Yone Dewberry: Engineering the Supply Chain

Yone Dewberry: Engineering the Supply Chain

Yone Dewberry is chief supply chain officer with Land O’Lakes, Inc., a member-owned cooperative with operations ranging from agricultural production to consumer foods. Based in Arden Hills, Minnesota, Land O’Lakes had 2016 sales of $13 billion.

Supply chain strategy, operations, and talent management.

Executive positions in supply chain with Land O’Lakes; managing director, consulting, BDP International; senior manager, KPMG; positions in supply chain, Kraft Food.

B.S.E., University of Pennsylvania, 1981; MBA, Lehigh University, 1983.

In engineering school, I dreamt about one day working on things like solid rocket propellant fuel. That’s the kind of stuff engineers would do, right?

Then, in my second job out of college, I worked in a plant as an assistant controller. I realized logistics—it wasn’t called supply chain then—was significantly more complex than the engineering problems I’d seen.

Engineering problems are complex; I don’t want to minimize that. But, take that complexity and add the human factor—and in Land O’Lakes’ case, the weather—and that’s what supply chain is about. Unlike a mechanical tool or chemical reaction that always acts the same way, there are many things you can’t predict about the supply chain.

Most supply chains evolve from being cost-focused to more customer-focused, so product is available where customers want it, when they want it, and looking the way it’s supposed to look. To achieve that, we have to help everyone in the organization understand that while costs are important, it’s about the customer experience. Land O’Lakes’ ability to grow will be a function of that experience.

A good example is small orders, which are costly. Today, the price to our customers doesn’t reflect how much effort these small orders take. So, we’re going to the business and explaining the trade-off: We can continue filling small orders so customers can experience what they want to experience, however, we want to look at how we charge for that.

Achieving the focus on service over cost is less about changing supply chain processes and technology, and more about changing the way people view things. Since the beginning of time, supply chain managers have been taught cost is the most important thing. Now, service is just as important.

The other big change is thinking about how quickly we do things. One example: Land O’Lakes distributes agronomy products through about 100 service centers across the United States. Today, suppliers ship products to our service centers. If a service center is low on product, it will get it from another service center, so some products are double- and triple-handled.

In one region, we’re testing a hub-and-spoke concept. We ship products from suppliers to a major regional distribution center, and from there to the service centers. That reduces the amount of product we ship from location to location, and our service levels haven’t dropped.

We try to take risks we know won’t always pan out. For instance, we’re working with a leading autonomous truck company, and we’re looking at drone deliveries.

Getting it right requires people who understand the big picture, who will make the best decisions possible at the time. They won’t always be right; when they look back, they might say "I would have made a different decision." But they were right at the time, given the information they had.

I’m a big proponent of developing talent. People who don’t know me often guess I’m a teacher or a preacher. They don’t think I’m a supply chain professional; they assume I teach supply chain.

The Big Questions

What new language would you like to learn?

I would love to learn Japanese. My mother is Japanese, so half of my family is Japanese, yet I don’t speak it.

If you could invite anyone to dinner, who would it be?

Three guests: First, Isaac Newton. He was a great scientist and mathematician, and one of the founders of calculus. Next, Martin Luther King Jr. He was a gentleman and able to motivate the soul of the country. I’d love to be able to motivate what I call the "soul of an organization." Third, Jesus Christ. I’m a Christian so I’d love to sit and talk with him.

If you could represent the United States in the Olympics, what sport would you choose?

I ran track in high school and college and competed with Carl Lewis. Anybody who runs track wants to get to the Olympics.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

I love to tinker. I take stuff apart even when it’s not broken to figure out how to make it better. I have a garage filled with equipment for me to disassemble, such as snowmobiles and jet skis. I could spend hours in my garage doing just that.

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