A veteran in the blue-chip FMCG space in Nigeria, Azukaego Chukwuelue is currently Supply Chain Director, Nigeria, at Kimberley Clark. Having previously served on management levels in Cadbury Nigeria and Pfizer, Chukwuelue’s developed passion for supply chain management has found expression not only in her corporate endeavours but also in women’s empowerment. 

We just came out of a pandemic and obviously, supply chains have been affected. In what ways has this happened?

The pandemic had a positive impact. A lot of people have the wrong notion; when people talk about supply chain the first thought that comes to you is logistics, transportation, warehousing. What the pandemic helped to do is to help people relate the tissue paper they are using in Nigeria and the source- wherever it’s coming from in the world. Even if it’s made in Nigeria; the materials to make it. The drugs, gloves, nose masks; people were now forced to see the movement, the flow, understanding that China is affected by the pandemic means that factories that bring raw materials, finished goods to Nigeria are impacted so we cannot get the goods.

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Vessels were not available to move the goods.  It’s amazing what this pandemic did for supply chain in the sense of bringing visibility and knowledge.  More importantly, recovery will take a long time for supply chain.  What we are seeing now is some sort of stability because supply chain leaders all over the world from planners to procurement professionals are stretching to even hold on to some semblance of order.

There are suppliers whose plants have closed down, a backlog of vessels in several ports around the world, even in Nigeria.

At the end of last year it was cheaper to bring goods from China to Nigeria than from a Nigerian port to a warehouse in Ikorodu or Lekki. The issues are so stretched, businesses are still impacted by COVID. They have not recovered.

In European markets, there was panic buying during the pandemic so now a lot of goods are being carried and the pull is no more there from consumers.

It really is a whirlpool of issues which will take us a while to resolve.

At the end of the day, trade must happen and supply chain must continue to function. 

So, in the area of supply chain management in Nigeria, we have been at it for a very long time, yet we still haven’t got the hang of it. Can you identify the gaps and how can we fill them?

Most of the problems we have in Nigeria and in fact a good part of Africa are supply chain problems. For instance, planning.  The planning is not up to par.

We tend to do things without looking medium and long term and looking at the impact of every other thing on what we plan to do and as a result, the outcomes look shoddy not because they were intended to be shoddy but because the planning using reasonable planning tools, forecasting tools and looking at the external environment have not been put in place. This is what demand planners, supply planners are paid to do.  You must do scenarios: what happens if this happens?

Another part is infrastructure. In Singapore, you can clear goods in 14 hours. In Nigeria if you clear goods in 10 days it’s news. Super!

Goods have been known to stay in the port for 30 days. You still have to carry papers from table to table.  Nigeria is 15% of Africa’s population so we need to be at the forefront of digitalization.

Imagine if you have 40 containers. It makes the goods coming out of the port even more expensive.  Look at the call up issue at the port. There’s a lot of traffic.

There should be other ports functioning in other parts of the nation.  Why only Lagos?

Port Harcourt port is functioning but it should be evenly spread across- Warri, Onitsha, the Free Trade Zones.  It’s so difficult for entrepreneurs to cope.  And then there are issues of smart sourcing.

 Tenders should be done in such a way that the value that is brought in to the country is very competitive.  There is always the issue of us spending more and buying things that are obsolete.

 We should employ lean management systems such that the waste is very low. Then of course there is the localisation issue.  We have the land mass, 70 percent of youthful population. Why can’t we produce locally?

If a transportation company has 500 trucks at the beginning of the year, by the middle of the year they

cannot have more than 300 or 350 on the road because of spare parts and everything. 

The good news is that the Ministry of Health now has a

supply chain blueprint for the country.  That, for me is a positive development.  It means they understand the importance in moving drugs, vaccines across the country.

As a woman in this complex and male dominated space, how would you advise younger women who want to go into the field?

 First, attention to detail; second, analytical skills.  You need to go for courses that teach you how to manage data. Excel is a skill you need to have.

The 3rd one is a problem solving mindset.  Calvary is not coming to solve the problem, you are the calvary. We need deep thinkers who can solve the problem or ask for help. You must be able to get your hands dirty, go to the port, warehouse, transporter, while looking at the big picture.  Every other skill is teachable. Attitudinal skills are needed in supply chain and I can tell you for a fact that these skills come naturally to women.

 I spent 10 years in Sales before entering supply chain but I think that my penchant for getting to the end of the issue was what helped me in the space.

If the skills are natural to women, why are more women not in the field?

In Cadbury I was the first woman Field Sales Rep. I was driving my van myself.

Now I entered supply chain I am the only woman on the board. I make meaningful contributions and they are valued so I tell myself, if there are more women in the space they will make meaningful contributions too.   Yes, there are some external barriers. They don’t want to put you in this space because you might get pregnant and be out for three, four months. It never happened to me once but those barriers are there.

Another barrier to entry is within us. We are not audacious.  Guys will go to the old boys club and they will be talking about what they want to achieve. Women are not talking like that.

Those of us here should hand-hold more women and bring them to the space.

You run a Foundation.  What is that about?

My Foundation, Truss Foundation runs a program called the Truss Supply Chain Mastery which simply seeks to enable women to build skills and capabilities to earn quality remuneration and have quality living and be able to take care of their families.  We see supply chain as end to end from when the demand is made by the consumer to when it is fulfilled. So whether it be Marketing, Sales, HR, Finance,  Manufacturing… everybody that is involved in getting the product to the customer is part of the supply chain.

We seek to bring entry level and young professional women on a platform called Capstone to do a simulated MBA program that is tech driven, whereby they answer real business scenario questions in Nigeria on how to solve problems and it’s fun, experiential biz learning .They will also go through a psychometric assessment based on how they answered these questions.

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