We spoke to Kuehne + Nagel’s head of innovation and Logistics 100 member Mike Vernon, about his career in logistics, and learn his views on the increasing integration of technology within the industry.
James Burman (JB): Thanks for speaking to us, Mike. Firstly, what is your logistics background?
Mike Vernon (MV): I have spent my career designing, specifying and selling automated solutions over a wide range of fields from sortation systems to Miniloads, pick-by-light to layer picking and many other technologies. I have had extensive involvement with industry bodies such as AMHSA (Automated Material Handling Systems Association) where I was president for three years and continue as Director. I am also president of BMHF (British Materials Handling Federation), a role I have held for nine years. BMHF is the UK materials handling industry’s path to FEM. My current role is head of innovation for Kuehne + Nagel, focussing on deployment of automation and technology within the contract logistics environment.
JB: What are the most rewarding aspects of your job?
MV: There are three main focus areas for my role, leading the innovation team, implementing automated solutions and researching or developing new technologies. All three provide a great deal of reward but I think the greatest comes from leading the team as we learn of new technologies together and I pass on the knowledge and experience I have gained.
JB: What logistics processes being implemented by other companies inspire you?
MV: I focus on automation and the newer technologies I find fascinating, such as Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR), automated guided vehicles, AutoStore and roaming shuttles. They all provide a challenge to the designer to correctly choose the most suitable solution. There are so many new, smaller-scale developments to understand such as Artificial Intelligence, camera technology, tracking systems, 5G and the possibilities that might bring. Wow, the pace of change is increasing rapidly.
JB: It’s more important than ever for young people to begin careers in this industry. What do you think logistics companies can do to inspire them to do so?
MV: I was very lucky to start my career in the early eighties when large-scale distribution centre automation was in its infancy and have therefore grown and developed alongside the growth of such systems. As my generation approaches retirement, I feel an ever greater need to pass on knowledge and inspire the next generations coming through. Kuehne + Nagel is a strong supporter of the NOVUS Scheme and I have taken on three such students within my own team. They stay in the team for a year as part of their degree course. Witnessing the change in them as they learn about both technology and how businesses are run is a real reward.
JB: Were you not a logistician, what would you be?
MV: That is a difficult question as I really enjoy my job and haven’t regretted any role I have had throughout my career. My father did once see a drawing I had made of a large conveyor system and commented that it looked just like one of my model railway layouts from when I was a teenager. Perhaps I was destined to be a train driver! The only other role I would have perhaps considered would be a professional sailor. Getting paid to deliver and move peoples’ yachts around the world would have been a dream job.
JB: Logistics can be a strenuous job involving long hours. What do you enjoy doing during your downtime? Is it important for you to have a strong work/life balance?
MV: The hours are inevitably long, with frequent submission deadlines to be met so relaxation and family life are most important. I enjoy swimming a couple of times a week and next year will buy a narrowboat so my wife and I can start exploring the English and Welsh canals as much as possible – certainly a much slower pace than that of work. I also go sailing a couple of times a year and try (usually fail) to get out cycling as well. The pub on a Sunday night is a regular fixture and helps me unwind prior to the week ahead.