December 12, 2022
Helmut Leitner is the Founder of Heliblick in Zug, Switzerland, a management consultancy that developed the iBsing framework. He is also a Board Member at CSCMP Roundtable Switzerland, after having a successful Supply Chain career in companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Sharp & Dohme and Smith & Nephew.
You have successfully developed the Integrated Business Sensing (iBsing) framework. Can you tell us more about this and, in particular, how it can be leveraged to manage complex transformations?
Around 20 years ago, I was offered the position of S&OP Manager at Johnson & Johnson. I did not know what Sales and Operations Planning was, but it sounded interesting. I found out that it was about balancing demand and supply in the three to 24-month horizon, and about connecting the Sales-silo with the Operations-silo.
Later, I found out that S&OP works much better if you combine it with Sales & Operations Execution (S&OE), which takes care of all the short-term challenges in the next 12 weeks. For many years, S&OP and S&OE were an extremely powerful tandem to excel organisational performance in a predictive business environment.
In the meantime, S&OP has further evolved to Integrated Business Planning (IBP). The objective is to support the organisational vision and organisational strategy by integrating all departmental plans: Commercial plan, Product plan, Manufacturing plan, Procurement plan, Finance plan. But can everything be planned and predicted? In the last decades, the business environment has changed. We know that not every change can be planned, because the world is more volatile, complex and disruptive; a lot of change is just emerging out of the moment.
Therefore, the “predict and control” approach in IBP is not sufficient for many challenges, and a “sense and respond” approach is required. Integrated Business Sensing (iBsing) is a framework that enables teams to take a helicopter view and to understand, what’s going on in this moment?, and to interact with the key values partnership, entrepreneurship and mentorship to find the optimal response. IBP and iBsing are a tandem to deliver excellent performance in the VUCA [volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity] world.
During your career, what is the main fundamental change you have witnessed within Supply Chain and how has the development of IBP impacted global business?
In my first year of my career, I did not yet have my own computer at work. At that time, Supply Chain was mainly about storing and moving material. With the upcoming planning systems, the focus of the Supply Chain experts moved towards mastering the E2E [end-to-end] information flow.
With the implementation of S&OP, Supply Chain took the role of integrator of the different business functions. Going forward, I think that Supply Chain will take a key role in facilitating governance processes to consistently improve the framework of E2E decision-making. On the other side, Supply Chain has an important facilitator role to resolve business conflicts.
What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the Supply Chain discipline?
My advice would be: Be curious and be yourself! Supply Chain is an extremely broad and complex field. At the beginning of the career, it may be good to get a generalist overview and to understand processes and systems across the E2E value chain.
Since Supply Chain is all about people, it is also important to consistently improve leadership competencies in parallel. A special leadership feature in iBsing is the capability to take a helicopter perspective and to increase self-awareness, and also to understand personal needs of colleagues and business requirements of the organisation, customers and suppliers.
For anybody – whatever their own motivators, interests and skills are – you can specialise in Supply Chain and still be yourself.
People that like structure, and are interested in processes and digitalisation, may find great purpose in developing the process or system capabilities of the operating model. People that are more leaned towards the soft side of management may enjoy facilitating cross-functional conflict resolution for critical business challenges as part of the IBP process.
Whatever you are passionate about – communication, digitalisation, marketing, financials, problem-solving, team-building, learning about different cultures – it’s all needed in Supply Chain.
What is the most surprising thing that has happened during your career?
Some years ago, I had an exciting job – a lot of responsibility on my shoulders – and I was struggling with my workload. All my focus was on operational priorities, organisational changes, system implementations and team development. I asked my mentor for advice. I did not expect the answer: Nourish your external network.
I was super busy with managing relationships within the organisation with the team and internal stakeholders; I saw little benefit investing my valuable time into relationships with people who were not connected to my organisation and who were focused on topics not directly related to my daily challenges.
A few months later, my mentor invited me to build CSCMP Roundtable Switzerland, a non-profit organisation to foster networking and learning between Supply Chain professionals. With some doubts, I accepted the invitation, and we kicked off the initiative with other Supply Chain professionals.
A few years later, I know from experience that a strong external network is a source of inspiration and learning, opening your mind for new ideas and new initiatives, providing unexpected support and advice when needed, and building valuable connections and friendships.
How do you see the workplace changing, especially within Supply Chain functions, as we emerge from the global pandemic?
People will be working more from home in the future, but I also realize that there is a strong desire to have face-to-face interactions, especially from the young generation. At the end, there will be a good balance.
For the iBsing approach, teams are coming together every three months for a workshop followed by a small social activity, like a barbecue. Between those workshops, the team does interact via virtual meetings in weekly or biweekly governance calls. That seems to be a very efficient and effective set up. And, since teams are meeting at least once a quarter, a trustful relationship is evolving.
Your business, Heliblick, has gone from strength to strength this year. What has been a memorable moment for you in 2022 and why?
After two years of iBsing development, I had the opportunity to apply the iBsing framework for the first time at full scale at a big customer. I have been working with a fantastic team of 15 change agents.
A memorable moment was when the team presented the first target condition to the CEO, and the CEO wondered if the team’s intent was too ambitious. The team insisted in the discussion that the target condition is realistic – and, three months later, they delivered.
In the meantime, they have successfully completed the third target condition already. Every moment where I can see that the team members are fully engaged and enjoy the transformation is an energizing moment also for me.
Thank you to Helmut for speaking to Neil Cope, Associate Director in our Procurement & Supply Chain recruitment division in Switzerland.
Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment.