Jeroen van Weesep: ‘Make more room for intuition and trust’

There are almost as many Lego Minifigures in the world as there are people – but that pales into insignificance compared with all the Lego bricks that have passed through children’s hands since 1957. At the start of this century the family-owned company came close to bankruptcy, but a successful transition from a product-focused to marketing-focused approach managed to turn the tide again within the space of a few years. As Vice President Supply and Inventory Planning Europe and Asia, Jeroen van Weesep is helping to safeguard and sustain that transition in the supply chain. In June of this year, he was voted Supply Chain Professional 2014.

By Caroline Linssen

The majority of Lego’s sales nowadays comes from themed models in product series such as City, Star Wars and Friends. They are developed by over 180 designers from 24 different countries. That creativity almost caused the company’s downfall. Jeroen van Weesep: “The risk of bricks with endless possibilities is the temptation to produce 100,000 variations, and that makes the upstream situation much too complex. The key question is: how can we use a limited number of components to make a range of appealing models that will clearly set the Lego product apart on our customers’ shelves? And then we have to ensure that our factories can do that.”

The company got its financials back into the black in 2005, and last year it turned over 3.4 billion euro and generated a profit of almost 820 million euro while employing close to 12,000 people. With factories in Denmark, Mexico, Hungary and the Czech Republic, it produces a mind-blowing 40 billion Lego bricks a year. Eighty years after its foundation, The Lego Group is still a privately held family company headquartered in Billund, Denmark.

What is your role?

“I’m responsible for the planning, extending from which Lego end products we manufacture up to delivery to the EU and Asian markets, and for the global capacity planning. My team comprises seven people who report directly to me, and I also have functional management responsibility for the planning managers in our three European factories. It’s a team of around 50 people in total who take care of the execution of the plans for the next 12 months: how will we supply Lego for the peak season and how will we invest in the year ahead? We make all the fundamental decisions in the corporate S&OP which involves various disciplines, from production, regional supply & demand planning, distribution and product development to operations finance.”

There very nearly wasn’t a Lego company to work for anymore…

“The problems at Lego at the beginning of this century arose because the entire portfolio had drifted away from the core brick. Far too many new packs were launched trying to be all kinds of toys and games and featuring complicated parts which were far removed from the basic idea of construction. In effect, we kept creating different business models in rapid succession, despite the fact that it takes three to five years to introduce just one business model successfully. So that didn’t work. Lego asked itself the question: what do we actually stand for, and what is our connection with children? The answer: we reverted to the core modular concept of bricks that can be combined in infinite different ways. That has been the inherent quality of this company for the past 80 years.

The internal crisis was the first time that the company had also invited external input. As one example: the core processor of one of our robots was hacked and improved by adult users – they saw more opportunities than our own internal developers did! By opening itself up to ideas from outsiders, the company lent impetus to a cultural turnaround and evolved into a more open organisation which is willing to learn. Five years later, we were once again growing by more than 10 percent a year.”

CoverMovement15-Q42014Read the full article in Supply Chain Movement 15.

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