Dilşat Uyguroglu:“Supply chain plays a huge role in sustainability agenda”

Unilever’s corporate vision – “to double the size of the business, whilst reducing our environmental footprint and increasing our positive social impact” – is top of mind, bordering on evangelical, for the company’s supply chain in Turkey. Sustainability has been on the company’s agenda for nearly two decades and its Sustainable Living Plan strongly drives business today. A commitment to halving its environmental impact by reducing greenhouse gases, water use, waste packaging and increasing sustainable sourcing has a huge impact on the supply chain. Dilşat Uyguroglu is responsible for logistics and customer service operations of the company’s 30 brands in Turkey and Central Asia where there are eight factories, including one of the world’s largest ice-cream factories.

Q: What is your responsibility regarding the supply chain?

A: “I am responsible for running Customer Services and Logistic Operations for all categories we operate in Turkey. Logistics includes all the warehousing and transportation of all Unilever products from personal care and home care to food and refreshments, such as ice-cream.

Customer services brings me in touch with our customers and overseeing processes from order collection to dispatch. I am also responsible for Unilever’s supply chain in Central Asia, so getting company products into these countries from all around the world. In addition my team takes care of cross border sourcing – both import and export of products and materials.

I have been in this position for nearly one year but I’ve been with the company for 20 years during which I’ve covered almost every category and function within supply chain from project management and manufacturing to factory management in Morocco and Turkey and planning and technology director roles in Durban, South Africa. Since 2009 I’ve been in Turkey where I continue to run the Algida ice-cream factory.”

Q: What is the strategy of Unilever in Turkey: Operational Excellence, Product Leadership or Customer Intimacy?

A: “The strategy of Unilever Turkey does not differ from our global strategy which is to make sustainable living common place. It is a very powerful statement because it not only manifests how we run the business it also affects the behaviour of billions of people as we make the world a better place to live: We believe we can make a difference.

The supply chain plays a crucial role in this strategy providing excellent service to protect strong brands so that people look good, feel good and get more out of life, as we meet every day needs for nutrition, hygiene and personal care. The first priority is the consumer then customers, employees, suppliers and communities and if we fulfil our responsibilities we believe shareholders will be rewarded.

To achieve consumer intimacy we have to start with a very good product and we have some very strong brands. From my point of view our aim is to create a sustainable supply chain that is perfect in procurement, manufacturing and logistics as we deliver to stores and touch consumers, all which will give us a crucial competitive edge. This has been recognised by the latest Advantage Customer service survey ranking us number 2 among 23 top suppliers of the country.

Sustainability has long been part of the Unilever strategy. Our Sustainable Living Plan was launched in 2010 to reemphasise its importance; sustainability is part of the way we do business and it’s a significant target on our personal development plans.”

Q: What are the main business challenges that drive supply chain projects at the moment?

A: “The supply chain itself plays a huge role in driving the sustainability agenda. The way we procure, produce and distribute and work with our partners, in a sustainable way has a high priority. But we can always do better, provide a better service and stay cost competitive even in today’s VUCA world.

We are finding that consumers, customers and the channels are becoming more and more fragmented. Not so long ago we thought that the giant global supermarket chains would dominate retails chains and our customers would become bigger and bigger with larger shops. But now consumers are moving back to the smaller shops on the street corner. Small local chains are growing very strongly and we have to serve more and more distribution points and warehouses, for different types of customers with different priorities and different technological bases.

This has not happened overnight but has been gradual so we already have other supply chain solutions in place. We are well positioned and supply not only the global players but also the local chains. Striving to maintain our sustainability vision can be at the expense of competiveness and quality so this is a big challenge for us. We are continually working on this and quantifying it but it cannot be done in isolation. If we look at all our internal systems – the factories, distribution chains etc – the impact we could make here is now negligible compared to the total consumption chain footprint.

The next major step comes from collaborating with supplier customers and working with them to find common agendas and drive common improvement programmes. One way to collaborate is to work closely with them, meet them and try to understand each other’s agenda.

Another way is through technology and systematic work. We are setting up control towers around the world to increase systematic use of technology to improve visibility of operations. I believe this will make a huge difference in terms of standards and the challenges we face todays regarding logistics.

We are currently setting up one of the company’s largest factories for home and personal care products attached to a state-of-the-art distribution centre. With an engineering background and having a white board on which to draw-up a supply chain, design and run it, is very exciting. We’ll be transforming the whole landscape to give us a more competitive edge. “

Q: Which supply chain challenges keeps you awake at night?

A; “Establishing a sustainable, global, flexible and efficient supply chain day-in, day-out! And at the same time being able to provide the best working environment for our people; as a company we take many steps to lead the agenda.”

Q: What do you do about these challenges?

A: “It starts with the people and the sort of people you pull around you. You have to make sure that people understand the message and that they are excited about the global vision, that they connect with the team, have a clean, crisp agenda and are able to adapt to whatever challenges you are facing in the country.

The average age in the company is very young, for example the average age of my team is less than 30 and includes young talents from generation X and generation Y who believe strongly in the vision of changing the world to make it a better place. I am only a transmitter of the global message and with these young people it clicks easily. Providing them with the environment and tools to implement this vision and make sure they are part of the big game plan is a very forceful way of keeping them highly motivated. They all have a clear purpose.

Our approach is to work with individuals who are enthusiastic to improve their performance, and who want to make a difference for society and the environment. We try to understand their personalities, capability to work in teams and their all-round skills, not just their technical skills.

As a result, for example, we reached the Unilever’s commitment to “zero waste to landfill” at all our sites in Turkey last year. The global company target is to achieve this by 2020; in Turkey we achieved it five years ahead of schedule. It’s not just big talk but also big results.”

Q: Which book has inspired you the most and why?

A: “Two books: The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt which I read during the early days of my career. It discusses systems management and focuses on eliminating constraints which was very useful when I worked in the factory. The second was Good to Great by Jim Collins that describes examples of how new generation leaders, rather than charismatic leaders with big egos, develop long term sustainable relationships by enthusing their team and keeping them on the front page.”

Q: What do you expect to be doing professionally in 5 years?

A: “I plan to remain with Unilever and in the supply chain world where I see my future growing and excelling as there are plenty of business opportunities.”