Editor’s Note: Herbert Pechek, CSCP, CLTD, SCOR-P, earned the 2020 ASCM Award of Excellence —Supply Chain Leader, which recognized his pioneering efforts to implement a supply chain management blueprint within his United Nations (UN) support office while heading up an outreach program and related peacekeeping missions. The 2022 Call for Entries is now open! Learn more at ascm.org/awardsofexcellence.
What events led you to a career in supply chain?
I had never planned to get into the business of supply chain. I am a civil engineer by profession. I hold a master’s degree in construction management, and I practiced this trade for many years — initially in the private sector in my native Austria, then in New York and eventually as field engineer in the UN. I spent about 15 years in various peacekeeping missions in Timor-Leste; Kosovo; Haiti and, most recently, Somalia; in addition to a few years at the UN headquarters in New York City. I was building and reconstructing infrastructure in the aftermath of conflicts and providing civil engineering support to peacekeeping troops and other mission elements. I always had a knack for improving and optimizing work processes and outputs. Even in my earlier days in consulting engineering, I would question and assess established design processes and standards because I felt there was room for improvement.
My transition to supply chain happened during my assignment as chief engineer for the UN peacekeeping operation in Somalia, where I ran a department that provided infrastructure, engineering and facility management support for more than 30,000 troops and about 1,000 civilian personnel. The role also included the sourcing and management of thousands of assets — such as generators, water purification systems and prefabricated buildings — and the entire inventory of supplies and consumables, from spare parts to building materials. It was messy, ineffective, inefficient and frustrating.
Around 2014, the UN Department of Field Support adopted a supply chain management approach for all of its field support activities. I volunteered to be the lead for our mission in Somalia and analyze our work processes, practices and organizational structure by means of an elaborate lean six sigma approach. The final step in the exercise was revised workflow mapping, which we based on the basic APICS Supply Chain Operations Reference principles. This eventually led us to the UN Supply Chain Blueprint. With the help of my amazing team, the support of my senior leadership in Somalia and from the UN headquarters office, we managed to realign our organizational structure, introduced leaner and more effective work processes, and applied key supply chain metrics to many of our activities. Since then, we are rigorously applying the basic kaizen principles of continuous improvement.
How do your contributions make a difference in the world?
My responsibility lies in the development and implementation of supply chain strategies to support the value products and services our mission delivers through its operational arm to clients — essentially the local population of Somalia. This includes a thorough supply chain planning process with an integrated business planning approach, sourcing and procurement, inbound logistics, warehouse operations, order fulfilment, returns, write-off and disposal, asset management, contracts management and a thorough oversight system by means of an internal business intelligence program that supports all steps of the end-to-end process.
Through the UN, we support elections, the peace-building process, the engagement and empowerment of women, quick-impact projects, the disarmament and reintegration of former combatants, and the prevention of conflict. In essence, supply chains of goods and services make these missions really happen, and the better we get at managing these supply chains, the more effective we are in implementing our mandates and helping those in need. There is no room for error. If we fail, we don’t just make a financial loss and go bankrupt, as it would ultimately happen in the commercial sector. If we fail, people lose their lives.
What is the greatest challenge you’ve encountered on your career path so far?
The biggest challenges we are facing relate to external factors that impact and often really control our work. When working in an extremely hostile environment, we cannot use the conventional tools and practices that work in a non-conflict or non-crisis environment. We do not always have security or reliable infrastructure. Plus, skilled, reliable workers are not readily available.
Even more disruptive is the influence of political motives over an effective and logical approach to a situation, as well as the global financial climate that controls our budget. A simple solution often causes political chaos and resistance, and then we are forced to take the far longer, bumpy, expensive and challenging path to success. We always need to have a plan B. Navigating this climate has not always been easy for me as an engineer who thinks in direct ways.
What has been your most fulfilling accomplishment so far?
I must say, winning the ASCM Award of Excellence — Supply Chain Leader is one of my proudest moments because it highlights some of the work I’m most proud of. I’ve built an excellent team with so much personal and collective knowledge and experience. But also, I’ve helped change the way we do business in the UN to a new end-to-end concept. We have made logistics in the UN a bit sexy again by introducing new technology, innovation and a system that allows everyone to contribute and grow. It makes me tremendously proud when I receive calls and emails from staff and colleagues from all around the globe asking to join the Somalia supply chain team.
The work we do is not easy, especially for those colleagues who are in the deep mission area and on the front lines serving clients and the broader cause. There are many sacrifices peacekeepers must make and many challenges they have to overcome in some of the most dangerous and hostile places in the world. If what we have done in our supply chain under my leadership has made their lives a bit easier and created better lives for the beneficiaries — the poorest victims of conflict and crisis out there — then this is a remarkable and fulfilling accomplishment. This is what I see in this award, and I thank the team that nominated me as well as the committee that selected me for it.
What is your top career goal going forward?
As I mentioned, we just instituted organized supply chain management in the UN a few years ago, and I am grateful that I could be part of this initiative pretty much from the onset. Although there still is work to be done in the mission in Somalia in terms of integrating all elements of our operations support pillars closer together to become even more responsive, reliable and efficient, there certainly are bigger aspirations ahead for me. We are in process of introducing more technology and automation into our processes that will allow us to keep our troops as well as the support staff safer and make them even more effective. We also just started working on earning the ASCM Enterprise Certification for our Somalia supply chain, which will be a massive achievement once done. Looking further into the future, I’m aiming for a wider, more global role in UN supply chain management. There is so much opportunity to make us more effective and efficient, and I want to be an integral part of that and lead with my visions and ideas
How are you using your supply chain skills to give back?
The concept of using supply chain skills to give back very much aligns with my philosophy of resource development and capacity building. I am very reluctant to hand one a fish; I would rather teach them how to catch one. I reckon it’s a basic principle of sustainability, and I strongly believe that this is the only way toward a successful operation, economy or society. The notion of equity is very important here to ensure collective growth and common success.
I also am trying to animate and motivate all my team members to engage at all fronts and to continuously learn. Learning is more than studying from a book or taking a course. It is constantly listening and observing what is happening around you. Basic knowledge — such as principles of supply chain management — can come from books, but the true understanding and application of that knowledge is up to everyone’s individual chore. This is how I gained my supply chain experience — by observing the operations around me — and I try to help my colleagues learn in a similar way by sharing my own experiences and knowledge with them. The investment the UN made in me is a gift that keeps on giving, and I pay this investment forward by ensuring that we have trained, competent staff and efficient supply chains. This, in turn, supports the organization, the member states that fund our missions and can see their financial contributions being put to good use around the world, and the beneficiaries who receive expert aid.
A Day with Herbert Pechek, CSCP, CLTD, SCOR-P
COVID-19 has certainly changed my usual day quite a bit. I have been working remotely in my house in Nairobi, Kenya, since March 2020.
6:00 a.m. I wake up and peek through the curtains to check weather. In Nairobi, it’s either rain or sunshine, and the temperature is pretty much the same year-round. Rain would mean bad traffic and hence delays in deliveries. It could also mean that our air fleet is grounded.
7:00 a.m. With a few miles of exercise in my legs, I have breakfast with my wife and three sons. To the nuisance of the kids, I check my calendar and emails from my supply chain team. My sons recently instituted a mealtime phone ban for me, and I’ve already broken it. My mind already is set on today’s highlights and meetings.
8:00 a.m. With my boys off to virtual learning, I head to my home office and start reviewing updates about our strategic projects and our supply chain key performance indicators. I find I’m most creative at this time of day, so I also brainstorm ideas to discuss with my team later.
9:00 a.m. I call my chief supply chain planning officer to share some of my ideas regarding improvements to our sourcing strategy for fast-moving items. We link up with other team members and brainstorm options. Meanwhile, I field questions from my sons about their assignments.
11:30 a.m. I wrap up my senior management briefing — after explaining a new inventory optimization strategy and its expected savings to my team — and switch to my next meeting with the business intelligence team.
12:30 p.m. I have a working lunch with my wife. She’s using me as free labor to consult on her fashion business’s supply chain issues. I find this conversation fun, as fashion is quite different from peacekeeping, although our boys claim both topics are equally boring.
2:00 p.m. I join an integrated business planning meeting. Somalian elections are coming up, and we need to figure out the last-mile logistics. Given that the election happens during the rainy period in parts of the country, we need to prepare our helicopter fleet to deliver supplies. At the end of the meeting, I order groceries via a local app. Africa’s supply chain is catching up.
4:00 p.m. New York is just waking up, and the first U.S. emails are flocking in. We’re informed about a supply contract approval delay. My planning team and clients are not happy, so we’re activating our contingency plans.
5:30 p.m. Our inbound coordination division reports that the shipment of defense stores has finally been released from the port in Mogadishu. This news comes just in time, as the inventory unit already was raising red flags about depleted stocks. Now operations can continue. There’s more good news: My groceries are delivered on time and in full.
6:30 p.m. I join one last phone call for the day, this time with the Global Support Center in Brindisi, Italy. I quickly share some ideas about enterprise as a service before my boys call me to dinner.
To learn more about Herbert Pechek, CSCP, CLTD, SCOR-P, watch his interview with SCM Now Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Rennie.