chain Solutions, a consulting organization that helps MWV's facilities around the globe improve their supply chain processes, and he manages a supplier quality and development program.

MWV's roots reach back many years, and it inherited a traditional culture from the pre-merger companies. "Introducing new and innovative ways to manage the supply chain is a challenge," Osen says. In particular, getting individual locations to cede control to a central supply organization has been difficult. But each time a successful initiative proves the value of an enterprise-wide supply chain, more people sit up and listen.

Case in point: In the past, different business units sourced and transported products from Asia independently. Today, a third-party logistics provider in Asia consolidates some of those shipments, increasing transportation efficiency. "Without the visibility of a central organization, we never would have seen that opportunity," Osen says.

The centralized approach also helped MWV last year, when a shortage of outbound containers plagued the East Coast. Because of the volume that the corporation commands as a whole and the long-term relationships that MWV maintains with ocean carriers, the company was able to get the containers it needed to satisfy customers.

Managing from the center is far from easy, given the diverse delivery demands that customers place on MWV, such as 15-minute delivery windows and 8,000-mile moves in one or two days.

MWV seeks to combine shipments and processes, but only when that's the best solution. "We commonize as much as we can," Osen says. "We specialize where it's needed."

Striking the balance between standardized practices and unique services, the supply management group continues to find ways to contribute to MWV's success. "We're all about bringing value to the company," Osen says.

The Big Questions

What do you do when you're not at work?

My twin boys are in their senior year of high school, so I try to devote as much time to them as I can. We especially like to play golf and travel. I recently took a "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives" vacation with one son.

Ideal dinner companion?

My dad, who passed away 14 years ago. He's the one who gave me my values. I'd want to have dinner with him and say thanks.

Business philosophy?

To surround myself with people who are smarter than I am. Then if we can't add value, we need to quit.

If you didn't work in supply chain management, what would be your dream job?

I would own a corner bar like "Cheers," where I knew everybody in the place.

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