James Burman (JB): To start things off could tell me a bit more about your prior career, and your current role?
Huw Jenkins (HJ): My career has been dominated by retail logistics. I started with Coca-Cola, then hopped from in-house operations to third-party logistics providers. I’ve worked with DHL, Wincanton and Asda, and in private equity with Poundland. In the 3PL world, I’ve looked after big retailers like Argos, Boots, Halfords and Amazon.
That’s brought me to the fantastic and interesting world of defence logistics, with Leidos as a Chief Operating Officer. It’s a role that really appealed to me given the transformational scale of what we’re charged with achieving.
JB: Could tell me a little bit more about Leidos’ new LCST programme?
HJ: It’s a truly transformational programme. It takes antiquated systems infrastructure and drags it into the cutting edge. There are two main elements. Firstly, building and commissioning an 800,000 square foot defence fulfilment centre, and centralising and consolidating all the stock into this single, modern facility. Accompanying that is the SCIP, the Supply Chain Integration Portal, which is the technology that underpins the operation. You can only imagine the web of legacy systems the MoD has previously utilised. We’ve integrated those into one leading-edge solution.
JB: I’m curious to know how, the defence distribution centre differs from that of a regular retailer, and in particular what that means for the challenges you’ve been facing this year.
HJ: There’s a vast array of products we have to hold. I think, in a retail world you might say you’ve got fast-moving goods, and you may even have fast-moving warehouses and slow-moving warehouses.
In defence we’ve got a large number of slow-moving lines, which means the tail of products is quite long. These are crucial items, such as a piece of equipment that maintains an aircraft or a piece of clothing that only comes out once every blue moon for a particular – maybe royal – event, or something like that. The diversity of product we’re holding is phenomenal, and I’ve never seen anything like it in the retail world.
As for the impact, COVID is something we’ve all had to experience. And in the logistics world, people were in one of two camps: they were either “we’re absolutely dead, nothing’s happening, I’m on furlough” or they were working at a hundred miles an hour. In defence, everyone was in the latter camp!
We took some really early action in March when we saw what was happening: we closed our operations, our sites and our offices—we’ve got a number of offices in Donnington, Bicester, Bristol, and a few others beside – and we took the decision very early on, in the interests of personal safety, to send everyone home.
So, we got people up and running working from home really quickly. Our IS department was inundated with requests for more equipment, so we had to develop a better understanding of internet capability so we could solve problems that arose. The feedback we had from all our colleagues is that we nailed it, and in fact, following colleague feedback, it would appear that the interaction with the senior leadership team is better than it has ever been because we’re trying extra hard to have dialogue with colleagues across the business.
JB: Since the MoD is part of government, what kind of role have you been playing in the fight against coronavirus?
HJ: Because the MoD are part of government, the government is driving a lot of decisions around COVID, and it was clear the NHS needed support, so we supported significantly the acquisition of PPE through our commodity services. We were inundated with suppliers trying to sell us product; although this is a normal thing for us, we had to be ruthless in making sure everything was the right quality, because there was a lot of profiteering opportunists evident at the time.
In terms of operations, we were asked to take in ventilators from all over the world. It was all new to us, so it was coming in without being able to be logged into our system. So, we had to turn this into a slick operation, to take ventilators in and consolidate those that could be operational in Nightingale hospitals.
We went from a standing start to a 24/7 operation in about ten days.
We were also supporting what is called “MACA” activity, which is military aid, where the armed forces support civil requirements – flooding is a good example of where that would happen, and obviously COVID was exactly in that space.
So, we were ensuring we were well-placed to support whatever MACA activity was undertaken by the Army. The way that worked effectively was through fantastic communication with the Ministry of Defence – we were able to react much quicker by being given good information.
JB: When you’re dealing with these very sensitive areas, does the extra pressure of a pandemic change the way you do business from what you normally do?
HJ: There’s a number of people who work in our organisation with military experience, so there’s a culture of confidentiality and security in our DNA. That means we won’t have certain conversations on the phone, or we won’t send certain emails. I don’t think that materially impacted us, we’re already used to that environment. But, think back to what we were reading at the time, some of the horrendous stories coming out, and the heartache people were feeling. There was a real feel-good factor about what we were doing. We genuinely felt that a spotlight had been put on what we do, and we were supporting the greater good. That was evident in the way people responded. The vast majority of people were working from home, but they were working long hours because they wanted to support the national need and play our own part in that.
JB: How do you see the logistics industry changing as a result of COVID-19?
HJ: There’s definitely something about personal welfare and colleague welfare. Working from home is not for everyone, yet people are being forced to work from home. It’s important that we as a business really support the mental wellbeing of our colleagues: we need to reach out to them to make sure they know they’ve got someone to talk to, not just wait for people to tell us.
But in terms of the logistics industry, my first observation is about collaboration. When lockdown kicked off, we had some people in the logistics industry significantly under-utilised, potentially on furlough, and others really being stretched. If you were in the food and retail sector, suddenly you were seeing Christmas and Black Friday volumes. If you were in another sector, possibly home delivery or furniture, you were stood down. And what happened very quickly was organisations shared facilities, infrastructure, assets, to support the priority which was COVID-19, which meant food and medical equipment. The way that the industry mobilised operations, collaboratively, was phenomenal.
I also think COVID has put sustainability under the spotlight, and I think there’s going to be an acceleration of people’s objectives in that space going forward.
JB: Are there any other innovations in your sights at the moment?
HJ: Leidos are thinking of where we can be the leader in things like blockchain, autonomous vehicles, but also where we don’t want to be a leader. We don’t just jump on the first trend that might be emerging, but we really try and understand the value of each developing innovation. We’ve talked, for instance, about providing drones for deliveries of goods in war zones, but realistically we need to understand whether there’s true value in that. We have really got to make sure we spend taxpayers’ money wisely, and ensure we’re investing in the right spaces. But we’re interested in autonomous vehicles. For moving heavy goods, electric vehicles aren’t going to work yet, but for moving light products we will test whether we could exploit that opportunity. 3D printing is another interesting one. Could we see a day where soldiers are in theatre and they’re printing the goods they need for a mission, sortie or tour. We have embraced the innovation agenda by setting up innovation hubs in our organisation, which are creative working environments to stimulate that creative thinking.
JB: And finally, what do you think the next few years hold for Leidos?
HJ: Firstly, we’ll continue the transformation. While we’ve done a hell of a lot, this is a 13-year programme so there’s still more to do—and there’s still some legacy operations. We’ve got the shiny Defence Fulfilment Centre in Donnington, but it’s surrounded by some buildings that still need a bit of care and attention. I think we’ll continue the modernisation of the infrastructure and the estate, and we’ll continue the modernisation of the IS infrastructure. That’s an on-going programme – we’ve done 30 years of IS modernisation in 30 months.
Leidos is a huge organisation in the US, but less mature in Europe and the UK. We’ve got a new chief executive on board in the last twelve months who wants to double our business by 2025. We want to continue to build our brand in the UK, and we’ve developed some good corporate relationships with various companies so we can continue to drive our brand wherever we think there is value.
I think growth is important, but we want to be a great place to work too. We want to keep our best people and attract more superstars to drive our business. We want to be a place where people really feel the value of what we do. If we do that, we look after our people, and we do a great job for our customers, then growth will come.