GEP's David Doran on how to build resilient global supply chains

24 May 2022 Consulting.us 7 min. read
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With the pandemic having brought the supply chain and procurement functions to the top of the corporate agenda, David Doran is happy to see the “crucial” matter finally come to the fore. In discussion with Consultancy.org, the leader of GEP’s management consulting business explains how building a strategy now can help businesses prepare for further supply chain disruptions in a complex future.

At 22 years old, GEP is still “a young firm”, according to David Doran. The Vice President of Consulting Services has been involved in procurement and supply chain consulting for the whole of his 30-year career. But even with all that experience, the things the firm is currently achieving are something he finds “genuinely exciting.”

Speaking to Consultancy.org, Doran explained, “When I joined eight years ago, we had around 1,100 staff. Today, we are 6,000 strong and we intend to maintain our high double-digit growth looking ahead.”

David Doran, Vice President of Consulting, GEP

Of course, having to build capacity in such a rapid manner has come with challenges. When he first arrived, Doran remembered that the founders “knew my name, my wife’s name, and my kids’ names”, a culture which has had to change in the years since – though its essence remains central to the firm’s ethos.

“You lose a little of that when you get the scale, but we still maintain a family focused as a company culture,” he noted. “It underwrites one of our key differentiators: we operate very relationship-driven. As a consultant at other consulting firms, I’ve seen how the business can operate, going in, slash and burn, get the job done at all costs.”

“It’s critical we’re more relationship-driven than that when we’re trying to get clients to move forward into the future.”

Alongside this approach, GEP sets itself apart from the competition with a unique tripartite of offerings. The firm’s three core pillars include: advisory, providing strategic consulting work to clients looking to futureproof their operations; outsourcing procurement, encompassing labour arbitrage and sourcing suppliers; and technology platforms, with one for procurement (GEP SMART) and one for supply chain work (GEP NEXXEt).

As the leader of GEP’s consulting business, Doran has seen first-hand how the latter two pillars help set its advisory work stand out from the crowd.

Doran added, “We have a lot of experienced consultants who go toe-to-toe with the gorillas of the industry. Day-to-day we go against the likes of Bain, McKinsey, and Kearney, and we often win. Some of that success is tangibly about our offerings and culture.”

“But some of that builds on the fact that we are long-in-the-tooth about what we do in supply chain and procurement. You can’t go into such complex environments and compete against procurement or supply chain officers and not understand the key areas of business. Our managed services and outsourcing businesses provide us with deep and on the ground insights, coupled with data from managing more than $200 billion in clients’ annual spend.”

“In addition,” Doran continued, “we have a comprehensive AI-driven technology platform, which enables our clients to tap into the power of automation, digitization and cloud-based ways of working.”

“Consulting, plus outsourcing, plus software. That whole strategy works very well for global clients.”

Booming business

Indeed, the strategy has seen major enterprises – including Fortune 500 and Global 2000 enterprises such as Bayer, DuPont, and Unilever – place their trust in GEP.

The firm’s growing standing has also enabled the firm to partner with high-profile research producers. Recently, for example, GEP teamed up with The Economist to survey almost 400 global business leaders to measure how they’re reinventing their supply chains.

That study showed that the importance of supply chain strategy was something which had surged to the top of the corporate agenda in the last two years. According to the findings, 90% of executives said supply chains were a strategic resource that helped ensure their company’s profitability and survival. Meanwhile, two-out-of-three added that they feel now is the time to evaluate their supply chains, and build new strategies to negate future risks.

“It’s sad it took a pandemic to bring supply chain strategy to the front,” Doran said. “It’s always been crucial in my opinion, as it is innately aligned to company strategy – but now that’s something widely recognised. Companies who optimised their supply chain before the pandemic came out as winners – those who had not broken down those siloes are now further behind.”

“Those are the companies – who still need to move from those positions, find risk, strategise for it – who we are helping.” Pointing to examples, Doran cited two projects the firm is currently involved in. One project is for a grocery company which produces fresh fruits in Spain.

The company’s network was heavily dependent on North Africa and Mediterranean – but due to geo-political and climate factors, GEP advised they should diversify this. The consultants have since helped the client “move some production to Western Europe”, in a move which is “not necessarily ‘nearshoring’,” but “a re-shoring of some of their production chain.”

Meanwhile, GEP has also been working with a client involved in the production of lithium for manufacturing. Demand for the material, which is a core element of the batteries for electric cars, electronic devices and other sustainable technologies, is rising exponentially. But this is exposing producers’ dependence on decreasingly stable geo-political relations around the world.

GEP’s client was very worried with over-relying on China for this reason. With the help of GEP, the client has taken multiple steps to moving processing of minerals away from China and onshoring it to the US.

Future opportunities

Over the course of his 30 years in the business, Doran has seen huge changes. “But the cycle of change is even getting shorter, and more complex.” This does not mean he or the specialists at GEP are any less confident in their abilities to help clients address the ever-shifting environment, though.

Doran elaborated, “We used to work with planes, trains and donkeys – now it’s planes, trains, donkeys and drones! Everything in the supply chain has advanced leaps and bounds – and the speed and complexity, especially amid this stage of globalisation, has never been more complicated. As a result, the problems are infinitely bigger.”

“But for us, the way to solve these problems are as simple as they ever were. Break things down, understand what needs to be done, do what’s right. Add automation and you have an even better answer for it.”

At the same time, Doran is keen to stress that for all the advances of technology, human solutions are still essential for the evolution of supply chain work. As “getting people to change” is “where the key lies” for the future, bringing new talent into supply chain and procurement consulting is essential to helping manage that. After all, transformation programmes which neglect workforce culture typically struggle to get off the ground – so a human touch will always be necessary for their success.

It’s an opportunity which Doran believes young professionals ought to give serious consideration to. Looking to the future, he is excited for the role that GEP can play in helping companies strategise and maintain their procurement and supply chain functions. More widely, he is also eager to see what the future holds for his long-underrated specialist field.

Doran concluded, “I love my career. We solve complex problems; sometimes it might not be the most ‘sexy’ or ‘fashionable’ work, but I know that clients are better off because we’ve been there. And that’s a great feeling to have!”

“Now is the time to get in. It’s a wonderful time to be in supply chain, long overdue. We need to see next generation leaders; and next generation female leaders, to help the sector constantly innovate. If that sounds like a growth opportunity for you, to be constantly challenged, learning new things, working in a high-stress environment, it’s a phenomenal place to be in for the next several decades.”