Interview

Chief Supply Chain Officer Nick Nanos Speaks About Talent, and Responding to COVID-19 Challenges

March 16, 2021

COVID-19 has only reinforced the importance of Supply Chain, and we need to do everything we can to bring more people into the field.” – Nick Nanos

Today we’re happy to present the latest instalment of Argentus’ executive interview series, where we highlight the perspectives of leaders across the Supply Chain field. For this latest interview, we spoke with Nick Nanos.

Nick Nanos, Chief Supply Chain Officer at LCBO.

Nick is Chief Supply Chain Officer & Senior Vice President at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO). He’s a unique Supply Chain leader who has risen to the top of the field by building his career at one organization – a renowned and unique public sector entity. Nick is someone who, by gaining exposure to various areas of the business, has developed an understanding of an extraordinarily diverse set of disciplines. This has equipped him to become the Supply Chain leader he is today – someone with a comprehensive end-to-end toolkit, dealing with unprecedented times.

We interviewed Nick about a number of Supply Chain topics, including:

  • His career background, and his advice for practitioners who want to become Supply Chain leaders.
  • His approach to talent and hiring, including key competencies and which roles are hardest to find.
  • How, as a Supply Chain leader, he’s navigated the uncertainty and disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We hope you enjoy the interview!

I think our readers would love to hear about your background in Supply Chain. From my understanding you’ve built your career at LCBO – how did you equip yourself to become the Supply Chain leader you are today, and what have you learned along the way?

Today, most people don’t stay at an organization as long as I’ve been with the LCBO, so my path has been anything but conventional. I started as a Store Manager on the retail side, where I gained exposure in LCBO operations, by managing stores across the province in both rural and urban environments.

I then transitioned into financial quality assurance, where I performed operational, financial and compliance audits on stores and warehouses. In this role, I was involved in enterprise wide project work that broadened my perspective – we were implementing a new Point of Sale (POS) system, along with a new sales audit system. That was my first foray into what’s turned into a key theme for me – working on large technology projects, incorporating people, processes, and technology.

From there, I was assigned to play a key leadership role on the team to consolidate the account management, fulfillment, and last mile for two wholesale outlets in Mississauga and Toronto. This provided a great opportunity and exposure at employing a new org structure, Point of Sales (POS), Warehouse Management System (WMS), and Warehouse Control System (WCS) – the assignment was a significant turning point in my career as it cemented my desire to solve complex problems with an operational focus.

From there, I went back to lead the corporate audit program. This role involved performing cross-functional financial, operational, process and compliance audit projects across the LCBO and gave me different perspective and line of sight across all areas of the enterprise.

Next up was an assignment as the General Manager of Specialty Services, a $225 million a year business unit, which rounded out my exposure to the wholesale business of LCBO. This role provided wonderful opportunities to work closely with trade agents, suppliers, distributors, and rounded out my understanding of LCBO from both the retail and wholesale perspective.

I then became Director of Traffic, Customs and Excise. Over time, my portfolio started branching out to take on more and more responsibility, including leading the distribution centres in Toronto and Ottawa providing a strong growth phase of my career with solid exposure in warehouse operations. I also had oversight into the Specialty Services area and led a transformational project that included the implementation of a new Order Management System (OMS), Distribution Management System (DMS), and Warehouse Management System (WMS) that served to take an entirely manual, paper-based program to an online platform that enabled manufacturing trade agents to manage their business 24/7 creating efficiencies for both LCBO and agents while significantly improving program effectiveness.

After seven years in that role, we had a new President appointed who set the organization on a transformative journey. A key output was the creation of a Supply Chain Division. I was appointed as the VP of Distribution and Logistics. This role had a very operational focus, with all distribution and logistics activities at LCBO in the portfolio.

In 2018 I was promoted to SVP of Supply Chain and Wholesale and then Chief Supply Chain Officer in 2020. This role has an extremely diverse portfolio which includes the entire end-to-end supply chain in areas such as inventory planning, transportation, distribution, logistics and Quality Assurance. Additionally, my portfolio includes responsibility for the P&L related to the B2B business at LCBO.

The beverage alcohol market is evolving, and the Supply Chain division is transforming to ensure that we continue to support our retail and wholesale customers. The single largest transformational item of focus is the opening of a new distribution centre through a third-party fulfillment partner. This new relationship is providing a solid foundation for the future ensuring LCBO supply chain is flexible, agile, and scalable. The fulfillment centre is up and running and expected to be fully operational in the summer of 2021.

My journey has been anything but conventional. I’ve held many roles at LCBO and my education includes an undergraduate degree in Political Studies, designation in Fraud Examination, a CCLP and most recently the CSCMP designation. Recently, I was speaking with – a younger leader within the company, and she asked, “what’s my path?” I told her to define her own path. Don’t let anyone tell you, “this is your path.” I believe everyone’s path is unique and right for that individual, I’m living proof of that.

What would your advice be for someone who wants to develop their career into Supply Chain leadership?

The first thing I would say is to gain exposure to as many aspects of the business as possible – whether it’s running a retail store, warehouse, an administrative role, inventory planning role, working on a project or developing or implementing strategy. Having experience different areas helps you learn the end-to-end business and will enable you to see the full picture while building a foundation. Many say that “the higher you go, the more of a generalist you become,” and I agree with that and feel my diverse roles and unique path have provided a solid foundation for my current role.

Diversity in operations also gives you insights into how diversity equals strength. For example, when I’m looking to build a team, I look for people with diverse backgrounds who will have expertise in different areas (such as demand planning, warehouse automation, financial acumen) so that we can meet our strategic objectives. My exposure in the many areas of the business help me understand and appreciate what skills and talent I need on the team. Diversity in skillset on the team is valuable because it helps you learn and grow from each other. It is also humbling because you realize that as the leader your role is to assemble, empower and leverage talent.

My other advice would be that you need good people to support you. You need mentors who will tell you not what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. I’ve been lucky to have some mentors along the way who will have candid discussions and give me feedback and perspective. It’s a difficult job to mentor, so I’m forever grateful for those that have invested their time in my learning and growth.

As a Chief Supply Chain officer, you’re accountable for all end-to-end Supply Chain activities. I’m curious how that works out from an organizational perspective: what’s your approach to building a Supply Chain team? Overall, are there key skills you’re looking for? Are there any roles and skillsets that are particularly hard to find?

It’s always a mix of hard and soft skills, but even more fundamental to me are leadership competencies. I look for competencies like collaboration, customer centricity and accountability. Can someone build a relationship? Do they have strong emotional intelligence, communication skills, and do they collaborate well with others? Do they hold themselves, their teams, and their peers accountable?

One thing that’s really changed in Supply Chain is that the range of stakeholders is much wider. If I’m hiring a junior person, they’ll probably need to collaborate with finance, legal, procurement, transportation, inventory planning, and a 3rd party logistics provider at a minimum. Everything that we do needs to be customer-centric, so I’m looking for people who can build those diverse relationships, work collaboratively, and hold others and themselves accountable.

Hard skills are important, especially for specialized roles. A good example is a someone with strong leadership skills who can oversee a large, distribution centre with various employment types is invaluable. Demand planning and replenishment roles are also critical to success in this dynamic environment.

In our particular case, we’re a crown agency, which means skillsets around procurement and governance are particularly important all the while ensuring the business remains dynamic to respond to market changes.

I’m always on the hunt to find team members that will strengthen the team. COVID-19 has only reinforced the importance of Supply Chain, and we need to do everything we can to bring more and talented people into the field.

That brings me to something else I wanted to discuss, which is how you adapted to the massive challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. What were the biggest issues, and what have been the biggest lessons or takeaways so far?

With COVID-19, consumer behaviour radically changed, and the global supply chain has faced significant disruption. From a consumer perspective, basket and format sizes have increased, shopping frequency has declined in some cases. This has required suppliers adjust production schedules to respond to demand while global challenges with lack of equipment, blank and rolled sailings and every part of the Supply Chain facing disruption of varying degrees.

The new environment reinforced the importance of flexibility and agility. You need to be able to pivot. Forecasting is great, but when consumer behaviour is radically changing and evolving, the forecast is less valid and the need to be agile is king.

We were very conscious in preparing for COVID-19. By January 2020, we had begun to see real challenges in the network overseas. At the time, we created a task force within Supply Chain to address how to keep the Supply Chain running. At first, we dealt with supply issues, then the unique demands on transportation to service our retail and wholesale customers.

Our focus was also on creating a safe environment and taking care of our people with evolving protocols related to sanitization, physical distancing, and other major changes in warehouses and offices. We worked at getting the buildings ready, making sure they were safe, adding protocols, traffic decals, ergonomic structures around workstations, rescheduling breaks and shifts, ergonomic enclosures in lunchrooms. A year in, our environment continues to evolve, and our leaders and teams respond to challenges as they arise.

I’m proud of how we’ve pivoted as an organization across the board. When our current President took over in 2016 one of the first items of focus was culture and breaking down silos. He instituted a one team approach which I think that was the single greatest source of strength for us as an organization as we worked through the pandemic. Like for many, COVID-19 also served to fast track us towards our strategies. A great example is that we had 15 stores that had same day pickup before the pandemic, we are now approaching 190.

Overall, from a supply chain perspective, there are many sources of pride. Considering the myriad of challenges in the global supply chain, combined with the fact that we import product from over 80 countries around the world, I’m extremely proud that we have had continued to flow goods 24/7 with strong in-stock position to support our retail and wholesale customers. We also successfully opened a new state of the art distribution centre during the pandemic. This new fulfillment centre will provide the foundation for future growth in both wholesale and online operations – two areas of the organization that are poised for continued growth. It’s satisfying that we stayed on plan and operationalized this strategic and foundational component of our supply chain during such a disruptive and unprecedented time.

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