The insider: Linda Curran CPA

Regional financial controller, Latin America Fortna.

Linda Curran developed her career in finance roles at Qantas and Stockland in Australia, and Oracle in Dublin. Now working in Bogota, Colombia for Fortna, one of America’s biggest supply chain consultants, the former Sydneysider sees exciting changes as Latin America taps into cutting-edge systems.

"A company can have a great product, but if they can’t get it to the customer when they want it, customers will move on. Speed of fulfilment and speed to market are becoming paramount.

There are cultural differences to overcome.  Australians are quite direct people.

There are cultural differences to overcome. Australians are

quite direct people.

The growth of e-commerce has brought major changes in distribution. Before e-commerce, companies would distribute products to stores on large pallets, and sometimes only once or twice a month. With e-commerce, individual items need to be picked and packed and sent to customers immediately.
 
Although Fortna isn’t a transport company, we help the world’s biggest brands, including Sony and ASICS, get their products to their customers at the right place and at the right time by transforming their distribution operations.

It’s quite new to be a logistical consultant in Latin America. In countries such as the US and Australia, the minimum salary for workers is so high companies want to optimise and automate everything. However, Latin America still has that old thinking that labour is cheap, things can be done manually.

We tell them: “Yes, labour is cheap, but all the indirect costs are quite expensive and efficiencies can be overlooked.”

It’s not just about automating processes though, it’s about perfecting the processes themselves. A client might come to us with a warehouse that is not operating at full capacity. They often wonder if they need to build another distribution centre.

Using our in-house software we can pull and analyse the data from millions of products to understand the best way forward. The program we use – DCmodeler – is actually managed by staff in Latin America for the entire company.

If the best solution is to build, then we can advise where to do that, design and construct the centre, purchase all the equipment and train local staff to use the new machinery.

My work covers Fortna’s Latin American operation, which has offices in Panama, Mexico, Venezuela, Peru and Colombia. We also have plans to expand into Chile and other regions.
As an Australian, managing people here can be difficult. Of course there’s the language – which I’ve had to learn – and there are cultural differences to overcome. Australians are quite direct people whereas in Latin America, people are less direct.

In Australia, you are the owner of your career, you create your own path whereas in Latin America it’s very important that people clearly understand their role.

You need to really review and redefine their role and your expectations on a continuous basis."

Trick of the trade

With e-commerce, companies have had to make major changes to their distribution operations. Faster fulfilment can also impact inventory, which is a huge cost to a company. Stores in the US are now looking to fulfil inventory daily. Keeping inventory lean means less product in the network is at risk of becoming obsolete, stolen or needing to be sold at clearance.
 
This article is from the August 2014 issue of INTHEBLACK.

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