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ASCM Insights

A Start-Up to Take Down COVID

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Justin Weng, CSCP
Cofounder and Chief Operating Officer
Canada Glove Supply

Editor’s note: When Justin Weng, CSCP, heard about the personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages at North American hospitals at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the then supply chain student was inspired to help. Leveraging his education and early work experience, he started a company dedicated to connecting health care providers with PPE distributors in Asia to ensure that medical personnel have the supplies they need to care for patients. After establishing some successful procurement partnerships, Weng is expanding his company’s scope to help other industries meet their PPE needs, as well. He is a true example of making an impact through supply chain expertise.

What events in your life led you to a career in supply chain?

Growing up in major trade hubs like Shantou and Guangzhou in China, I developed an interest in supply chain management and logistics at a young age. However, it wasn’t until my university years that I began exploring it as a career path.  

During my time doing research at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and working at Unilever in Toronto, I learned a great deal about the fundamentals of managing complex supply chains. I also was exposed to the enormous potential for using supply chain management techniques to drive positive change.

In 2017, I worked with my professor to build supply networks for local food banks. We partnered with several grocery stores to develop long-term, food-waste-reduction initiatives, as well as strategies for cutting transportation costs and slowing down biodegradation in storage and transit. The following year, I did my cooperative education experience at Unilever as a planning coordinator. There, I had the opportunity to work alongside some brilliant supply chain minds, many of whom held their APICS Certified in Planning and Inventory Management and APICS Certified Supply Chain Professional designations. My responsibilities revolved around managing materials and coordinating inbound and outbound logistics as well as leading several waste-reduction projects. After completing my cooperative education experience, I returned to McMaster to complete the final year of my bachelor of commerce program with a specialization in supply chain management.

It was in that same year that the COVID-19 pandemic hit us in Canada. When I found out that doctors and nurses were being forced to recycle their N95 respirator masks while distributors and hedge funds were hoarding personal protective equipment (PPE) and gouging prices, I knew I had to do something to help.

In February 2020, I started Canada Glove Supply to provide affordable, high-quality PPE to health care workers across North America. Initially, we focused our efforts on connecting lesser-known, cost-effective PPE suppliers in Asia with hospital procurement groups across North America and Europe. Later on when we began importing our own products into Canada, these suppliers would grant us access to competitive prices, small minimum order quantities, shorter lead times and even fully financed import terms. Thanks to their support throughout the past year, we’ve been able to provide thousands of health care workers across North America with affordable, high-quality PPE.

What are your primary responsibilities in your current role, and how do they enable you to make a difference in the world?

While I’m pretty involved in all of the business’s different functions, my primary responsibilities revolve around supplier development and customer relationship management. I spend a great deal of time talking to my suppliers. I meet with each of them every few days to keep them updated about current purchasing trends and to ask them about the latest developments on their end. In building strong relationships with our suppliers, we’re able to transfer value to our customers in the form of greater cost savings.

Another key to our success has been our ability to understand and meet clients’ needs. When I make deliveries, I’ll often sit down with purchasing managers to get feedback about our products and also introduce new products that may be of interest to them.

While we’ve made a difference in helping many health care providers reduce their PPE spend, I’m most proud of our ability to provide low-cost, small-volume orders of PPE to smaller clinics and long-term care homes, which may not have the need nor ability to purchase PPE by the container load.

What is the greatest challenge you’ve encountered on your career path so far?

Burnout has certainly been one of the bigger challenges that I’ve encountered. When you’re just starting out, it’s tempting to feel like you always have to be doing something productive to advance your business or that you should dedicate all of your time to serving your suppliers and customers. There was a period of time when I was meeting with suppliers in Thailand at 4:00 a.m. every day. However, if you work like this, the mental and physical exhaustion eventually catches up to you.

I learned this lesson the hard way. After burning out on several occasions — sometimes I couldn’t get out of bed for an entire weekend — I knew I had to make some changes to my lifestyle. In addition to eating more healthily, working out daily and getting at least six hours of sleep every night, I’ve been giving myself more time to switch off. By incorporating more downtime into my life and building a schedule around balance, I’ve been able to reduce my stress levels and make better decisions for my business.

What is your most fulfilling accomplishment so far?

Getting access to capital was a big hurdle for me in the beginning, as our newly formed company had no credit, cash flow or collateral. Banks and financiers wouldn’t look our way, so I had to explore other channels. After closing deals for several PPE manufacturers in Asia, I was able to convince these suppliers to finance my first imports into Canada.

That was a big moment for me. It allowed us to move away from the brokering space and begin establishing Canada Glove Supply as one of the lowest-cost distributors of medical masks and gloves in North America.

What is your top career goal moving forward?

I have three main goals for 2021:

1. Build a PPE recycling program into our business.

2. Establish a distribution center in the United States.

3. Grow our network of clients in non-health-care industries, such as manufacturing and construction.

I’d also like to explore opportunities within the sustainable agriculture space. My friends often think I’m joking, but I’d like to work on an eco-farm for a couple of years and learn about building food supply systems around permaculture. After that, I’d like to start my own mushroom farm.

A Day with Justin Weng, CSCP

6:00 a.m. I wake up, do some stretching and answer any important emails that I might have missed overnight. Then I go for a run, eat breakfast and catch up on today’s news.  

7:30 a.m. I hop on a quick call with my partner in Thailand. He catches me up on the latest developments of our nitrile glove projects and informs me that the price of nitrile-butadiene rubber in Thailand has hit another all-time high. This is bad news for our clients, especially with the weakening U.S. dollar.  

8:00 a.m. I add new orders from last night into today’s delivery route, print the invoices and drive to our warehouse. There, I pack the orders, load them up and head to Canada Post to ship out the ones that I can’t deliver myself. Once the packages are dropped off at Canada Post, I drive to a nearby clinic to make my first delivery of the day.

12:00 p.m. I get home after completing my deliveries. I eat lunch with my sister and prepare for today’s meetings with my team and some local pharmacies. We’ve recently added a few pharmacies to our retail network, and I’m helping them put together a sales strategy.  

3:00 p.m. I take some time off to relax and do a bit of reading. (I’m currently reading The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, which is fantastic!) Then I fit in another workout.

7:00 p.m.  After dinner, I meet with a couple of FFP2 mask and surgical gown suppliers in Taiwan to discuss pricing and delivery terms. Once I finish my meetings for the day, I update our website, do some routine accounting and map out tomorrow’s delivery route. 

9:00 p.m. I call my mom in China. We talk for an hour, and we finish the call with an English lesson. Then, I check any emails that I might have missed and get ready for bed.  

 

About the Author

Jennifer Storelli

Jennifer Storelli is a freelance writer. She may be contacted through editorial@apics.org.

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